Posted in John, Matthew, Micah

The Ground Under Your Feet

“Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” Matthew 5:8

I was in an informal conversation with a young pastor recently when he said, “I really struggle giving grace to church people who are not fully committed even though they know better.”

I asked if he minded me using the word “mercy” where he had used the word “grace,” and he told me to go ahead. “So here’s what you’re basically saying,” I responded. “You struggle to give mercy to those you feel don’t deserve it.” He understood where I was going. If someone “deserves” mercy it isn’t really mercy, it’s justice.

Jesus made it clear that our attitude toward others determines the ground under our own feet. If we choose to judge others than the same measure we use will be applied to us. (Matthew 7:1-4) But if we choose to be merciful toward the faults of others, we will find a wide place of mercy under our own feet as well. The merciful obtain mercy.

In Micah 6:8 God laid out clear instructions of how to please Him: “Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Our natural tendency is to give mercy to ourselves, love justice for others, and to walk in self-righteousness, independent of God.

We need grace to do justly instead of making excuses for ourselves. We need grace to not only give mercy, but to love showing mercy to others.  And we need grace to simply walk humbly with God. No wonder Jesus said that the key was not us but Him in us. Apart from Him we can do nothing, but in Him we will bring forth much fruit. (John 15:5)

Posted in John, Mark, Matthew, Romans

Kingdom Abundance 

“For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance…” Matthew 13:12

To walk in the kingdom of God we have to change our thinking from lack to abundance and it’s not easy.  The disciples thought Jesus was referencing bread when he started teaching about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They immediately became afraid because they had forgotten to bring the left over bread with them. Jesus was frustrated by their assumption that He was concerned about the lack of bread.

“‘Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? Having eyes, do you not see? Having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ ‘Twelve,’ they replied. ‘When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ They answered, ‘seven.’ He said to them, ‘Do you still not understand?’” (Mark 8:19-21)

They were supposed to change their thinking. God fully resources those who are giving their lives for Him. Did you notice that He didn’t even ask them about how many were fed, but only about the leftovers. God has more than enough. There is an abundance in the kingdom which is why we reign in this life “through the abundance of grace” (Romans 5:17), and why Jesus said He came to give “life abundantly.” (John 10:10) Not just enough for us, but leftovers for others.

If we don’t embrace the abundance of the kingdom, we will end up living in the fear of self preservation. When we do this, the kingdom can’t spread. We must give our lives away with abandon knowing that God will take care of us. In the words of Jesus: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:23-24)

Posted in John, Matthew, Psalms

A Mission for Meekness

“Come to me you are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble (meek and lowly) in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

I read a devotional book that used this scripture immediately after I had read Psalm 37:11: “But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.” I started to get excited and have been on a mission to learn meekness ever since. Here are a few insights I have gleaned in my meditations and study:

  1.  Meekness is not weakness. The Greek word translated, “gentle,” or in some versions, “meek,” was also used to describe horses that they trained for war. When they became “meek,” they were able to be ridden effectively and safely. Power under control.
  2. The differences between a proud heart and a meek heart: 
    1. Pride takes now (or tries to) while the meek allow God to give in His time. The meek inherit
    2. Pride seeks to control while the meek yield to God’s control.
    3. Pride lives under the anxious, heavy burden of being its own savior while the meek enjoy peace because they aren’t trying to do God’s part.
  3.  Jesus promises an experience of rest for all who will come to Him at any time for anything. However, His promise for a life of rest is tied to us taking His yoke upon us and learning from Him how to become meek of heart. When He washed the disciples’ feet He was teaching them about meekness.  He said that they would be blessed if they actually put into practice what He was modeling for them. “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17)

We live in a culture that often celebrates selfish ambition, self promotion, and pride. If you embrace the mission of Jesus to teach your heart meekness, you will be going against the culture, but you will also find rest for your soul.

Posted in John, Matthew

Do You Really Want to Be Changed?

“When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, ‘Do you wish to get well?’” John 5:6

Why did Jesus ask this question when it seems the answer would be obvious? This man had been sick for 38 years! His life was confined to laying on a pallet waiting for a miracle that he didn’t really think would ever happen. We can imagine that he has told others that he wants to be better. He’s probably recounted many times all the things he would do if he was better, but now it’s real. Do you really want to get better?

Jesus pierces through our religious responses. We know the things to say and especially the things Christians are supposed to say. God doesn’t listen to our words as much as He does to our hearts. John the Baptist rebuked the Pharisees telling them that they weren’t the children of Abraham just because they said they were. They had to mean it enough to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” It’s not about appearance, but reality. Jesus said to the Pharisees and Scribes, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.” (Matthew 15:7) Where is your heart? Have you been mouthing words to God while your heart has been somewhere else?

Maybe you’ve been stuck in sin or in self pity and have asked the Lord to deliver you out of it. Do you really mean it or are you just saying it? When you and I get serious with God, He gets serious with us. When Jesus saw that this man was sincere He told him to do something, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” As he obeyed the power of God came into him and that which had remained the same for 38 years was changed.

