May 1 - Great Physician

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Matthew 9:10-13

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

This passage caused me to chuckle a little as I read it through several times.  Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”  My, how we've changed our perspectives. The healthy spend an awful lot of time with their doctors in order that they not get sick.

But, anyway …

The Pharisees didn't know what to make of this man in their midst. Many of them denied that he was from God, others considered that he might be a teacher, but when he came close to claiming a special relationship with God, they were furious. Others were simply frightened of him and didn't know what to make of his claims, his miracles or his teaching.  But, what they could not deny was that people listened to him.

They could never corner Jesus, so this time they went after his disciples, asking them why their teacher would demean himself by eating with people who were of no particular consequence. In fact, they were the scourge of society; the worst of the lot.

Now, if Jesus had wanted to play the game and make himself known to the glitterati, he would have done things very differently. He would have spent evenings with those who were celebrated in the Temple courts and walked along speaking of the esoteric business of the Law with the Pharisees who saw themselves above the rest of society.  He could have created a very safe life for himself among that group of people and maybe after fifteen or twenty years in ministry, he could have retired to the countryside and lived for many years.

But, Jesus was interested in playing at ministry. He was God. On earth. He had come to bring salvation to all of humanity. Those who were righteous didn't need him to wander the courts of the Temple with them … they didn't want him to do that.  He didn't need to eat lunch with them or attend quiet parties in their homes.  He needed to meet with those who needed him the most.

April 30 - Matthew 7:24-27


April 30 - Matthew 7:24-27

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

I remember standing at the front of the church, talking to the organist, who was also a fairly close friend, about the immense tumble of feelings that were occurring within me. Mom had died on Friday, it was Sunday morning and after an incredible late March blizzard, we were going to have the funeral that afternoon.  One of the things I said to her was that I could see how easily a person’s faith could be disrupted with the overwhelming pain of loss. Of course she assured me that my faith was strong and she was right, but that wasn't the first, nor would it be the last of the events in my life to test me.

My heart, passions, loves, furies, emotions … all of those things are woven together and reside fairly close to the surface. If you know me, you know what I’m feeling and you know what I believe. When storms threaten me, I don’t easily weather them as if they don’t exist. I am buffeted by the storms and I react all over the place.

Notice that this passage doesn't say anything about the windows or the roof, the things hanging on the interior walls or the furniture and contents of the house.  It only says that the house did not fall because of the strength of its foundation.

The strength of my foundation is in Jesus Christ. Of that I’m certain. However, once you get past that foundation for the house, things are a little different. Windows break, artwork falls off the walls; sometimes the walls might crack a little as well. Furniture gets moved around; sometimes to shore up a door so nothing can break in. Books come crashing off the walls, piles of blankets become a hideaway for a breaking heart, and sometimes nothing is safe inside that house.

But, the house remains. Even when everything else on the outside and on the inside have reached epic storm proportions, the house stands, because the next day will more than likely bring sunshine and warmth and a reminder that there can be peace.

The very core of who I am, the very foundation of my soul finds strength in Jesus Christ and it is that foundation that allows me to survive every storm and continue to find love and give love.

April 29 - Matthew 7:21-23

Monday, April 29, 2013


April 29 - Matthew 7:21-23

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

We live in a state of grace right now, whether we believe it or not.  Our sins have been redeemed by Jesus Christ.  He died on a cross in order to save us and he offers us eternity in heaven with the Father.

As you read the Revelation, though, you discover that this state is not one that will last forever. There will finally come a day when it is finished, when the harvest will be brought in and the grapes will be taken from the vine.  On that day, everything changes.  The Lord will enact the justice that we so well deserve.

It is unimaginable to me that there will be people who will see hell, but on that day, that will be their eternal reality.  Those who refuse to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and who refuse to obey the will of God.  I’m not talking about those who make mistakes and screw things up, but still desire to live by God’s will.  That’s called being human.

However, those who steadfastly believe that their will is better than God’s, who may do things in God’s name, but do not allow him to be part of their lives.  Wholesale slaughter was done in the name of God during the Crusades, but they were certainly not obedient to God.  Slavery was performed in the name of God. Even today, hate crimes are enacted using God’s name.

God is a God of Love. God is Love. Being obedient to God’s will is living in love. It’s that simple.

We don’t know when that day will come; we don’t know if it will come globally or individually for each of us, but it will come.  Will you be crying out, “Lord, Lord …” or will you rest, confident in knowing that you have loved and lived within the will of the Father.

