More Powerful Than the Problem

Today’s Reading: Matthew 12:38-45, 8:28-34, 9:18-26; Mark 5:1-43; Luke 11:24-32, 8:26-56

“Who is this man?”

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them.

When he saw the storms, he silenced them.

When he saw evil, he commanded it to flee.

As Jesus was climbing out of the boat, a man who was possessed by demons came out to meet him. For a long time he had been homeless and naked, living in a cemetery outside of town…This spirit had often taken control of the man. Even when he was placed under guard and put in chains and shackles, he simply broke them and rushed into the wilderness, completely under the demon’s power. – Luke 8:27,29

This man may have been under the demon’s power, but Jesus had authority over the demon. He cast them out of this man, who was made to live among the dead. He freed him from this bondage and gave him new life. No power was too large for Jesus to control. He could calm the storm, overcome evil with good and Jesus could heal the dying.

When the sick reached out to him, he healed them.

Then a man named Jairus, a leader of the local synagogue, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come home with him. His only daughter, who was about twelve years old, was dying. As Jesus went with him, he was surrounded by the crowds. A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding, and she could find no cure. Coming up behind Jesus, she touched the fringe of his robe. Immediately, the bleeding stopped.

“Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

Everyone denied it, and Peter said, “Master, this whole crowd is pressing up against you.”

But Jesus said, “Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me.” When the woman realized that she could not stay hidden, she began to tremble and fell to her knees in front of him. The whole crowd heard her explain why she had touched him and that she had been immediately healed. “Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” – Luke 8:41-48

What a lonely, isolated life this woman must have experienced. She was considered unclean for twelve years and forced to live away from her family in the tent set aside for women during the time of bleeding. Only her bleeding never stopped. That is until she reached out to Jesus. In the midst of her suffering and sickness, she reached out to touch the hem of her Savior’s garment and her life was forever changed.

When death threatens to undo us, Jesus takes us by the hand and says, “My child, get up!”

While he was still speaking to her, a messenger arrived from the home of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. He told him, “Your daughter is dead. There’s no use troubling the Teacher now.”

But when Jesus heard what had happened, he said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith, and she will be healed.”

When they arrived at the house, Jesus wouldn’t let anyone go in with him except Peter, John, James, and the little girl’s father and mother. The house was filled with people weeping and wailing, but he said, “Stop weeping! She isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.”

But the crowd laughed at him because they all knew she had died. Then Jesus took her by the hand and said in a loud voice, “My child, get up!” And at that moment her life returned, and she immediately stood up! Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. Her parents were overwhelmed, but Jesus insisted that they not tell anyone what had happened. – Luke 8:49-56

“Who is this man?”

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them.
When he saw the storms, he silenced them.
When he saw evil, he commanded it to flee.
When the sick reached out to him, he healed them.
When death threatens to undo us, Jesus takes us by the hand and says, “My child, get up!”

I don’t know what you are facing or how you are feeling but my Jesus knows. The One who can heal, who can calm storms, and who can bring back the dead knows. Reach out and touch the hem of his garment. Stretch out your hand and hear him say, “My child, get up!” It’s time to be fed. It’s time to be strengthened again. Jesus is here to restore and it’s your turn to receive.

Mightier Than the Sea

Today’s Reading: Matthew 8:23-27, 9:35-38; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25; Psalm 48 and 93

Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” – Matthew 9:35-38

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them.

When Jesus sees our needs he has compassion on us. But how often do we feel like God does not care about what we are going through? How often does it feel like Jesus is in the back of the boat asleep during our storm?

As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, DON’T YOU CARE that we’re going to drown?”

When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!” – Mark 4:35-41

When he saw the storms, he silenced them.

The disciples had watched Jesus do many miraculous things for other people. Now it was their chance for Jesus to do something miraculous for them. The disciples thought they were simply crossing the lake but Jesus knew there was more for them to learn. He wanted them to see things from the other side of the lake, see him from another perspective.

“Who is this man?”

Jesus knew his disciples were not fully aware of who he was, that they still underestimated him. I heard a friend recently say that Jesus probably knew it was storming. He chose to sleep while his disciples tried everything they knew how to do. They were fishermen and had been in storms before. Jesus was simply waiting for them to ask, waiting for them to stop trying on their own and call on him for help.

