Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Matthew 23 -- Yikes

Throughout the Scriptures hard truths are taught so the people of God might live in closer communion with God. No one is exempt from the hard teachings, even the religious leaders. In fact the religious leaders were the recipients of the most harsh teaching from Jesus. In Matthew 23 we find the seven woes to the teachers of the law and religious leaders. All I can say in summary is yikes.

If you were a prostitute, Jesus would call you to a different life with great compassion. If you were a tax collector he would call you to make things right and follow him. All shapes and forms of sinners were called by Jesus to new life. Yet the religious people were not dealt with using a lot of compassion. In this short chapter Jesus calls them the following; sons of hell, blind guides, hypocrites, snakes, and brood of vipers. Obviously Jesus has issue with the religious people.

The challenge for you and me is to make sure we are not the religious people Jesus is talking to. A great danger exists in our quest for holiness. That danger is found in going through the motions without a connection to the God who gives life and breath. We can be great producers of religious goods and services, but not really know the God who calls us. It would not be a stretch for any one of us to be the target of Jesus' harsh words. Vigilance is the key. Keep watch over your life, invite others you trust to watch over. Do whatever it takes to not be those guys Jesus is talking to.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Matthew 22 -- Worried About Clothes?

Many times in Jesus ministry we find him teaching against measuring by outward appearances. Yet here in Matthew 22 it seems like Jesus is teaching us to do just that. In the parable of the Wedding Banquet Jesus is teaching some pretty challenging things. First he offers the invitation to Israel. They, not 100% of the people, reject the offer, so a reminder is sent. the reminder is ignored. Then God opens the offer to anyone who will come. Once the guests are seated the King does a meet and greet. He comes across a person who is not clothed for the the celebration and the King kicks him out. Kicked out because of a clothing choice?

To understand the teaching we must remember the whole teaching not just the clothing issue. The whole teaching is about the readiness to come to the banquet, and responding to the invitation. Here you have a fellow who has responded to the invitation, but not prepared for the feast. As you might guess this has nothing to do with physical clothing. Jesus was never much concerned with such things. His clothing problem is actually a righteousness problem. He accepted the offer of the King, but did not conform his life to the king.

Many people profess Jesus as Lord and Savior, the invitation of God, but do not conform their lives to Jesus. In the parable Jesus is highlighting the importance of going beyond accepting the invitation. Working to conform our lives to look more and more like Christ is the measure of our readiness. The crime committed was not poor clothing choice, a crime I am guilty of often. No the crime is not living the life of Christ once the invitation was accepted. Would we be allowed to stay at the wedding feast?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Matthew 21 -- Persnickety Jesus

Of all the characteristics of Jesus there are a few that commonly come to mind first. There are other characteristics which do not tend to come at all. When I read Matthew 21 the word persnickety. We find Jesus a little more feisty than usual. First clearing the temple, then he curses of fig tree. When Jesus takes on the religious leaders he gets into it pretty hard with asking questions of them. By the end of the chapter Jesus is out and out in confrontation with the religious people of his day.

Jesus as meek and mild is a common view, or this Jesus who is gentle and clam. It is important to know Jesus gets fired up and breaks out of the mold of the passive Jesus. It makes me wonder is Jesus were to watch you for the day, or visit church with you how would he respond? Would he be meek and mild, or would he be persnickety? Would Jesus have some rough words for you? No one really like confrontation, much less when it is being confronted by the God of the universe. Still there are times when confrontation is exactly how God reaches us to grow.

What areas of your life need confronting? Is there an addition which takes you away from God? Is your attitude about life and other people so poor God needs to confront? Are you being more religious and having less of a relationship? All of us have things in our lives which require confrontation to deal with, allow Jesus to confront you so you can grow.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Matthew 20 -- Jockey For Position

This chapter of Matthew highlights the gap which exists between the way humanity functions and the way the Kingdom of God functions. Reading from our western context we read about the plight of the workers in the first parable and side with the workers. Its not right if someone works all day that they would be paid the same as the person that has only worked an hour. You can bet the union rep would be called in and there would be some restitution to be paid. The owner reminds the disgruntle workers of their agreement and the fact that he is honoring. Human speaking while we can remember the agreement we do not like it and cry unfair.