April 28 - Matthew 7:15-20

Sunday, April 28, 2013


April 28 - Matthew 7:15-20

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

I was talking to a friend the other day about some fruit trees that she has planted in the past. They are all gone now and she wonders if the soil at her house is a problem. Some lasted two or three years, some longer, some shorter periods of time.

As we talked about this, I remember my mom desperately wanting to plant different types of fruit trees and having them all fail within a few short years, long before we got to enjoy whatever fruit they would bear.  We even tried growing an indoor lemon tree once … to no avail.

I’m by no means a gardener, but I know that growing fruit trees isn't simply a matter of putting seeds in a ground, watering it once in a while and waiting for it to shoot up and bring forth good fruit.  Maybe that happens in different climates than what we have in the Midwest, but they require a lot more effort and work than many other types of trees.  You have to care for them and ensure that they receive the right amount of water and sunshine. You have to protect them when they’re young from the elements.  You prune them and encourage them to grow. You invest time and effort.

You wouldn't do this if you knew it was a bad tree and would never produce fruit. You’d start over. If you knew that the tree would produce good fruit with a little effort and better fruit with more effort, you would extend yourself to assure its success.

Not only does Jesus tell us here to be aware of false prophets, those who look like good trees on the outside, but only tell lies; but he tells us that we can see by the fruit they produce whether or not they are worthwhile.  And once we recognize that, we need to quit expending effort encouraging those who aren't worth our while and ensure that we care about those people who are producing excellent fruit.

April 27 - Matthew 7:13-14

Saturday, April 27, 2013


April 27 - Matthew 7:13-14

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

I really believe that while we attempt to understand this when we are younger, it becomes easier with age.  When I was in high school, college and my early twenties, it seemed as if everything was available to me and nothing could go wrong.  My focus wasn't terribly tight and everything interested me.

Year by year, with learning from losses and successes, I began to understand how narrowing my focus enabled me to learn something well.

I still have a desire to do a multitude of things; that will never change. I still strain against limitations that are placed on me and push past them as often as possible in order to try new things, but I think I am beginning to understand what it was Jesus spoke of in these verses.

The narrow gate isn't at the end of the easy road. When I began avoiding prior mistakes because of what I’d learned, or focused my attention on something because of a success; or when I began to recognize the power of loss and struggle and the satisfaction that comes from overcoming those things, little by little, I approached the narrow road with more understanding. A lifetime of learning helps you comprehend the importance of the narrow road, even if you veer off just as often.

Jesus asks us to focus on Him. It won’t be the easy road or even the popular path, but in the end; all that you have learned and all that you have overcome will be worth it.  That gate will open and there he will be … waiting.

April 26 - Matthew 7:9-12

Friday, April 26, 2013


April 26 - Matthew 7:9-12

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

When I got into high school, I remember sitting around Christmas eve with my family and talking about gifts we had received as children. I had the hardest time remembering any of the specific gifts, but I remembered the feelings of excitement.

Mom loved Christmas, but because Dad didn't make a lot of money, she had to work quite a bit harder to make them fun for us. Just after Thanksgiving, one of the extra bedrooms upstairs would turn into a workshop for her.  I have an image of the three of us little kids sitting in the doorway, leaned up against the closed door, listening to her sew away.  We talked to her through the door, while she kept telling us to go play.  We just knew she was whipping up amazing creations in there and they would be wrapped and placed under the tree by Christmas morning.

Every year she made sure that each of us had the same number of gifts and would let us pull out the gifts and count them.  The giving was the most important part of that holiday for her.  She had created extraordinary gifts for us and she couldn't wait for us to open them and enjoy them.  As she made each gift, she thought about us, about how we would rip the paper off and smile or squeal or laugh and then hug the gift close as our own little minds considered how much fun it would be to play with it.

Those gifts meant as much to Mom as they did to us. She didn't have much money to work with, but she ensured that Christmas was always special.  She knew how to give good gifts.  When I consider the verses for today and Mom’s love of gift-giving, I am reminded of how much God loves us and the joy He must have in giving good gifts to us, too.

April 25 - Matthew 7:7-8

Thursday, April 25, 2013


April 25 - Matthew 7:7-8

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

What do you suppose is the one thing God wants most?

It isn't simply obedience to His Law or to follow the moral imperatives in Scripture. It isn't for us to be good or to pray or go to church once a week. It isn't for you to read your Bible every day or tithe your money. It isn't missionary trips or teaching Sunday School.

What God wants most is to have a relationship with us.

If you ask for Him to be your God; he will. If you seek him, you will find him. If you knock on the door of heaven, that door will open up to you.  God wants nothing more than to be part of your life and have you be part of his kingdom.