Oh, how often we are guilty of this! Troubles come into our lives and we try to take care of them in our own strength first. The winds and the waves threaten us and we grab a bucket and start throwing water overboard. When we have tried everything we know to do, we finally fall to our knees and do what we should have done first – we pray.

By calming their storm, the disciples began to better understand Jesus, which strengthened their faith making them more effective workers in his harvest fields. Now they understood that Jesus had power over creation, over the elements and over the storms.

The floods have risen up, O Lord.
The floods have roared like thunder;
the floods have lifted their pounding waves.
But mightier than the violent raging of the seas,
mightier than the breakers on the shore—
the Lord above is mightier than these!
– Psalm 93:3-4

Jesus has power over the things going wrong in our lives, whether it is natural circumstances of this broken world such as storms or illness or whether it is the consequences of our own sinful decisions. Jesus is bigger than all of it. Let’s not underestimate Jesus today. Let’s PUT DOWN THE BUCKET and make our first reaction to today’s situations prayer. The harvest depends on it.

“The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” – Matthew 9:38

Sold Out for Jesus

Today’s Reading: Matthew 13:44-46; Psalm 24 and 47

Who is this King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty;
The Lord, invincible in battle…
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies –
he is the King of glory.
– Psalm 24:8,10

How is Jesus affecting your life? What is your response to his teaching and to the difference he is making in the world around you and in your own life?

Word about Jesus was spreading all over the region. When he taught in the synagogue, people were amazed by his teaching. When he healed the demon-possessed, people were again amazed! Everyone was talking about this Jesus from Nazareth. Lives were touched and hearts were encouraged from far and near.

Amazed, the people exclaimed, “What authority and power this man’s words possess! Even evil spirits obey him, and they flee at his command!” The news about Jesus spread through every village in the entire region. – Luke 4:36-37

Jesus was making a difference in the ENTIRE region. Wherever he went, he was surrounded by crowds of people – people coming to hear his teaching or bring their sickness to him for healing.

When they came down from the mountain, the disciples stood with Jesus on a large, level area, surrounded by many of his followers and by the crowds. There were people from all over Judea and from Jerusalem and from as far north as the seacoasts of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed. Everyone tried to touch him, because healing power went out from him, and he healed everyone. – Luke 6:17-19

Everyone. Every person who came to Jesus for healing was healed. There was no sickness too great, no disease too complicated, no demon too powerful. Jesus was surrounded by crowds yet he took the time to heal each one.

Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. News about him spread as far as Syria, and people soon began bringing to him all who were sick. And whatever their sickness or disease, or if they were demon-possessed or epileptic or paralyzed – he healed them all. Large crowds followed him WHEREVER HE WENT – people from Galilee, the Ten Towns, Jerusalem, from all over Judea, and from east of the Jordan River. – Matthew 4:23-25

Large crowds of people were so taken by Jesus that they were willing to follow him wherever he went! Now that’s passion! But it is very similar to our reaction after Jesus radically changes our lives, isn’t it? We fall SO in love with this Jesus, who would heal us or love us or die for us, we would do whatever he asks us to do. We would go wherever he leads us. We give whatever he stirs our hearts to give in order to fund the mission of spreading God’s word.

Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Jerod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples. – Luke 8:1-3

They were so excited about what Jesus was doing that they were willing to LIVE SACRIFICIALLY and GIVE SACRIFICIALLY. As they traveled with Jesus, they heard the same message over and over again and it was changing their lives – the message of the Good News about the Kingdom of God.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.

“Again, the King of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!” – Matthew 13:44-46

To want something so much that I am willing to lose all else that I might gain that one thing.

To value something so much that I am willing to forfeit everything in the pursuit of it.

To care about something so much that nothing else matters except that one thing.

This is what God is calling us to.

Devoted.

Sold-out.

Passionate.

Do I value the Kingdom of Heaven more than my own earthly kingdom?

Do I value heavenly treasures more than earthly treasures?

Do I value spiritual rewards more than physical rewards?

Do I value my relationship with God above all other relationships?

What will be MY response to Jesus?