Can God change you?  He can; but you have to mean it enough to listen to His voice and then obey what He tells you to do.

Posted in John

A Personal Relationship

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” John 5:39

I believe many things about my wife, Alice. Some are just facts, like her birthday, her place of birth, her parents’ names, and her general history which anyone who is interested could easily learn. Other things require more personal involvement like knowing her character and her heart’s desires. My current beliefs about her are numerous, but my relationship isn’t with my beliefs about Alice; it’s with her. She’s a person. Because of this reality, my beliefs are always growing and deepening as we walk together.

But what if I no longer lived with my wife? Wouldn’t my belief system become static? I would still believe things, but they wouldn’t deepen or grow because of a lack of present experience with her. In the text above, Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees because their relationship isn’t with God Himself; it’s only with their beliefs about Him.

There is a great danger in evangelical Christianity today of making our beliefs about God an idol that takes the place of an actual relationship with Christ. How can I tell if I’m in danger of this idol? Here are four symptoms:

  1. We become unteachable. We no longer believe what we read in the Bible; we only read what we already believe.
  2. We become divisive with Christians that don’t believe exactly what we believe about God and Christ. We’re experts and everyone else needs to listen to us to get it right.
  3. We become suspicious of any fresh moving of the Holy Spirit that doesn’t fit into our box of who we think God is and how He should act.
  4. We find ourselves bored with worship because our hearts actually love what we believe about God more than we love God Himself.

The Scriptures are not an end in themselves; they direct us into a personal relationship with the God who loves us and died for us. We all know “in part” and even the part we think we know is only a seed of all that is true about the transcendent, majestic, unchanging, and uncreated God of the universe. Getting to know Him is the greatest adventure of our lives and will last for all eternity!

Posted in John, Luke

Staying in the Right Spirit

“‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But He (Jesus) turned and rebuked them (James and John), and said, ‘You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” Luke 9:54-56

James and John were very familiar with the message of grace that Jesus brought. He had said on a number of occasions that He did not come to judge, but to save. (See John 3:17 & John 12:47) Jews of that time had established a tradition of traveling around Samaria because they considered Samaritans to be heretics and didn’t want to be defiled by them. 

Yet Jesus had asked James and John to make arrangements in Samaria for a place to stay on their way to Jerusalem. They went in a spirit of grace most likely, but when they were rejected; when they felt judgment from others; they shifted to a retaliatory spirit. They had even convinced themselves that this was probably what God wanted them to do until Jesus rebuked them and said they were in the wrong spirit. When we feel judged it’s easy to respond in judgment toward others.

I was sitting in the sauna at a health club chatting with a man about a number of things including the remodeling being done on the men’s and women’s bathrooms. Because male workers were doing the remodeling, the women’s bathroom had to be the men’s bathroom for a while which meant the usual men’s bathroom was now the women’s bathroom. There were signs clearly letting everyone know about the change.

This man left the sauna before me but when I came out a few minutes later I saw him going into the women’s bathroom. It was too late to give a warning. A few minutes later he came bursting out of the door and announced to all in hearing range, “it’s hard to break old habits.” He wasn’t trying to go in the women’s bathroom, he had just reverted back to his usual pattern without even thinking about it.

It’s not enough to show mercy once in a while.  We need to stay in the right spirit all the time to reveal God’s love to a fallen world.

Posted in 2Chronicles, 2Corinthians, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, John, Luke

The Best Wine

“You have saved the best wine for last.” John 2:10

I am convinced that God has saved the best of His Spirit for those who are older. I’m not an expert on wine, but I know that the older it is, the more valuable it becomes.

Paul said we are renewed in our spirits “day by day” and that we are being transformed “from glory to glory.” (See 2Corinthians 3-4) The picture here is of ever increasing glory as we grow older in the Lord.

Think about it: The temptations that were so strong in youth no longer grip us when we age, and the youthful pride we often had in our own strength no longer deceives us. As we age, we become better positioned to lose our life for Jesus so that we can find our life in Jesus.

It’s not that the Holy Spirit (wine is compared to the Holy Spirit in a number of places in the New Testament) gets better over time, but simply that less of His outpouring is wasted because of the wisdom gained by walking with God for many years. But only if we grow older in the right way.

There will always be a temptation of getting stuck in the past. In Luke 6:39 Jesus says, “But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. ‘The old is good enough,’ they say.” This warning is about how our past experiences with the Holy Spirit can prevent us from entering into the fresh thing the Spirit wants to do.

Solomon warns us to not “long for the good old days.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10) God says in Isaiah, “Do not dwell on the past; it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19) Dwelling on the past, even the glorious past, will keep us from perceiving the new thing God is doing.

It seems that if we believe our best spiritual days are behind us, then they are. But just think about some of the past giants of faith: Moses was 80 when he led the people of God out of Egypt, Daniel was well into his eighties when he was delivered from the lion’s den, and Anna was 84 when she prophesied about Jesus. (Luke 2:37) God is searching for people to show Himself strong through (2Chronicles 16:9) no matter what their age. So why not you? Why not us?