Those other things become part of who you are once that relationship begins. Those other things tell the rest of the world that you are in a relationship with God.

We choose our relationships.  Sometimes we make poor choices, but when we choose God, he promises that he will always be there.  When we ask him to be close to us, we receive peace. When we look for him in the darkest hours of the night, he brings comfort and when we stand before him in the throne room of heaven, he flings open the door and invites us in.

Today is a good day to begin this relationship.

April 24 - Matthew 7:6


April 24 - Matthew 7:6

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

Now, while Jesus was telling his disciples that they weren't to be judgmental, he follows up by saying that they should be discerning, especially with something as holy and precious as the good news.

While everyone needs to hear it, there is no reason that we are to continue setting ourselves up for abuse if people obstinately reject the message. At some point, Christians are to shake the dust off their feet and move on.

Dad served in one church that wanted nothing to do with the message of peace, hope and love. They were quite content in their petty gossiping and small mindedness.  They didn't  ant to invite new people to join them, they were content as they were. They didn't  ant to help out in the community, they felt they had earned their money and it needed to stay with them.  They tried to tell him that he shouldn't preach a challenging gospel, that he needed to talk about things that made them feel good.

My parents made no long term friends in that community, a strange experience to be sure.  The people were so focused on themselves they couldn't imagine an outsider becoming a member of their clique.

When we left, while my parents didn't literally shake the dust off their feet, there was a profound sense of relief.  God gave them new opportunities with amazing people who were always thirsting and hungering after God’s word.

April 23 - Matthew 7:3-5

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


April 23 - Matthew 7:3-5

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

One of the classes I've been taking for my Master’s Degree is called “Christian Worldview and Contextualization.”  Exciting stuff, eh? While most of it is over-the-top boring, the main point of the course has been to expose us to other worldviews and how Christianity is impacted by and how it impacts culture. In other words, just because we see the world from one perspective doesn't mean that someone else is wrong in their perceptions.

What continues to be driven home to me is just how narrowly focused the Christian’s worldview is in the United States. The things we focus on are minutiae in terms of what the largest percentage of people in the world have to deal with.

Jesus asks his disciples to remove the plank from their own eyes before seeking to remove the speck from someone else’s eye. In other words, we can’t see the truth of things because your vision is so hampered by our own stuff.  And … we focus on the wrong things when in relationships with people.  We focus on them, rather than on fixing ourselves.

When it comes to other people, we want to make them just like us … all of us with matching planks; when instead, we should look at the world and each other through the eyes of Jesus, who loves without judgment.

Remove the plank, see the world with eyes that are wide open and filled with love.  Look at your friends and family, look at those in your community and then begin to look past that to the world with eyes that love.

April 22 - Matthew 7:1-2

Monday, April 22, 2013


April 22 - Matthew 7:1-2

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”

If love is to be the primary factor in your relationships with others, how can you judge their faults without accepting the truth of how your own are seen by the world?

Have you ever noticed that those who make the most profound (and public) judgments on others end up being caught in something either exactly like what they've proclaimed to be so awful or something much worse?

None of us are perfect.  Jesus taught that lesson very graphically when he stopped the community from stoning a woman as he asked, “Who among you has not sinned?”  They were ready to judge her sin, but as soon as Jesus confronted them about their own, they recognized the truth of their own lives.  See, the Law allowed them to stone her for adultery, but when they were made aware of the depths of their own sin, who knows what the Law would have demanded in recompense.

What will it take for you to be made aware of your own errors, mistakes, deliberate sins and issues? Will Jesus have to write in the sand as he did in John 8:1-11? Will he have to stop you from pointing your finger at someone else and remind you that God is more concerned that you pay attention to your own heart and your own motives? How will you … how will I take more responsibility for ourselves and allow God to work in the hearts of others?

Our job is not to judge others, our job is to love them and bring them to know what it means to be saved by God.  One of the greatest parts of salvation is the knowledge that we have sinned against God.  That knowledge comes from God.  He breaks our hearts until we stand before him knowing how much we need to be saved.  If he does that for each person, why do we feel that we have to do that?

He wants us to love, to share love unconditionally, so that when the tough work begins in a person’s heart they know it is worth it because of that love.

Love … not judgment.  Imagine!

April 21 - Matthew 6:31-34

Sunday, April 21, 2013


April 21 - Matthew 6:31-34

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

One common catch phrase today is that we should “live in the present.”  That is what Jesus is teaching us in this passage. My mother used to tell me not to worry the day away, implying that I was missing out on so many things happening at the moment because I was focused on other things, whether they were occurrences from the past or anxieties regarding the future.