Holy Spirit, move in me today. I long to hear from you. Empty me of all that is sin and all that is self and fill me with you. Amen.

Growing Wheat

Today’s Reading: Matthew 13:31-35; Mark 4:26-34; Luke 13:6-9, 18-21

Jesus used many similar stories and illustrations to teach the people as much as they could understand. In fact, in his public ministry he never taught without using parables; but afterward, when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them. – Mark 4:33-34

I love a good story. There is power in hearing a story and letting it change your life. Stories keep us engaged and help us remember God’s teaching. Jesus’ stories do the same thing. They bring theology into full color and make it easier to understand.

Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.” – Mark 4:26-29

At the Pregnancy Resource Center in Kankakee, Illinois, a reminder has been placed on the wall of our role in bringing others to salvation. It says:

Success in Witnessing is…
Living out my Christian life
Sharing the gospel
Trusting God with the Results
Success is NOT bringing someone to Christ.

God calls us to plant the seed but what happens after that is beyond our control. We cannot make the decision for another person. We can stay close by to support them and encourage them and answer their questions, but the decision to live for Christ is theirs and only theirs to make.

We have to trust the way God uses His Word in the heart of another person. It is mysterious and beyond what my human effort can produce. I can plant the seed and I can pray for the harvest, but I have to leave the results up to the Lord. In the words of the apostle Paul: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow (1 Corinthians 3:6).

Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.” – Mark 4:30-32

What an encouraging verse! We cannot get discouraged at our small attempts to plant seed, even when we do not see immediate results. Like a farmer, we need to have patience and trust that there is growth below the surface that we cannot see. We need to have faith and believe that God can grow that seed into something large and spectacular – something that will one day help others who come to rest in its shade.

He also asked, “What else is the Kingdom of God like? It is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.” – Luke 13:20-21

The Kingdom of God is permeating and has the power to transform! Jesus started with 12 disciples and look how the gospel has spread across nations and cities and communities and neighborhoods. One by one, the gospel is shared and new life springs up. The change in a new Christian is small compared to the work that God intends to do over time in the life of His children. Transformation and growth will take place and continue in that person’s life, and soon they will be planting seeds in the lives of those around them. This is how the message of Jesus spreads and takes root. This is how the Kingdom of God continues to increase.

Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’

“The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’” – Luke 13:6-9

Oh the love of our Jesus, that He would never give up on us.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9

If He does not give up on us, we should not give up on the lost. Even when we cannot see the growth that is happening below the surface, we must TRUST GOD FOR THE RESULTS. We must listen carefully and obey what He prompts us to do and to say, and we must never give up on the seeds. We must see in it the potential of being the largest plant in the garden. For the sake of the birds who will someday nest in its branches, we must give it time, special attention and plenty of prayer.

Pulling Weeds

Today’s Reading: Matthew 12:22-37, 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-52; Mark 3:20-30; Luke 8:1-3, 11:14-23

“A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad…For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart.” – Matthew 12:33-35

Good and evil. Jesus spoke of these two opposites many times, often in the context of judgment – judging what is evil and what is good, dividing the two and separating them into two distinct places, heaven and hell. The disciples asked Jesus a question that we often hear in different forms today, including in the 2014 movie “God’s Not Dead” – Why does God allow evil to continue to impact the world leaving behind a trail of hurt, pain, sickness, and death?

Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.

The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’
‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.
‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.

‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’” – Matthew 13:24-30

God has not wiped evil off the face of the earth because He is not willing that any should perish. There are many who have yet to accept the gift of salvation and God is patiently beckoning them to Himself. God loves His children and desires for their destiny to be heaven and not hell, but He gives them free will – the choice between good and evil, between serving Him or serving themselves.

Peter understood what Jesus was teaching. Later he wrote: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

God does not want anyone to be destroyed, or to perish. We do not like to talk about hell. It’s uncomfortable. We have softened our talk on hell enough that there are many who doubt its reality. But Jesus did not back down from speaking about the judgment day or the harvest when good and evil will be separated. The reality of this coming separation should not quiet our discussion, instead we should be busy planting seeds and spreading the gospel in order to save others from being “thrown into the fire.”

His disciples said, “Please explain to us the story of the weeds in the field.”