The generosity of the owner, God, is not dependent on our approval. No matter how much we would like to help God determine how the grace gets doled out, it is not our responsibility. A competition for grace does not exist, and in the Western world everything, yes everything, is a competition. The generosity of God is overwhelming when it is shown to us, are we as willing to be overwhelmed when it is shown to someone else?

In the kingdom, there is no such thing as us and them. There are people who have been called to provide oversight in the kingdom, but this is not meant to be a division. We are all working for the same glory and the same reward. Still the drive and desire to differentiate ourselves is high. Our need to be important and honored above others clouds our thinking and acting. The grace of God offered to all through Jesus Christ is not ours to dispense. From what I can see everyone has equal access and need for the grace. So why worry about what someone else is getting, focus of doing what God has put in front of you to do.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Matthew 19 -- What's In It For Me

There are many different teachings here in Matthew 19 which can be highlighted. Jesus does his second teaching about divorce in Matthew, then moves to working with children. After that, one of my favorite discourses in all of scripture, the Right Young Man. At the end of all these teachings the disciples, who have heard all this, wonder what will happen to them. The difficult teach from Jesus regarding the challenge of the rich entering the kingdom, has them a little unsettled.

The disciples have given up everything to follow Jesus. They are rarely perfect in their following, yet they have staked their lives to the work, mission and ministry of Jesus. The fishing business that once fed their family was walked away from. The family support they enjoyed was undoubtedly compromised. Now they want to know what was in it for them since they have in fact given up everything.

We modern day followers of Jesus wonder the same question, but I am not sure our question has the same leverage. Many have given up much, but in the Western world we have rarely given up everything. Still the question lingers, what is in it for me? What will the reward be for my sacrifice? When you write the question it feels more foolish than it sounds.

Jesus response then and now is intriguing. He says all these things will be given back to, only multiplied. Then he tags it with a common saying. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Letting the disciples know it is not about the stuff, it is about connection with God through him. Saying more about me perhaps than anything else, I read this with a sense of sarcasm. Jesus is saying if those things mattered the kingdom would offer the best and more than can be imagined, but those things do not matter.

The reward for following? Doing what we are designed and created to do.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Matthew 18 -- Drastic Measures

Here in chapter 18 we find Jesus teaching what I would call drastic measures. First when it comes to sin, if your hand causes sin cut it off, if your eye causes sin gouge it out. Then there is the path to treating a person as you would a tax collector or pagan. Finally there is the unmerciful servant who is shown mercy , then does not show it in return and ends us tortured in prison. Many times I have read this chapter looking for a way to soften the blow, and the reality is there is not must of a way, but that I think is the teaching point.

When it comes to the severing of limbs and removal of eyes, this is one of those places Jesus is not being literal. Yet there is still a powerful charge here. If there is something in your life that is sinful, or generating sin, we must ruthlessly eliminate it from our lives. Even if it seems harmless most of the time, it means elimination. Therefore, if you struggle with say pornography on the computer, it might mean getting rid of the internet. If you struggle with overeating, it is time to have drastically less food around. It is better to sacrifice something we see as important for the sake of our relationship with God, than to be sucked into a life that does not honor God.

With the expulsion of a member of the church. There are times when people are invited to not be a part of a church community. Not a light or easy moment at all. Still when Jesus says treat this person like you would a tax collector or pagan, we must remember who Jesus hung with. Many of Jesus' critics came after him because he was hanging our with tax collectors and pagans. While with them he was calling them to a new life.