I read a study at some point (I can’t find it now to save my life) about how children’s perception of time is so different than that of an adult.  We know that.  As children we thought life passed by so slowly, we could hardly wait for events to happen; as adults it seems like the year snaps closed before we even realize what year it is. One of the reasons this was occurring was that children experience each event in their life and create memories around them.  Adults fly through the events in their lives, creating no memories.

That is true, there are about twenty years of my life that feel lost to me.  I was moving through the days and nights like an automaton, focused on the next thing I had to do rather than truly experiencing those things that were happening at the moment. I didn't create memories and I can’t say that I actually created much of anything that was worthwhile. My life from those years was a blur.

What if we were to focus on the moments in which we exist and create memories, acknowledging that they are important. What if, rather than complaining about lost days because they didn't occur exactly as we planned, or worrying about what is coming next, we just lived in the moment, enjoying the gift of life we have been given?

April 20 - Matthew 6:25-30

Saturday, April 20, 2013


April 20 - Matthew 6:25-30

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

I might have been a little snarky if I had been one of Jesus’ disciples.  Yep, pretty sure I would have asked him a few questions about this one.  Especially because this is so much easier said than done.  And hey, even Jesus got a little fretful when he was in the garden before crucifixion, worrying about the pain that was to come.

My question to him would have been, “Alright, I have a brain that was given to me by God.  He didn’t give that same brain to the birds of the air, I’m not a lily in the field or the grass of the field.  I have this crazy human brain that is always worrying about stuff and God gave it to me.”

Maybe he would have talked to me about original sin, how Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and if they hadn’t done that I wouldn’t have even really known how to worry.  Who knows.

But, what I do know is that everyone who thinks about things, worries about things.  Some of us call it being planful, some of us just admit to worrying.  But, we worry.  And no amount of telling us to stop it is going to actually be successful.

Jesus reminds us that it really isn’t about us. When we spend too much time thinking about ourselves, we aren’t considering what it is that God really does for us.  He has provided all that we need.  We have created lives that demand we acquire more things.

What do you need? What do you worry about? What can you change so that the two become more in balance?

April 19 - Matthew 6:24

Friday, April 19, 2013


April 19 - Matthew 6:24

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

The word for ‘money’ in this verse is mammon.  It doesn't mean the money you have in your wallet, but means wealth and even more basic … property. But, the focus of this entire passage is not on money, but on those things which distract you from true discipleship.  It is nearly impossible to have wealth without it becoming more important than everything else.  Jesus doesn't command us to be poor, but he does ask us to be careful that we are aware of where we pour out our time and efforts.

I would suspect that if he were speaking to us today, his warnings against great wealth would continue, but he would ask us where else in our lives we are uncompromising in our commitment.  Is it to our health? To our jobs? To our children? Our studies? Our lifestyle?

What is it that we will not sacrifice in order to be a better disciple?  Do we really believe that we can do it all and still be live out lives which are fully committed to God?  How can we spread ourselves that thinly and still be completely whole?

Jesus tells us over and over that we should have one single focus.  We can’t have divided loyalties.  He doesn’t call us to an easy life or easy choices.  He calls us to be truly devoted to God.

April 18 - Matthew 6:22-23

Thursday, April 18, 2013


April 18 - Matthew 6:22-23

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

This verse makes little sense unless you look at the verses both before and after it in which Jesus is speaking about money.  First he says that we are not to lay up our treasures on earth, but in heaven and in the following verse, he says that we cannot serve both God and money.

In Near Eastern culture, the ‘evil (or bad) eye’ is that eye which is greedy or wants what someone else has.  If you spend your time trying to match your wealth to someone else’s, your body will be full of darkness. All you will have is envy and unmet desire inside.

On the other hand, if your eye is healthy, the implication here is that you are generous with what you have.

If you only bring darkness into your life, how great is that darkness, Jesus asks.

My father was one of the thriftiest men I’ve ever met. He drove my mother nuts. He didn’t make a great deal of money as a pastor and since mom didn’t work outside the home until later in life, our family had to make do with what we had.  I don’t ever remember wanting for anything, except a few extravagant toys every once in a while.

That man was generous, though.  We served meals to a great many people in our home, church members, visitors and transients.  I remember quite a few meals with people who were traveling through town and had no money to go any further. Dad would feed them and then head to the gas station to fill up their tank and help them go a little further.  I’ve heard stories from others who received a gift from him when he knew they needed it.

Generosity lights a person up. I guess that makes some pretty good sense.