Jesus replied, “The Son of Man is the farmer who plants the good seed. The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the devil. The harvest is the end of the world, and the harvesters are the angels.

“Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” – Matthew 13:36b-43

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net that was thrown into the water and caught fish of every kind. When the net was full, they dragged it up onto the shore, sat down, and sorted the good fish into crates, but threw the bad ones away. That is the way it will be at the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicked people from the righteous, throwing the wicked into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Do you understand all these things?” – Matt. 13:47-51

In the meantime, we live in an imperfect world where evil and good coexist. In the meantime, we have a choice to either be influenced by the evil around us or to cling to the good. In the meantime, we have a responsibility to overcome evil and spread the good news to those around us.

“Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me.” – Matthew 12:30

Father God, as we see the farmers out in the fields, remind us of our calling. Help us to see that there are those around us who need us to reach out and save them from the influence of this world. Let us not become so comfortable in our own salvation that we are no longer uncomfortable with the knowledge that others are without salvation. As we see spring turning into summer, flowers blooming and crops growing, remind us that you, God, can make great change in the lives of the unsaved around us, just as you are transforming our lives. Amen.

Planting Seeds

Today’s Reading: Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-25; Luke 8:4-18

For the last few years, my life has been greatly impacted by the book The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling (http://www.4dxbook.com). The book talks about using “lead measures” and “lag measures” when trying to obtain your W.I.G.s or wildly important goals. I introduced these concepts to my team at work and they embraced them, making a huge difference on how much we get done each week and where we place our focus.

Lag measures are the measure of the result you are trying to reach while lead measures are the measure of what will predictably influence the lag measures. Here is a simple example that helps these concepts make sense. I am trying to lose weight…again. How many pounds I lose will be my lag measure, but I am probably not going to lose weight if my focus is on how much I weigh each morning. Stepping on the scales each day is simply not going to take the pounds and inches away. I need to instead focus on the lead measures – how many calories I am burning and how many calories I am consuming each day. It is reasonable to predict that if I burn more calories than I consume, I will lose weight.

Now let us consider Covey’s concepts while reading the parable of the farmer scattering seed. If the farmer’s goal is to grow more plants, and he knows that the more seed he sows the more plants he grows, it makes sense for him to plant more seeds in order to grow more plants. It is predictable. If he wants his harvest to be a certain size, his focus must be on how many seeds he plants and how many fields he works in.

One day Jesus told a story in the form of a parable to a large crowd that had gathered from many towns to hear him: “A farmer went out to plant his seed. As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds ate it. Other seed fell among rocks. It began to grow, but the plant soon wilted and died for lack of moisture. Other seed fell among thorns that grew up with it and choked out the tender plants. Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted!” When he had said this, he called out, “Anyone with ears should listen and understand.”

“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is God’s word. The seeds that fell on the footpath represent those who hear the message, only to have the devil come and take it away from their hearts and prevent them from believing and being saved. The seeds on the rocky soil represent those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they believe for a while, then they fall away when they face temptation. The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity. And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.” – Luke 8:4-8, 11-15

Not everyone who hears the message of God’s word is going to accept it. Not everyone who hears how they can receive forgiveness will choose to believe. Some of the “seed” we plant will fall on the footpath, some on rocky soil, some among thorns and some on good soil. If our lag measure is how many people pray to accept Jesus as their Savior, the lead measure is what? If we want to lead someone to Christ, not for our own gain but so that they can experience the joyful life we are blessed with each day, what do we need to do?

At the Pregnancy Resource Center, our mission is to save the lives of unborn children by promoting life-affirming options and providing practical assistance, while sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed, and to minister restoration to those who have been wounded by the trauma of abortion. So our lag measure is the difference we make in someone’s life but our focus needs to be on our lead measures.

How many opportunities do we have each day to present a woman with her options, provide material assistance to help her prepare for the birth of her baby, present the gospel of Jesus, and comfort a woman grieving from her abortion experience? If we want to make a bigger difference in our community, we have to have a strategy for getting the message out there of who we are and what we do. So client marketing is the lead measure we are looking at. After all, how can we help her if she does not know we exist.