Finally the unmerciful servant. We are shown great mercy on a daily basis, do we show it to others? This is one of the more difficult principles of faith to live. It is often easy to receive mercy, but much more difficult to extend it. We are not perfect people, yet we expect perfection from others. Leaving room for our imperfections and others as well is a key to community.

None of these teachings are easy to put into practice in our lives. Still, they are a part of the path to fullness in our lives. May you join the journey.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Matthew 17 -- Is This For Real?

If the events of Matthew to this point have stretched our minds, chapter 17 pushes the limits. First Jesus gathers on the mountain top with Moses and Elijah, there is a dinner party I would love to sit in on. Peter, James and John are with Jesus and watching this unfold. When they want to do something to show their awe and appreciation the cloud of God covers them and speaks to them. This would completely freak most of us out. The very voice of God telling us to listen to the son that was sent, Jesus. That might sharpen our ears a little.

Then moving to the boy with a demon. No matter what they did the disciples could not seem to bring healing to the boy. While Jesus casts out the demon, he also lets the disciples have it for unbelief. This seems rather harsh to me. Jesus tells the disciples they could not drive out the demon because they did not have enough faith. The struggle comes when I transfer this to my life. I prayed for my dad to be healed of cancer, he died, is that because I did not have enough faith. The harsh answer, yes and no. I knew the only hope for my dad was God's gracious intervention. At the same time I doubted God still did things like heal people. So was it my lack of faith that kept my dad from being healed? I do not think so, but I think it caused me to take a good look at my life. If I had more faith would my dad be with us today, I don't think so. The reality is there are things in life that happen, and they are outside of our control. Jesus promises nothing will be impossible, but does not promise that because it is possible it will be done.

The question on the minds of the disciples or at least on my mind is, "Is this all for real?" That is the essential question of faith. Whether I believe it or not the "realness" of things will not change. Truth is truth, and just because I may or may not believe in it, does not change its truth. Whether I think the works of Jesus to be real or not is a non question. Their truth is their truth, not dependent on my believe. By the way, I do believe them to be true.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Matthew 16 -- Show Me

Jesus went around the middle east doing great works, and teaching about the Kingdom of God. Along the way there were some who needed more proof. The religious leaders came to Jesus one day and asked him to show them a sign from heaven. In essences asked Jesus to be a circus act and perform on demand. Jesus has nothing to do with it and uses the opportunity to criticize them.

I am not sure Jesus criticizes us, but we often function like the religious leaders. We ask God to show us something. Phrases that start out, Jesus if you are real, then you should do.... Interesting that we ask the question, Jesus if you are real. If he is not real who are we talking to then? Anyway, we are looking for a sign, something we can hang onto. We ask Jesus to perform for us so that we might know that he is real.

The response to the religious leaders is the same response given for us. We can look around and interpret things in the natural world, but we cannot seem to grasp what God has revealed right in front of us. This time of year in the northeast United States we look out and see the leaves are changing colors, we know winter will soon be upon us. Yet, we fail to see the breath we take and the life we have as the work of God. The abundance of God is all around us, just not always as we want to see it. So we are left cry out to God, show me. I think God is grace filled enough that we will be shown. Still I cannot help but wonder how long God will tolerate our inability to see what is already right in front of us.

Matthew 15 -- Clean and Unclean

Many have heard or used the phrase, "cleanliness is next to godliness". Part of that is true, while it needs some interpretation. Issues of clean and unclean are rather important in Jesus day, and today for some. The religious people of the day had many ritual cleanings which they did through out the day. Prescribed hand washings, the washing of plates and bowls before and after use. The washing of feet and body. The religious leaders were very concerned about the outward appearance of what they were doing.

Jesus takes on this issue in Matthew 15. The exterior is not nearly as important as the interior to Jesus. Some heavy claims are levied against the religious people of the day. What matters most according to Jesus is what comes out of a person, not what goes in. Having the right appearance does not mean the right things are happening within a persons life.