April 17 - Matthew 6:19-21

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


April 17 - Matthew 6:19-21

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

This is another of those passages which frustrates us as Christians.  What are our treasures?

It might be money. In fact, for many of us, money overwhelms our sensibilities so that we spend more time thinking about it than we do anything else.  But, for others, it might be any number of things that take over our lives; material objects, emotional attachments, intellectual pursuits.

When we are concerned with things, that in the end will pass away, and turn all of our attention and commitment to those things, we lose sight of what is really important: the relationship we establish with the Lord.

Material objects can be lost, family members die and friends move on, things that intrigued our minds when we were young no longer matter as much when we grow older.  The one thing that will travel with us throughout our lifetime is that relationship.  It will pass with us beyond death and into eternity, it seems that the thing to do is turn our attention and commitment to the will of God.

April 16 - Matthew 6:16-18

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


April 16 - Matthew 6:16-18

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

I don’t know about your household, but mine (as the family of a pastor) went through several different attempts at holiness and sometimes those involved fasting.  Now, my parents did not insist that the three of us kids fast with them, even though there might have been pointed comments sent our way, but let me tell you; whenever there was a fast coming, we got worried.

It was never pleasant.  And whoever was doing the fasting wasn't terribly happy or pleasant about it, especially by the third or fourth day.  Downright mean and ugly would be words which described them.  The rest of us simply prayed they would find their holiness as quickly as possible and get normal again.

I might have tried quoting this passage to my mother once in the middle of a particularly long fasting period. I might have found myself doing a lot of extra laundry and dishes as punishment for my behavior.

Jesus calls us to a type of holiness that becomes organic to who we are, not something that we bring out and dress up when we get in front of others.  When you fast, do it in private and don’t tell the world.  If you tell the world about it – that’s your reward.  But, when you do it so that no one knows about it except you and God – He will reward you.

April 15 - Matthew 6:14-15

Monday, April 15, 2013


April 15 - Matthew 6:14-15

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Do we only need to forgive the small sins and trespasses?  Do we only need to forgive those who have sinned directly against us?  What do we do about the biggies, like Saddam Hussein or  Idi Amin, serial killers, bombers, people we believe have done harm to our country or our community?  What about those who hurt children or murder and maim thousands of innocents?

How could God possibly ask us to forgive these people?

You see, what God knows is that unforgiveness acts like a poison in our own hearts and the more cynicism and anger we build up within ourselves, the further from Him we get.  He doesn't just ask us to forgive for the sake of the perpetrator or for society, but for ourselves.  The more time we spend in anger or bitterness whether it is for small or large sins done against us individually or larger communities, the less time we spend caring for others or building a relationship with the Lord.

Today, make the choice for freedom.  Choose love.  Choose forgiveness.

April 14 - Matthew 6:9-13

Sunday, April 14, 2013


April 14 - Matthew 6:9-13

Pray then like this:  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

These are some of the most familiar words in Christendom.  It is still astounding to me that after more than two thousand years, we regularly recite words that Jesus gave to us.

We pray to our Father in heaven. Not only is God intimate with us, but he transcends everything. In four words, we learn so much about him.  He loves us as a father loves, but it is so much more than we can imagine because he is more than any father on earth. He is sovereign.  He is holy, set apart and his name, “I AM” encompasses all of eternity.

When the day comes that his will is accomplished on earth, just like it is in heaven … when he reigns here as he does in heaven, the world will finally be united again.  We pray for that day.

In this prayer, Jesus points us to the one who can provide for our needs. We ask God to provide our daily bread. We don’t ask today for what we might need tomorrow, but for what we need today.  We pray for forgiveness and remember that it is up to us to forgive those whom have hurt us.  We pray for freedom from temptation, because we face that every day and it is sometimes much too difficult to face on our own.

Though we often recite these words in public, remember Jesus just told his disciples they were to go away and pray in secret.  “Pray then like this,” Jesus said.

April 13 - Matthew 6:5-8

Saturday, April 13, 2013


April 13 - Matthew 6:5-8

"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

There have always been people in my life … in my churches … in my Bible studies, who make me cringe when they volunteer to pray.  They tell God everything that is on their mind and subject an entire room of people to seven or eight minutes of blather that sends my mind into paroxysms of hilarity. I lose all sense of prayerfulness and then I feel terribly guilty.

Very few cogent sentences or honest words leave their lips, they are simply babbling  barely intelligible Christianese to impress themselves, others in the room and possibly even God.

Then, there are those who need to unload all of their concerns, down to their granddaughter’s best friends, father’s mother-in-law who wants to sell her broken down washing machine.  Once they get going on their list, my mind wanders off.