If our mission as believers is to introduce others to Jesus or see those around us accepting Jesus as their personal Savior, we could ask ourselves what we are doing to encourage those opportunities. In light of Jesus’ parable, we could ask how many seeds we are planting each day. If we don’t plant seeds, there will be no harvest.

I recently sat in a youth leaders meeting and someone voiced the burden they were carrying for some of our struggling teens. While encouraged by the spiritual growth taking place in the lives of some of our teens, we are also saddened by some of the choices being made by others. By the end of our discussion, we were reminded that we need to just keep “planting seeds” by creating opportunities for the teens to grow in their understanding of God as well as opportunities to live out their growing faith. We need to persevere and keep investing in their lives, trusting God with the results.

Where will my focus be today? Is it just another day about me or will I see myself as the farmer whose goal is to have a large harvest this fall? If I do not set out with my eyes open for opportunities to plant seeds, I will most likely miss every chance that comes my way. Today I am a farmer and today I will look for opportunities to reach out to those around me and plant seeds because it may just be the seed needed to grow a plant.

“No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed. A lamp is to be placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house.” – Luke 8:16

Wisdom on Display

Today’s Reading: Matthew 11:1-30; Luke 7:18-35

When a volcano erupts, the natural outflow of the eruption is lava. When anger is allowed to grow, hate grows as well. When bees work together in community, the natural outflow is the production of honey. When communities come together after tragedy strikes, the natural outcome is love. When spring brings a great amount of rain into a region, the natural outcome is high waters and flooded streets. That same rain also encourages the growth of crops and fills the lakes with the water needed to maintain a healthy level throughout the summer heat.

WHAT IS THE NATURAL OUTFLOW OF OUR LIVES AND THE STORMS WE EXPERIENCE?

“But wisdom is shown to be right by its results.” – Matthew 11:19b

These are the words of Jesus to the crowd of people as he called them to a holy lifestyle. Luke tells of the same moment in a slightly different way: “But wisdom is shown to be right by the lives of those who follow it” (Luke 7:35). What a great way to start my morning – a cup of coffee with a challenge to inspect my heart and the results of my daily life. The evidence of wisdom can be found in the way we live out our lives.

Jesus went on to call out those communities of people who had seen all of the miracles he had performed, YET continued to live their lives by their own desires and for their own purposes.

“What sorrow awaits you, Korazin and Bethsaida! For if the miracles I did in you had been done in wicked Tyre and Sidon, their people would have repented of their sins long ago, clothing themselves in burlap and throwing ashes on their heads to show their remorse. I tell you, Tyre and Sidon will be better off on judgment day than you.

“And you people of Capernaum, will you be honored in heaven? No, you will go down to the place of the dead. For if the miracles I did for you had been done in wicked Sodom, it would still be here today. I tell you, even Sodom will be better off on judgment day than you.” – Matthew 11:21-24

I cannot help but feel like Jesus is talking to the Church and to the Christian community. Those of us who have been blessed to have experienced the presence of God in a worship service or to have witnessed God’s healing power in the lives of others, we should be the first to submit to our Savior and live the righteous life He calls us to. To have experienced God’s blessings and then reject him as Lord is a serious offense.

Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen – the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, ‘God bless those who do not turn away because of me.’” – Matthew 11:4-6

ONCE WE HAVE MET JESUS, ONCE WE HAVE EXPERIENCED GOD, HIS PLAN IS FOR US TO FOLLOW HIM.

This righteous life is not a set of rules or a religion, it is a relationship. Right living flows from the heart that has seen God at work and desires nothing more than to serve Him every day. It is not a standard or measurement, it is an authentic effort to get to know God and to spend time with Him and to live your life connected to the One who created all things.

“My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” – Matthew 11:27-30

JESUS SPEAKS OF RELATIONSHIP AND A CONTINUED CONNECTION TO HIM.

Everything Jesus did and everything he said was rooted in his relationship with the Father and the unity that exists between them. Jesus is offering us that same relationship – that same connection and unity.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.” – John 10:14-15

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” – John 14:6-7

“O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.” – John 17:25-26

What a privilege to sit at the feet of Jesus and to remain in His presence throughout the day! How marvelous it is to know Him and be known by Him! Lord, may my wisdom be evidenced by the result of my life and may my life be described as following you each day – not as religious duty but as an outflow of my relationship with you.