Posted in 1Timothy, 2Peter, Genesis, Hebrews, John, Revelation

The Tree of Eternal Life

“God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…” Genesis 3:5

After the enemy questioned the Word of God by asking Eve, “Did God really say that,” he questioned the character of God. In the text above it’s as if he’s saying, “God is holding out on you and doesn’t have your best interests in mind.” Once Eve took this bait, she could justify taking matters into her own hands to accomplish what was “best” for her. Instead of trusting God, she became suspicious of Him, and disaster followed. Is anything different today?

The irony of the attack quoted above is that God was offering Adam and Eve something only He possessed,  but it could only be found in the other tree; the tree of life. We find out in Genesis 3:22 that this tree would more appropriately be called the tree of eternal life because whoever ate its fruit would “live forever.” Adam and Eve were being offered, in the fruit of this tree, the very life of God who “alone possesses immortality.” (1Timothy 6:16)

Today God is offering eternal life again through another tree; the cross. His purpose is not to restore us to the state of Adam and Eve before they fell, but to give us the eternal life they never embraced. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

What will happen to those who don’t come to the cross and eat of the life only Jesus can give? They will outlive their bodies and face judgment (Hebrews 9:27), and then be cast into hell to pay for their sins against humanity. (Revelation 20:11-15)  After that they will be destroyed in hell (Matthew 10:28), be consumed by its fire (Hebrews 10:27), and perish like the beasts (2Peter 2:12) when they experience the second death of the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)

Let’s trust God’s heart for us and receive the eternal life He died for us to have!

Posted in John, Mark

John’s Secret

“One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, ‘Ask Him which one He means.’ Leaning back against Jesus, he asked Him, ‘Lord, who is it?’” John 13:23-24

Chris Gore (one of the leaders at Bethel in Redding, CA) has a little booklet called, “John’s Secret”, where he contrasts the foundation of John’s faith with the foundation of Peter’s faith. Peter was mostly concerned with how much he loved Jesus, while John’s focus was how much Jesus loved him.

At the last supper Peter declared that “even though all may fall away, yet I will not.” (Mark 14:29) He was sure of his love for Jesus but ended up denying Christ three times and didn’t believe even when he saw the empty tomb.

Peter was sure of his love for Jesus, but John was sure of Jesus’ love for him. All through his gospel, John, the great apostle and prophet, chooses to refer to himself only as, “the disciple Jesus loved.” John was the only disciple that remained at the foot of the cross, and when he saw the empty tomb, he believed. (John 20:8)

The faith and relationship Peter worked so hard for came very naturally to John. We see Peter deferring to John’s relationship in the text above when Jesus had revealed that someone would betray Him. And in John 21 after Peter is told by Jesus how he was going to die, his only response was, “Lord, and what about this man (John)?” Jesus’ answer to him strikes right at the heart of Peter’s competitive, striving spirit. “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” (John 21:21-22)

I’ve taken John’s secret to heart. I’ve gotten into the habit of reminding myself that Jesus loves me. When I wake up, usually the first thing I say to myself is: “Jesus, You love  me. I am Your beloved, favored, child.” This may sound simplistic but it has had a profound effect on my relationship with God. Maybe you should try it, Beloved?

Posted in Ephesians, John, Matthew, Revelation

The Mysterious Bride

“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.” Matthew 22:2

In this parable a king (God the Father) is having a wedding feast for his son (Jesus), and his people (the human race) are invited to attend. The first invited (the Jewish race) reject the invitation which leads to their judgment (Matthew 22:7), yet this leads to others being invited (the Gentiles), both good and bad, but even then, “many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14)

What is unclear is who the son is marrying. In Matthew 25 Jesus tells another parable about a coming wedding feast and this time the people being described are in the wedding party. There are ten bridesmaids who are waiting with the bride (who is not mentioned in the parable) for the bridegroom’s party to come and take them to the wedding feast. If it was an honor to be invited by the king to a wedding feast for his son, it is a greater honor to be in the wedding party. But we are still left with the question: Who exactly is Jesus marrying?

Finally we have a definitive answer in Ephesians 5:31-32: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” You and I aren’t just invited to the wedding; we aren’t just part of the bridal party; we are called to be the bride! Our invitation is actually a proposal from God. No wonder John wrote, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb.” (Revelation 19:9)

Yet when Paul writes the words, “…and the two…,” he is saying that Jesus is one – the Bridegroom, and the church is the other one – the bride. You and I aren’t called to be brides, but to be part of the bride. No wonder Jesus prayed that the Father would make us one! (John 17:21) Individually we are sons and daughters, but we are only the bride together. One bride – there isn’t a young bride and an old bride; there isn’t a black bride, a Latino bride, and a white bride; there isn’t a male bride and a female bride; there isn’t a rich bride and a poor bride; and there aren’t Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, and Charismatic brides. There is only one bride which is why pleasing God must involve us letting go of our prejudices, and learning to love and accept one another in Christ.

Jesus is calling, inviting, knocking, and yes, even proposing to you. Will you refuse the One who gave His life for you, or will you respond by giving Him all of your heart?