Don’t forget those who when they are given the opportunity to pray begin telling everyone in the room all of the secrets and awful things about people, in essence, gossiping in the form of prayer.

Jesus tells us that we should come to God honestly and if we have a problem with needing attention or gossip, we need to be sure that we come before God in secret. He’s not terribly impressed with our grasp of the Christian language or our understanding of the needs of everyone surrounding us or our judgment on those who have apparently sinned more than we have during the past week.

God’s desire is to create an intimate relationship of trust with each of us.  He knows what we need; he just wants us to be comfortable enough with him to ask. He wants us to know him so well that our needs become what it is he wants for us.

When you pray, go away by yourself and speak with the Lord who created heaven and earth, who sent his son to save your soul and who loves you.  Build the relationship. Trust that he knows you better than you know yourself.

April 12 - Matthew 6:1-4

Friday, April 12, 2013


April 12 - Matthew 6:1-4

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

We much prefer immediate gratification to long term reward, don’t we! It is one of the great problems we face in our culture today. Everything that we encounter encourages us to purchase things immediately. We must have it right now.

The second part of this passage today also points at our need for receiving praise for what we do and say. We are told over and over that to get ahead in life, we have to constantly tell others what we are doing well. If we won’t stand up for ourselves, no one else will be bothered to stand up for us.

Self-promotion and immediate gratification. Jesus reminds us that this will get us nowhere in the long run. And though our lives are limited to a few short decades, we still see it as a long run and it is difficult to get on board with a plan that will last a lifetime, much less eternity.

I was talking with a friend the other day and she was saying that a service organization she belonged to couldn't get on board with a charity because there was no way to promote the activity and thus allow the service club to advertise their grand success. It was disappointing to discover that the only good service was that which would make people look good.

Do your good works in secret, otherwise your reward comes immediately rather than from God in eternity.  Jesus is pretty clear … it’s one or the other.

April 11 - Matthew 5:43-48

Thursday, April 11, 2013


April 11 - Matthew 5:43-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus refuses to relent on this. We are to love, no matter the cost. It matters not whether we consider someone to be an enemy, we are to love them and we are to pray for those who persecute us.  Have you ever attempted to hate someone while praying for them?  It’s nearly impossible. Just imagining that person being held in God’s arms kind of puts a damper on hating them.

When my sister and brother and I were small, Mom and Dad had a perfect method of helping us manage past our anger at each other.  All of us remember it and though it wasn't much fun at the time, it certainly held us together.

If two of us were fighting and it was loud enough for either Mom or Dad to hear, they quickly got involved and would plant the two beside each other on one of the steps going upstairs.  We had to sit there beside each other until we could give the other one a hug and tell them that we loved them.  This was very effective parenting, because once that happened, there was no way to remain angry at the other and off we would go to play again.

Love ends hatred. The two can’t exist together.  Choose love.

April 10 - Matthew 5:38-42

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


April 10 - Matthew 5:38-42

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

Jesus taught love at all cost.  These are some of the hardest things we have to learn.  How do we love no matter what?

How do we choose to love when someone hurts us?  How do we love when someone steals from us or forces us to do things we don’t want to do?

We have a tendency to want things to be fair.  We like it when people get what they deserve.  It only seems … fair.  If people don’t work for a living, we certainly don’t feel as if we should be caring for them. If they steal from us, we want retribution. If they mess with us, we want to make sure they learn a lesson.  We want things to be fair.

But, Jesus calls us to be different from the world. He calls us to step above the culture we live in and those things that influence us.  We need to influence our culture.  We need to stand above it and be different.

We are Christians and this means we are to be Christ-like.  Trying to be fair limits us in our love.

Love is so much more than fair. Love gives when we can’t give anymore, it goes the extra mile.

April 9 - Matthew 5:33-37


April 9 - Matthew 5:33-37

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

That last verse is probably one of my favorites.  Simply let your yes be yes and your no be no.

If you say you will do something … do it. If you promise to be somewhere … be there. If you are going to change your mind, be open about it and don’t equivocate.  Just get it out there.  If people are counting on you … follow through.  Let it be on the basis of your good word that people learn to trust that what you say is what you will do.

A few years ago, I watched a film on nomadic tribes in the Middle East.  There were several groups of these people that had no written language.  When it came to contracts, they didn’t need a notary public or a signed document, their word was their seal.  It was important to them that the words they spoke be trusted.

Some of the most solid business partnerships have been made over a handshake because both people were trustworthy and followed through on their promises.