The real measure of our relationship with Jesus is found in the living of our lives not the claims about our lives. We can go through all the right motions and still be far away from God. There can be a strict adherence to all the do's and don'ts of religious life, and still no relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Matthew 14 -- Can't Believe My Eyes

I cannot imagine what it must have been like for those gathered around Jesus for the happenings of this chapter. Jesus has just received word about John the Baptist being beheaded, and he withdrew presumably to grieve. Upon his return the crowds pushed around him. As he healed and taught the crowd grew and so did the length of the day. When it was late Jesus told the disciples to feed the people. Can you really imagine watching two fish and five loaves feed upwards of 10,000 people? What was considered a lunch for most individuals feed the multitude that day. I have read the account over and over and it still holds me in awe.

If that were not enough later that evening Jesus walks on water. He sends the boat out while he dismisses the crowd and finds a place to pray. Then wanting to catch up to the gang he simply walks out across the lake to where they are. It should come as not surprise the disciples did not know what to make of the whole thing. It is not everyday someone walks on water. TO be sitting in that boat wondering what was about to happen to them, then the loud mouth Peter stands up and invites himself onto the water.

These are incredible events from our Scriptures, but can things like that still happen? It is easy to lock events such as these away and determine them to not be possible. Increasingly it is difficult for us to believe something unless we see it. Often when something outside our frame of experience happens we cannot believe what we are seeing. God is still into feeding the masses with as little as a few fish and bread, and God is still calling people out of the boat onto the water. The question is not whether God is still doing it, the question is do we believe it can still happen?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Matthew 13 -- The Kingdom of Heaven

The Disney movie "All Dogs Go To Heaven" gets at the idea more than we would like to think. The idea it gets at, in the end all people go to heaven. A great universalist doctrine, which has little standing when we actually read the Scriptures. Matthew 13 is pretty much an exclusive teaching by Jesus about what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. While everyone has a chance to participate in the Kingdom, Jesus makes it clear than not everyone will experience the fullness of the Kingdom.

Some of the seed will be snatched away, some will grow and wither, while some will grow and get choked by thorns, only a portion of the seed will grow and bear fruit. Likewise the wheat and the weeds will grow together. The reality, some will follow God and others will follow their own way. Those who follow God through Jesus Christ will experience the fullness of the Kingdom of God. This means some will be left out. This is not something that is being taught by human minds, rather from the very heart of God.

Jesus even addresses the religious people, and the fact that just because they are religious does not mean they will enter the Kingdom. In today's terms this means that just because you darken the door of the church, and talk about God, does not mean you will experience the Kingdom. Not all dogs go to heaven, and not all people experience the Kingdom.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Matthew 12 -- Denying the Turth

It should come as no surprise that people do not accept Jesus, or even more deny Jesus to be real and truth. The people who could watch and interact with Jesus denied the truth. They were eye witnesses to the teachings, the works and life of Jesus. Still the refused to recognize who Jesus is. Further, the religious people of the day are the people who were suppose to understand who Jesus is first, yet they were looking for someone who would behave the way they wanted that person to. Jesus did not follow their expectations and therefore the truth was denied.

It is easy to put ourselves in Matthew 12 and be on the wrong side of truth. More quickly than we imagine we could be the religious leaders telling Jesus what is and is not acceptable to God. In fact more often than I like to confront, I try to tell God how life is going to work out. Amazingly God does not fight me, rather allows me to go down the road which puts distance between me and God. Usually there comes a point when I realize my stupidity and return, a little more beat up, a little more weary, but very ready to follow.

May we be a generation which follows rather than tell God what to do. May we be a people where Jesus is the authority.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Matthew 11 -- Tough Teachings

As Jesus deploys the 12 on their ministry tour, he does the same and begins to teach. John the Baptist sends some folks to double check Jesus is the one. The response of Jesus is wonderful, it is not about the verbal answer of Jesus, he say tell John what you see happening, and he can determine. It was not the words of Jesus that carry the most convincing evidence of who he is, it is the actions of Jesus which display the work of the Kingdom of God.