Faith on Display

Today’s Reading: Matthew 7:13-29, 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-17, 7:36-50

Out of faith came healing…

When Jesus returned to Capernaum, a Roman officer came and pleaded with him, “Lord, my young servant lies in bed, paralyzed and in terrible pain.”

Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.”

But the officer said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home. Just say the word from where you are and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to those who were following him, he said, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!…”

Then Jesus said to the Roman officer, “Go back home. Because you believed, it has happened.” And the young servant was healed that same hour. – Matthew 8:5-10, 13

No one would have expected a Roman officer to have faith in Jesus, yet his faith was strong enough to believe that Jesus could simply speak the healing into being. And that is what Jesus did.

HE TOOK THE FAITH OF A POWERFUL MAN AND DISPLAYED THE POWER OF AN OMNIPOTENT GOD.

Out of compassion came healing and then perhaps faith…

Soon afterward Jesus went with his disciples to the village of Nain, and a large crowd followed him. A funeral procession was coming out as he approached the village gate. The young man who had died was a widow’s son, and a large crowd from the village was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion. “Don’t cry!” he said. Then he walked over to the coffin and touched it, and the bearers stopped. “Young man,” he said, “I tell you, get up.” Then the dead boy sat up and began to talk! And Jesus gave him back to his mother. – Luke 7:11-15

There is no mention of the widow’s faith here; no mention of anyone requesting that Jesus bring this young man back from the dead. Yet Jesus, out of compassion, did something wonderful for this woman and her son, as well as for everyone else who was watching. Jesus gave this mother back her son. If there was no faith before, there certainly was now.

HE TOOK THE SORROW OF A GRIEVING MOTHER AND DISPLAYED THE COMPASSION OF A LOVING GOD.

There are times when God does something wonderful for us because we ask and times when God does something wonderful for us in spite of the fact that we do not ask. As a result of our faith God moves and in order to grow our faith God moves.

Out of faith comes forgiveness, which brings healing…

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

When the Pharisees who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”

Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”

“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.

Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people – 500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces of silver to the other. But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”

Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”

“That’s right,” Jesus said. Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

“I tell you, her sins – and they are many – have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”

The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man that he goes around forgiving sins?”

And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” – Luke 7:36-50

This woman had faith in Jesus and her sins were forgiven. But beyond forgiveness, this woman needed healing from her past. Therefore, Jesus also gave her peace.

JESUS TOOK THE REGRET OF A SINFUL WOMAN AND DISPLAYED THE FORGIVENESS OF A SAVING GOD.

What do you need from Jesus today? Do you need healing? Do you need to recognize what God is doing in your life and allow it to grow your faith? Do you need forgiveness or the healing God gives after forgiveness in order to speak peace where condemnation continues to be your enemy? I pray God gives you both what you need and what you ask for today. I also pray that you display your faith by asking God for what you desire today. Remember, He is OMNIPOTENT. Remember, He is a LOVING God. Remember, He is a SAVING God.

Use Your Words

Today’s Reading: Matthew 7:1-6; Luke 6:37-42

When our girls were little and having an emotional moment, we would remind them to “Use your words.” They would take a deep breath and then attempt to express in words how they were feeling or what they were frustrated about. Words are powerful and can make a huge difference in someone’s life, positive and negative. How we choose to use the power of speech can improve someone’s experience or weigh them down with discouragement.

Have you ever noticed at sporting events how we sometimes yell the obvious? To the pitcher, we yell, “Get this guy out!” He has been trying to get every batter out for the last five innings but we yell the obvious anyhow. The football team will be seven points behind and someone will yell, “We need a touchdown!” Probably most of what we yell from the sidelines is already the goal of the players on the field. What they need from us is encouragement – “You can do it!” or “We believe in you!”

I was reminded of this kind of game-time cheering as I was reading Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. How often do we see the situation someone else is in and wonder why they are not doing something to get themselves out? Why is it that we come up with solutions to other people’s problems so much easier than we come up with solutions to our own?

