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 Jonah, Matthew

The Sign of Jonah

“No sign will be given except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now One greater than Jonah is here.” Matthew 12:39-41

Jonah is a unique book in the Old Testament. Not only does it foreshadow Christ’s resurrection; it also foreshadows the preaching of redemption to God’s enemies. The idea of transforming nations that Jesus introduced in the kingdom of God was not practiced in the Old Testament. Leaders, in that time, were appointed by God to restrain evil by staying separate from their enemies, or, if necessary, by engaging them in war.

So we can imagine Jonah’s shock when God tells him to preach to Israel’s arch enemy, Nineveh. Prophets spoke to Judah and Israel, not Assyria! (Nineveh was the capital of Assyria) Whenever other nations were mentioned by God to a prophet, it was a message about them, never to them.

“Why would God have me go to the land of my enemy and tell them He was going to destroy them in forty days?” Jonah must have pondered. There was only one answer he could come up with. God didn’t want to destroy them (or He just would have done it), He wanted to save them. When Nineveh repented, Jonah prayed this to God: “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:2)

Mercy, not judgment, was on God’s mind, but it wasn’t on Jonah’s. God gave Jonah a second chance after his rebellion, but Jonah didn’t want to give that same chance to others.

Today God has given us His grace and forgiveness in Christ and wants us to extend that same message to others. I hope we do better than Jonah!

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 Isaiah, Matthew

Don’t Get Offended

“Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.’” Matthew 11:2-6

John had obeyed God. He was leading a revival with the spirit of Elijah on him and people were repenting and being forgiven of their sins. The only thing left was for the leadership to repent, so the whole nation could return to God. With that in mind, he confronted Herod Antipas about his wrong relationship with Herodias. Instead of repenting and being part of the revival, Antipas had John thrown in prison. This was not what John had prayed would happen nor what he had expected; he was disappointed.

It was in that place, in prison, alone, disappointed, that the man of God began to question everything. His predecessor, Elijah, went through a similar experience and also found himself alone expressing his disappointment to God. (See 1Kings 19)  If these two great heroes of faith were tested in this way, it shouldn’t surprise us that dealing with disappointment is also part of our journey.

We all have desires and expectations that we want God to meet. When He doesn’t follow our plan in our time we experience disappointment which can easily turn into an offense against God. What John needed was the same thing Elijah needed; a fresh word from God. How intimate that Jesus would take time to give His friend in prison a specific word. He quoted Isaiah 61, a familiar Messianic scripture, assuring John that He indeed was the Expected One.  John had heard right and had done just what God had wanted him to do, but was now faced with his biggest test – disappointment. Jesus gave him the path to freedom: “Blessed is he who does not take offense with Me.”

Let’s make sure we don’t get offended when God’s plan is different than ours. If you’re sitting in disappointment today and need a fresh word from heaven, why not ask right now?

Posted in Mark, Matthew

What About Us?

“Then Peter said to Him, ‘Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?’” Matthew 19:27

Peter wanted to know what was in it for him. He paid a price to follow Christ and like any man, he wanted to know practically what the return would be. Jesus said in reply, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)

Jesus explained to him how grace works. He had already made it clear that they couldn’t earn eternal life by telling them in response to their question, “Who then can be saved?” that it was impossible with man. Peter and the other disciples aren’t going to be paid back for their sacrifice, as if God could be in their debt. Yet God is generous, and He is pleased when people go “all in” for Jesus and the gospel.

Jesus says something like this to Peter (my paraphrase): “Your life in this world will be 100 times better for following Me. God will multiply your relationships – you will have family everywhere you go. Everything that is Mine (which is everything) will be available to you – I will open houses and lands for your use. However, there will also be trouble for you in this world. Don’t take persecution as rejection from God, it will simply be part of your life in this present time. In the world to come, you will have eternal life with God and all the trouble of this life will be removed.”

Grace is amazing. We don’t follow Jesus to earn anything but because we love Him. God doesn’t bless us because he owes us anything but because He loves us and because He is unbelievably generous. He made us His favored sons and daughters in Christ, so He can pour His grace in and through us. Just walk with Jesus today and know that the favor of God rests on you.

Posted in 1John, Luke, Matthew

Increase Our Faith

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” … “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’” Luke 17:5; 10

In response to His disciples request for increased faith, Jesus told about a servant who shouldn’t think he deserves anything special for all his work. What does this have to do with faith?

If you approach God as a servant who is looking for pay you will limit grace in your life because grace isn’t given on those terms. Serve God and keep His commandments because you love Him, but don’t allow a spirit of entitlement to get on you because of your sacrifice or great devotion. After you’ve obeyed God completely, remind yourself, “I am an unworthy (undeserving) servant. God owes me nothing.”

In obedience, we must think of ourselves as servants, but in prayer we must take our position as beloved children. (1John 3:1)  A master gives a servant wages based on the servant’s performance, but a father gives his children gifts based only on his love and available resources. Jesus said to us, “If you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children how much more will the heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him.” (Matthew 7:11) In Luke’s gospel He says the Father gives “the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” The Father gives good gifts, natural and spiritual, not to those who are good, but to those who ask as His children.