After clearing that up, Jesus turns his attention on the religious leaders of the day. He challenges their fickle nature how the condemned John for his minimalist approach and they accuse Jesus of being a glutton. It seems some things never change, people are rarely happy with what is, and would rather focus on what was or is suppose to be. As a part of this teaching Jesus breaks out the whopping stick and offers some harsh words for the towns. Basically he tells them you have experienced the Kingdom of God in your midst, and yet you do not change the way you live.

The end of the chapter, often taken out of context, offers relief to those who are burdened and heavy laden. Jesus refers to his yoke. While helpful when we are struggling, it has nothing to do with struggling in day to day life, it is about the oppression of religion. The yoke referred to the teachings of the religious leaders, the burden was the hoops and loops being imposed upon the people. Basically, Jesus is saying all those who are tired of the religious crap, follow me and you will experience something completely different. The yoke of Jesus is freedom. The yoke of Jesus is fullness. The yoke of Jesus, is joy in the effort and journey. It is not free of work and challenge, yet it is full of grace and peace.

None of this is easy teaching. It was not then, it is not now. Still the Word of God remains, and the teachings of Jesus beckon us to the life we are called to live.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Matthew 10 -- Fear The Right Thing

Here in chapter 10 Jesus sends out the 12 on their first ministry tour. They are to go out and be about the ministry they have seen in Jesus. There is fair warning given, it is not going to be easy, and there will be opposition so be ready. Jesus understands what awaits the servants as the go out, and is concerned they will cave to the pressures of human criticism.

Jesus tells the disciples and us to not worry about the one who can kill the body, but to worry about the one who can kill the body and the soul. Interestingly, most of the time we find God telling the followers to fear not, here the message seems to be fear the right thing. Yeah it is going to be hard, we will be beaten, dragged before courts, religious or otherwise, and people will try to get us to turn from following. We should not fear what people can do to us, we should fear what our disobedience to God will cause for us.

Likewise when we are in those tight spots with humanity, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit will give us the words that need to be spoken. We do not even have to organize our own defense when we are following God, God will provide that for us, as long as we stay connected to the will and work of God.

We live in a day and age when people dear people, this is the wrong fear. We should fear what happens when we do not follow God with all our hearts, mind, soul and strength. We should fear what happens when we are more afraid of humanity than we are of God. No fear is not the right issue, correct fear will get one farther.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Matthew 9 -- The Harvest

It is one of those famous quotes, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few." We often miss the second part of the quote, "Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore to send out workers into his harvest field." We are not in charge of the harvest. Jesus is the Lord of the harvest, he is in charge not us. So what is our role, to work the fields. To be a sent people.

Most of us would rather be in charge of the harvest. The idea of determining what crops get picked and which ones get left, is appealing to many. Getting in to the field and doing the work, not so much. We would just assume have some one else do the work thank you. The reality is, we are the workers, and the Lord of the harvest is sending us. The question is will we go?

The harvest is not in question. When the time is complete the harvest will be brought in, but when we chose not to go and be a worker, it makes is harder for all the other workers. They not only have their called out work, but they have to cover yours as well. The Lord of the harvest is sending us to the field, as the harvest is ready. Are you going?

Matthew 8 -- The Cost

Jesus was an itinerant minister. He went from place to place preaching, teaching and healing. Sure we can point to Nazareth as a hometown, or the Galilee as a home region, but the reality is Jesus was on the move. Some one comes to Jesus as says, I will follow you wherever you go, Jesus gives what might seem like a strange answer. What Jesus is doing is clarifying the cost of following.