I remember my mother telling me that I had lost her trust (I have no idea what I’d done that time).  It crushed me.  The threat was that she might never trust me again.  But, it didn’t take long and we had returned to a state of trust in our relationship again.  It can be rebuilt.

Begin today. Let your yes be yes, let your no be no. When you change your mind, be honest and upfront.  Finish what you say you will do, go where you say you will go.

April 8 - Matthew 5:27-32

Monday, April 8, 2013


April 8 - Matthew 5:27-32

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. 

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

The Pharisees had so many laws. Each of them had a punishment attached, some we might consider horrific and others not so awful.  Jesus wasn't just setting down new rules here, he was pointing out the fallacy of the rules themselves. It wasn't just enough to not commit an overt action; divorce or adultery. It was just as important for people to recognize that sin lies within us … not just in our actions, but in our heart.

The message here is that this isn't just about our sin, but about those whom we judge as well.  It is easy for us to hide our thoughts and motives from the world; it is only when they become actions that others recognize sin in us.  But, God doesn't look simply at the outer actions made visible to the world. He sees everything within us.

When you judge those who commit an outward sin, God sees that in your heart and mind, you have sinned as well.  You are no better or worse in His eyes than that person.

It’s difficult to separate ourselves from the behavior of the world around us, but God calls us to be holy … to be different … to be separate from the world. We are not to be bound by the rules of the world, we are called to be obedient to Him and the first thing He asks of us is that we love.

April 7 - Matthew 5:23-26

Sunday, April 7, 2013

April 7 - Matthew 5:23-26

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

The importance of community in Judaism and the early Christian church is something that is difficult for us to comprehend in Western Christianity today.  Lives were lived out within the communities, much as they are in many cultures outside of Europe and North America.  In reading about the spread of Christianity in the global South (Africa, Central & South America, Asia); one thing that has been found is that the nature of many different cultures allows them to dig in and understand Scripture much differently than we do in the West.

They live much more communally than we do.  People take care of each other’s children, homes are open and people spend a great deal of time with each other rather than by themselves.  When there is disruption between a few people, the entire community is disturbed.

In our churches we have no issue allowing feelings of anger and hurt to follow us into the sanctuary.  There is plenty of space in that room for everyone to sit and listen to the music and the words of the pastor and feel as if each person is in the right and has been wounded by the other.  There is no need for reconciliation.  Church goes on, everyone goes to their own homes and pretty soon, it’s just the way we live.

Jesus challenges us to be better than the world.  Our gifts and sacrifices that we offer to God mean so much less when our hearts are filled with fury and bitterness.

April 6 - Matthew 5:21-22

Saturday, April 6, 2013


April 6 - Matthew 5:21-22

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

One of the first comparisons Jesus used was that of murder.  The Pharisees told the people that anyone who murders is liable for judgment.  When Jesus called his disciples to be more righteous than the Pharisees, he was ready with an example.

Murder is awful, but Jesus says that anger, insults and slander are just as awful, because in our hearts they are the same thing.  We can destroy people with our words and sometimes we are so ignorant of that fact.

When Jesus tells us to love with all that we have, his words aren’t just about loving people who are easy to love.  We have to put love into practice every day with our words and actions.  We have to make our own anger submissive to his love in our hearts.  We have to hold our tongue when we are ready to say hurtful things. We have to learn how to build people up, rather than cut them down to size.  We must love with all that we are … including the words we say.
If we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and was sent to rebuild the relationship between humanity and the Father in Heaven; we must believe Jesus when he says that anger, insults and slander will bring about the same judgment as murder.  We are responsible for our words.

“May the words of our mouth and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

April 5 - Matthew 5:17-20

Friday, April 5, 2013


April 5 - Matthew 5:17-20

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The Pharisees of Jesus’ time were the upholders of the Law.  They were trained in all of the minute inflections of what the law would allow.  Throughout Jesus’ ministry, these men would watch his actions, in order to catch him in any small betrayal.  No person could claim to be from God and then disobey what His Holy Law proclaimed.  Their jealousy and misunderstanding of the power and Spirit of God would cause them to fall far from grace.

While the Pharisees were a political power during the time of Jesus and on the face of it, lived out the Law of the Torah, they were morally corrupt.  Because they knew the intricacies of the Law, they also knew just how far they could go and still stay within its limits.  It was to them Jesus spoke when he accused people of relaxing the smallest commandment and allowing others to do the same.

When the Law told them they couldn't steal from others, they would create methods of taking someone’s land or money.  As long as they could justify their actions, they felt superior and righteous.

Jesus’ challenge to those who thought that by emulating the behavior of the Pharisees they would receive blessings from God, was to be better than they were, to be more than a Pharisee.