Jesus said to pray as children of God, saying, “our Father.” We are adopted children who come to God through the blood of Christ with only the claim that we are loved, and we are His.

One of my favorite Dennis the Menace cartoons shows Dennis and his friend, Joey, eating a plate of cookies. Joey asks: “I wonder what we did that Mrs. Wilson made us a plate of cookies?” Dennis explains: “Joey, Mrs. Wilson doesn’t make us cookies because we’re good; Mrs. Wilson makes us cookies because Mrs. Wilson is good!”

The gospel is not about our performance, but about God’s generosity. To have increasing faith, we need to think of ourselves as both unworthy servants, and God’s favored children.

Posted in Luke, Matthew

Me First

“And He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.’ But He said to him, ‘Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.’ Another also said, ‘I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say goodbye to those at home.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’” Luke 9:59-62

Is there anything wrong with burying your father or saying goodbye to those at home? Of course not. Then why did Jesus say what He said to these seemingly sincere people? One uses the phrase, “permit me first,” and the other says, “first permit me,” yet both preface their requests by calling Jesus, “Lord.” They call Him, “Lord,” but want to set their own terms in following Him.

Jesus is calling you and me to put the kingdom of God first, not ourselves, and not our families. If these two had left everything for the kingdom, it’s very possible Jesus would have given them the assignment of going home first, like He did to the demoniac who was delivered in the chapter before. (Luke 8:39) But Jesus telling you to go home is very different from you telling Jesus that you’re going home before following Him.

I think that family is one of the main idols of the evangelical church in America today. People run their lives around their children, their grandchildren, or their extended family, and just assume that God’s okay with that. Listen to the words of Jesus, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:37) If family is first you won’t even be able to serve them in a right way because they are in the middle instead of Jesus. This is unhealthy and will end up leading the family you love subtly away from Jesus instead of to Him.

Jesus gave everything for us and He’s asking us to give everything back to Him. When we do, there is a freedom from self that brings a great rest into our lives. Let’s set our hands to the plow called the kingdom of God and trust God with everything else, including our families.

Posted in Matthew

The Scandal of the Gospel 

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.” Matthew 13:44

What is going on in this parable? It was common in that day to bury treasures because banks weren’t reliable and nothing was safe in houses because of the frequent plundering of wars.   As this man was walking along it is possible that erosion had exposed some piece of the treasure that led him to dig and discover what was there. The present owner was not aware of what was buried in his property because he offered to sell the field for a price that didn’t include treasure’s value.

The joy the buyer felt when he went and sold everything he had was from the deal he knew he was getting.  What he was paying for the field was nothing compared to the value of the treasure hidden in the field so he couldn’t wait for the transaction to be done. Anyone who heard the story later would feel bad for the owner who didn’t get much in return for such a great value.

What does this have to do with the kingdom of God? Those who understand what they are receiving in return for what they’re giving up will be filled with joy because of the scandalous deal they’re getting. I can imagine an angel coming to Gabriel after the gospel plan became clear:

“Sir, I’m here on behalf of many of the angels that are having trouble grasping this new plan. Let me get this straight, human beings who have rebelled against God and abused each other day after day are being offered complete forgiveness, are being adopted as sons and daughters, and are being made kings and priests forever? Those who deserve hell are being given heaven? Is this fair? And what is God getting in return? Their weak faith, wavering love, and often empty promises of obedience? Many of us don’t feel this is right, sir.”

“It’s not about fair,” I can imagine Gabriel replying. “It’s about God’s love and generosity. This is how He wanted it and we are to serve these heirs of salvation no matter how scandalous it may seem to you and me.”

Posted in 2Corinthians, Ephesians, Matthew

Experiencing Joy

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Matthew 13:44

I am convinced that joy is the key to advancing the kingdom of God. If you find joy in something you automatically want to share it. After the Packers won the Superbowl no one had to command Packer fans to share the news with their friends. When we have great joy in something, sharing flows naturally from it. As John said about writing his first epistle, “These things we write so that our joy may be made complete.” Sharing is actually part of completing the joy we have experienced. 

So how do we experience joy? It’s all about finding a treasure that is hidden in a field. The treasure is God’s love, forgiveness and salvation that can all be experienced by coming to Jesus Christ. Paul calls this relationship with God through Christ, God’s “indescribable gift.” (2Corinthians 9:15) Into this gift we find that God has generously poured every blessing we could ever desire. This gift of intimacy with God will keep being unwrapped for all eternity by those who value it. (See Ephesians 3)

I think the “field” in this parable represents the church, so to experience God’s treasure sometimes we have to get past what’s wrong in whatever congregation we attend.  We may feel the church is outdated, or that we don’t like the music, or we may be bothered by the preacher or the people around us in some way. 

Someone said that if you find a perfect church don’t go there; you’ll ruin it.  Sometimes we have to get past the humanity we find in the church to find the Divine, but be assured that if Jesus is being preached, and the Word of God is being honored, God is there, even if He seems to be hidden from time to time.  Be faithful; there’s a treasure of surpassing value that God wants to reveal to each of us that will bring increasing joy to our ordinary lives.

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.