In America we get so confused about what is our right, and what is a privilege. There are certain things which we declare as a right of humanity. This gets blended in with our journey with God. Jesus lets us know there is a cost, and some of those things we see as writes are not. Jesus lets those that would be followers know that certainty is not often found in following Jesus. Life will be unpredictable. Life as a follower of Christ will not be like everyone else. Everything must be given over for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

This is not an easy thing. We, myself included, like stuff and we like the idea of having roots and some pattern to life. Jesus says, nope, there will be not rote pattern. Commonly I will here people say, but I like a pattern, other people like a predictable process to living life. Jesus makes it clear, life is not about what you and I like, it is about following Jesus. Personal preference is high on the list of rights many carry, Jesus says to follow me, you must lay it down. That is the cost of following, we do what the Master says.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Matthew 7 -- It Matters

As long as I have Jesus, or at least know about Jesus, I will be fine. I can live however I want to, and do what ever I want to as long as I remember who Jesus is. This is a thought which is prevalent throughout the church in America. From where I sit there is a disconnect between the way we live our lives and a relationship with Jesus. Here in Matthew 7 Jesus is doing two things. First he is challenging the rules and actions of the religious teachers of the day. Second he is showing that it is more than just knowing about Jesus.

This chapter of Matthew is the continuation of the Sermon on The Mount. Some have said this is Jesus' theological teachings. This is true, but not the point. The point is to show, his followers what it means to live a God honoring life. How a person who claims to follow Jesus should organize and live their life. The religious leaders of the day said here are the rules follow them, Jesus is highlighting that the rules alone will not make a life that matters.

It matters how we live the live we are given. In fact while the death of Jesus is essential for our relationship with God, it is his life and resurrection which is most important. We are to pattern our lives after his. The way we conduct our moment to moment lives matters. Living for ourselves and then seeking forgiveness will only leave us empty, and cheapen the grace of God. It matters how we live and we would be well advised to pay attention.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Matthew 6 -- Motivations

Why do we do what we do? We are called to pray, why do we pray the way and places we do? WE are called to do good works, we are called to spiritual disciplines of fasting, giving, praying etc... Why do we do them the way we do? That is the question God is asking us through Matthew. What is out motivation?

I have been in many situations where people have done what God has called not out of a spirit of following God, rather out of a look at me spirit. The look at me spirit is one where we practice our spiritual disciplines not for connection of God, but to show everyone else how holy we are. The result of this is people pretending to know God when they do not, and others being afraid of the spiritual disciplines because they are not as good as someone else.

None of what we do in the area of Spiritual disciplines is for someone else. It is all for God. When we pray, it is to communicate with God not others. When we fast, it is to deepen our connection with God, not show our holiness. In our giving, we are not giving to show people our wealth and sacrifice, it is to show God how much we trust. There will always be someone who uses more eloquent words to pray, there will always be someone who does and gives more than you, it is not a competition. It is the living out a relationship with God.

When we forget this, we begin to worry about everything. We trust our own eyes and understanding more than God's. We have no reason to worry, only to trust. Seek first the Kingdom of God, and let God take care of the rest .

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Matthew 5 -- You Have Heard

Chapter 5 begins what is commonly called the Sermon on The Mount. Over the next few chapters we hear Jesus basic stance on many of the religious issues of the day. To the Jewish people this would be considered Jesus' midrash, or his interpretation of the scriptures. To the casual reader these might not seem like they are controversial. Part of that is because these passages have woven their way into the fabric of our American society so deeply they seem common.

In Jesus' day these statements were extremely controversial as they were an interpretation of the law which was not part of the common practice. There were people talking about how they had never done it like this before, and how we must we remember the way things have been done around here. But Jesus is directly challenging that. He keeps saying, you have heard it said, then he will tell a new truth. This was exciting some people while it was make some very agitated.

It is a dangerous game when we think we have figured out all the truths about God, and how God works. Jesus could speak with great authority because he is God. You and I are only growing in relationship with God, but not God. The way things were, and the way things are, might not be the way things God wants them to be. We must be open and willing to follow when God says you have heard it said.