That is his challenge to each of us.  We know what the law requires. We know what good behavior requires of us.  We know exactly how to circumvent that Law.  Jesus doesn't ask us to do what is required of us as the Pharisees did; he asks us to be more righteous than they can imagine.

In Matthew 22, when Jesus is asked once again by the Pharisees what the greatest commandment in the Law is, he responds by saying “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV).

He doesn't tell them what to do or what not to do, he tells them … and he tells us that to love with everything we have will cover every commandment or intricacy in the Law.

Love is the foundation and the expression of the Law. Love is to be our commandment.

April 4 - Matthew 5:14-16

Thursday, April 4, 2013


April 4 - Matthew 5:14-16

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Light and God seem to go together throughout scripture.  The metaphor is used over and over to describe Him. Isaiah 9:2 tells us that “the people sitting in darkness have seen a great light” and we know now that he was prophesying the arrival of Jesus Christ.  Isaiah also reminded Israel in Isaiah 42:6 that their mission was to be a light to the Gentiles.

Jesus tells his disciples the same thing in this passage.  They (we) are to be representatives of the kingdom of God. We are to tell the world that salvation has come.  If the world is not to be left in darkness, the light that we carry becomes its hope.

How does that make you feel?  We have been given such a glorious task. It may seem overwhelming at times, but the opportunity to offer hope and joy to others is something we should be thrilled to take.

You are the light of the world. Do not hide your light under a basket.

April 3 - Matthew 5:13

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


April 3 - Matthew 5:13

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

Jesus uses a lot of metaphors in order that his words be plainly understood. So, what does he mean when he tells his listeners they are the salt of the earth?

Everyone knows what you do with salt.  You use it to season your food.  Or, you use it as a preservative. It is also used to purify things. Before people understood where to find it, its rarity caused it to be used in trading.  The word ‘salary’ comes from the same root as salt, since people were paid with salt.

But Jesus would have been talking to his listeners about seasoning.  They were to go into the world and fill it with His love. If they couldn't do that, they should be tossed out.

Salt is not eaten or consumed on its own (unless you’re very odd).  It is seasoning for food.  You can pick an apple off the tree and eat it, but you don’t scoop a handful of salt and snack on it.  Salt is not salt for itself; it seasons other items.

We are not here for ourselves, but for taking God’s love to the world.

April 2 - Matthew 5:11-12

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


April 2 - Matthew 5:11-12

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

I read these things and sometimes it occurs to me that I would like to ask Jesus if he’s crazy.  When others revile me, persecute me, utter all kinds of evil against me falsely; the last thing I’m going to do is rejoice and be glad.  I do not care how many people they've done this to in the past.  I don’t want to put up with it now and they should be punished and scorned and reviled right back – it would serve them right.

One of the commentaries calls this a paradox and I’d have to say … no kidding!  How is it that anyone can take personal persecution and be glad for it?

But, I think that Jesus is asking us to be different than what we are, to look beyond ourselves to the truth of the matter.

If people are ridiculing us because of Jesus Christ in our lives, it’s not about us and is nothing we should take personally.

I take everything personally.  Well, every negative thing.  I can fall down into a deep, dark funk with just a few negative words because I can’t bear to have people believe things about me that are hurtful.

But, that isn't how Jesus wants me to respond to the world. It’s not all about me.  It’s about him.  When others revile me because of him, I should rejoice because He is such a big part of my life that they notice Him within me.

Okay. I get it now.

April 1 - Matthew 5:1-9

Monday, April 1, 2013


April 1 - Matthew 5:1-9

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

I've read or heard these words read aloud multitudes of times.  As I read it today, I chuckled.  The one pastor who could truly bring a hellfire / damnation sermon began one of his first public sermons by talking about those who are blessed or even easier to understand, those who are happy.

You see, it isn't difficult to find ourselves in one of these categories and we are all immensely blessed even when we have trouble identifying those blessings.  The other side of the coin is that those around us also fit into these categories and they receive the same blessings from God.

As cynical as we can be, we recognize mercy when we see it and we recognize the desire to be righteous or pure in heart. We recognize the utter tranquility that comes from those who bring peace to a stressful situation.  We ache with those who mourn.  Those whose lives seem to have come unglued around them and don’t know how to find their way out of a bad situation are offered the opportunity to be in the midst of the kingdom of heaven and those whom we don’t even see as we bustle past them will be given all they have missed.

Jesus came to bring new life to each of us.  He came to bring joy and love and peace. He came to bring hope.  He begins by blessing those who come to him with humble hearts.