When it is someone else who has gotten themselves into a situation, the solution seems so easy and obvious. Yet they do not need us to yell the obvious from the sidelines. They are well aware of the situation they are in. What they need is encouragement. That or put on a uniform and get in the game!

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your own eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” – Matthew 7:1-5

Jesus is NOT saying that we shouldn’t help each other; that we should only worry about ourselves. No, he is commanding us to stop judging each other for the help that we need. We need to first examine our own situations. When we do this, we will most likely see that we, too, are not perfect. We make mistakes and get ourselves into situations we should not be in, just like others around us.

The messages of Jesus are consistent with the idea that we need to reach out and help those around us, loving them the way we would want to be loved (there’s that Golden Rule again). Jesus is not saying to ignore the single woman with three kids because “she should have known better than to marry that guy.” Jesus is not saying to criticize the parents whose kids are out of control because “this would not be happening if they had just made them obey when they were younger.” The answer to all situations is that Jesus wants us to reach out in love to one another, not sit in judgment of each other.

We already looked at the Sermon on the Mount from Luke’s gospel. Let’s look again at how Luke retold this portion of Jesus’ sermon.

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”

Then Jesus gave the following illustration: “Can one blind person lead another? Won’t they both fall into a ditch? Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher.

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

“A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” – Luke 6:37-45

What we say about other people FLOWS FROM WHAT IS IN YOUR HEART. A good person produces good things from their heart; an evil person produces evil things. This is good to remember next time I am in the mood to gossip or to say something critical about someone else. Let’s USE OUR WORDS to make a positive difference in someone else’s day.

Lord, please forgive me for the evil things that have spilled out of my mouth. Forgive me for my criticisms of others. Forgive me for my gossiping tongue. Lord, my desire is to help others. Please take this log out of my own eye so that I can reach out to others with a pure heart. Amen.

SUPPLICATION

Today’s Reading : Matthew 6:19-34, 7:7-11

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” – Matthew 7:7-8

Have you ever read these verses and asked, “So what’s the catch?” We have all asked for something we did not receive, so what must we do to gain understanding of this promise spoken by Jesus? Let’s go back to what Jesus said in his sermon right before he said this.

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:33

Again, Jesus speaks of righteous living, this time in the context of focusing on our own needs or focusing on the Kingdom of God. Jesus challenges His listeners to consider their focus and so I choose to take that challenge this morning as well.

Am I serving God or myself? Am I working to advance the Kingdom of God or my own kingdom?

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” – Matthew 6:19-21

What does my heart desire? Am I willing to let God fill my heart with what He desires and with what breaks His heart instead of letting my own desires for earthly gain grow?

Am I serving God or myself? Am I seeking the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of me?

“Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!” – Matthew 6:22-23

Consider how much life would change if we were to lose our sight. Our eye is such a small part of the body and yet, without its ability to let light in, our life would be so different. Our focus in life influences our eyes – our heart determines our focus and our focus determines what our eyes see. So where am I focused? I am either seeing the light of Jesus or I am focused on the light of the world, which is really darkness disguised as light. It’s time for the challenge questions:

Am I serving God or myself? Am I seeking the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of me?

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” – Matthew 6:24

We serve a jealous God. The first of the Ten Commandments is “You must not have any other god but me” (Exodus 20:3). “And you must love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, ALL your soul, and ALL your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today” (Deuteronomy 6:5-6). Am I serving God or money? This is essentially the same we have been asking:

Am I serving God or myself? Am I seeking the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of me?

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life – whether you have enough food or drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

“And why worry about clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek first the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” – Matthew 6:25-34

Am I serving God or myself? Am I seeking the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of me?

God calls me to give Him the desires of my heart and let Him replace them with the desires of His heart. God calls me to give Him my focus so that He can fill my eyes with His light. Then I can see through His eyes, rather than seeing the light of this world, which is really darkness.

If my eyes are focused on God, if my heart is filled with His desires, if I am serving God and not myself, than these next verses will be true in my life:

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

“You parents – if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him?” – Matthew 7:7-11

So, before I bring my requests to God, I need to get my eyes focused and I need to empty my heart of my own desires. Am I serving God or myself? Am I seeking the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of me? Now I am ready to pray. Now I am ready to ask, seek and knock.