Matthew 4 -- The Beginning

Here in this chapter we have Matthews account of how Jesus' earthly mission began. It was no easy beginning. Sure the Baptism of chapter three was nice and a great celebration. Right away, however, Jesus is faced with temptations. Before Jesus preaches one word, before he heals a single person, before he has a follower other than John, Satan messes with Jesus. If Satan can derail Jesus before he gets started then, the rest of the story will never happen.

All of the temptations are answered with Scripture. Even Jesus did not have to use his own strength and power, he left that up to God the creator. Once Jesus clears the temptations the mission goes into full swing. The first followers are invited and the work of preaching, teaching and healing is under way.

I am amazed at how often Satan tries to derail something before it even gets out of the gate. Even more surprising is the number of times we let him. There are always solid earthly reasons for not doing something. The risk can be high and the cost more than one can bear. Possible there are people who become an unknown agent of the enemy who try to slow things down. No matter how it looks, we have all faced the start of something, and had plenty of reason to not go any further.

The battle we fight is already won. We do not have to fight it. All we must do is remind the Enemy, of the fight which he lost. This is done by turning to the holy Scriptures.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Matthew 3 -- Understated Ministry

Other than Jesus, I think John the Baptist is my favorite person from the Bible. He was rough around the edges. The religious people hated him. He was bold and straight forward, and did not care if you liked what he had to say. I am sure John never shrunk back from a challenge. John also know his role in what God was doing. Many people became disciples of John, and he kept pointing them to the One who is to come. It was never about John. When Jesus comes to be baptized John refuses out of a feeling of unworthiness. Yet Jesus insists and baptizes the Lord.

John himself said that he must decrease and Jesus must increase, but I think we miss something when we brush past John's ministry too quickly. Jesus was pardoning sins, healing the blind, lame and possessed, acting with great compassion and grace. John was doing the same, but with a different style and edge. If Jesus was the ultimate revival, as He is, then John is the the ultimate agent of God who quickens the souls of humanity to be ready for revival. John prepares the way. This is needed but difficult ministry. John knows it will be Jesus in the lights not him. John knows that the one who comes after him will be the one who reaps the harvest. Sowing the harvest is often much more difficult that reaping, especially when you know you will not be the one reaping your effort.

John is not slowed. He understands the role God has raised him up to play in the redemption of the world. I wonder if we are able to the same, or if we are seeking more recognition and fame?

Matthew 2 -- The Early Years

We have come to expect the birth of Jesus to be accompanied with much fanfare. When his actual birth took place there was fanfare but not by all the people. Not everyone was excited about the idea of the Messiah being born. A group that were excited were "outsiders" the Magi were most likely astrologers who had heard the teachings about the coming Messiah. God had revealed to them just who was being born. The come with gifts and worship to offer to the new born king as the song says. In other Gospel accounts we get the story of the shepherds and the angels. We get a more developed story of John the Baptist and other surround events. Not in Matthew, some understood and some did not, and those who understood who had been born were outsiders.

Early in life Jesus was on the move. From Bethlehem to Egypt and back to Judea. Finally stopping in The Galilee, more specifically in the town of Nazareth. There are not many details from the early years of Jesus. We know there were people celebrating him, and there were those trying to kill him. It seems this is the lot of God who enters into our world. I suppose things have not changed all that much since then. Some are willing to give everything and follow anywhere, while others will do anything to kill or ruin. I am glad I know how the story ends and where I need to align myself.

Matthew 1 -- Genealogy

For many years I wondered why in the world the genealogy was included in the scriptures. I know in the Old Testament there was more emphasis on the family connections as the primary way of being a part of the people of God, Israel, was through birthright. But why would they put all those pain inducing names in one sting, right at the beginning of the New Testament. Obviously they did not have a good editor working for them and the marketing department did not get to review the layout. Is it possible the problem is not the book and its layout? Could it be my understanding is limited?

As I have wrestled with the genealogy I have gained a different understanding. I am still not enamored with it, but that is not always the point of Scripture. The first revelation I have had is that Christs appearance on earth was intentional. That might sound obvious, but I mean the person to who Jesus was born and the family line was intentional. God did not randomly pick some peasant girl in the middle east to inflict being the mother of Jesus upon. The family line of Joseph mattered.

Second the genealogy shows that not all the members of Jesus earthly family line had it all together. King David, the one who murdered Uriah, Solomon the arms dealer, see Rob Bell's writings. Included are some of the Old Testament Kings, who have a sketchy past. It was not out of perfection and purity Jesus earthly family emerged. It is almost as if anyone of us could be a part of that.

The genealogy is tedious, and hard to pronounce. Easily one could skip right over it. Yet it seems there is something important in those words about who God is, and about how God relates to us.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

2 Timothy 4 -- Be Prepared

Are you ready for anything? If someone asked you to teach them something about God could you do it right there and then? If the answer is no, you have some work to do. We are to be ready, at a moments notice to teach something about God. Further what we teach ought to be truth, not simply our impressions of truth. This will mean a life drenched in God where we are connecting with God. If we do not we could fall pray to all sorts of teaching.

We are warned the day will come when people will gather around them people who tell them what they want to hear. I cannot help but think of Michael Jackson. Since his death we have heard from several people who were advising Mr. Jackson in his life and affairs. Many of them did so at great personal financial gain. It is easy to see how some of these people did not do what was in the best interest of Jackson, rather they did what he asked them to do. The results were tragic.

It is important we a rooted and grounded in truth, and we surround ourselves with people who will hold us accountable, not only tell us what we want to hear.

2 Timothy 3 -- Beware

In chapter 3 Paul warns of people who have the form, or appearance of godliness, but do not have the life to back it up. These people worm their way into the homes of weak women and take advantage of them. The first thing I though about was the televangelists of our day. To watch them they talk a great game, and I think God uses their ill-gotten ministry for kingdom purposes. Still when the curtain is pulled back truth about them is revealed.

Before we launch into attacking such people, we must realize that could be any of us. I am not sure we are going to have a TV ministry empire, but we could have the appearance of godliness with out the life to back it up. It is no wonder after that sobering thought Paul turns attention to the Scriptures. In many circles the scriptures have fallen from favor, diminished in their value and believed to point to truth but not contain it. This is very dangerous, and Paul words are vital to the landscape today.

When we are in relationship to the Scriptures, and allow our lives to be shaped by them, conviction is high. Allowing ourselves to be convicted will increase the chances of living a life that matched the godly appearance. In fact we will not have to worry about the appearance, the more we allow God to shape our lives through the scriptures. God will take care of our appearance.

2 Timothy 2 -- Arguments

"Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels." v.23. The easy at which I can be pulled into a foolish or stupid argument is alarming. There is something with in me that loves a good fight. When it comes to physical fights, I would not do well. If the battle is one with words, I can hold my own with the best of them. The result is I can find myself in an argument that I do not need to be in.

I cannot help but imagine Paul is counseling Timothy out of some pretty serious life experience. Paul does not seem like a guy who would back down from a challenge, especially a debate or argument. It seems as Paul is sitting in a Roman prison reflection on his life is well under way. In this reflection he offers to Timothy and us, to not get into foolish or stupid arguments. How is this done?

There are not words from Paul on this specifically, but I think it starts by us knowing who we are, and what God has called us to. Being clear about who we are means we understand how God has put us together. It means understanding that our primary identification is not with anything of this world, rather it is of the inbreaking Kingdom of God. Knowing what God has called us to will give us clarity of priorities. We will know which battles are important and which ones are foolish and stupid by how they relate to the call.

Not mentioned by Paul, yet worth mentioning, when we get sucked into these arguments, Satan gains a huge foothold. In fact Satan will bait us into these arguments that we might get sidetracked or trapped. This is why we must do all we can to steer clear.