God is Setting All Things Right. So I am Blogging Through the Bible in a Year.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

October 31 - Matthew 19; Mark 10: Jesus on Divorce and Riches

Today’s Reading: Matthew 19; Mark 10

The Message

English Standard Version

Congratulations! You've made it 10 months! Only 2 more to go! Keep going! We also have 15 more days in the life of Jesus.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God was once willing to make concessions in return for obedience. No longer.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Jesus continued healing.
Jesus spoke on divorce: "Don't break what unifies the sexes. Divorce isn't God's Plan. Unless divorced for adultery, remarriage means adultery."
The Disciples objected. Jesus responded, "My Teachings aren't for everyone."
Jesus taught that children made up God's Kingdom.
Jesus told a rich man, "Sell everything you have, give it away, and follow Me to have eternal life." The man left. "Eternal Life only comes with God's helps."
Jesus told James and John He had no control over who sat next to Him in His Glory. He added, "Rule through service."
A blind beggar's faith healed him.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

God made marriage to bond two very different people—males and females.

Jesus' interaction with the Pharisees on divorce and adultery gives yet another example of the Pharisees being technically correct but missing the point. God allowed divorce, not because marriages should end but because He knew Israel would not go for it otherwise. God wants to prevent divorces from happening not regulate each and every circumstance to give an up-or-down signal for each situation. God wants couples to be unified in marriage. This is the goal and we should challenge couples struggling with infidelity, abuse, and neglect to be more unified, not separate.

Not everyone can accept Jesus' Teachings.

I almost always like the new ways The Message rewords verses I have read over and over again. Unfortunately, in this case I do not like how He worded Matthew 19:12, "But if you’re capable of growing into the largeness of marriage, do it." I realize that He wants to keep the marriage topic throughout; however, I think Jesus is giving a larger-picture saying here. He is telling His Disciples that those who can accept His Teachings should live by them. God's Chosen People live at a higher moral standard than the world. The world may allow divorce for any and every reason. God's Chosen People, on the other hand, do not divorce because its purpose was to bind the two sexes together not provide a social contract.
What does this mean for today? God's Chosen People should not divorce. I have several opinions on why couples break up and what a church should do to help couples before they struggle which I will not go into here; however, with that said, there are many couples who do not stick it out because they are unwilling to make God their Lord. They want to be equal to God—similar to Adam and Eve.
Also, we should not force this upon people who do not want to be God's Chosen People. We should tell them the purpose of marriage and encourage them to put their lives under the auspices of God but until a person wants to set things right with God these laws make no sense. To teach them would be counterproductive to setting things right. I believe that is what Jesus is getting at here, as brought out in the God's Word paraphrase, "If anyone can do what you’ve suggested, then he should do it."

Riches are at war with submission to God.

The rich man who balked at following Jesus did so because he loved his possessions more than he wanted to follow Jesus. It so shook the Disciples that they wondered who could be saved at all! Jesus' answer isn't to deny that any rich person could set things right, but that no one can set things right without God's Help. Riches are not antithetical to obeying God, but they encourage a person to trust themselves instead of God. When a person has little money they must rely on God to provide.

Rulers do not use might to set things right.

I find this story humorous. James and John want to be on Jesus' right and left. The other Apostles are greatly annoyed that they would suggest such a thing (all the while secretly wishing they had the courage to request such a thing, I believe). Jesus plays peacemaker by showing them it wasn't John and James' fault that they wanted this power. Humans love power because it means we can get our way. Jesus wanted His Apostles to know in the Kingdom of God, leadership is not about power over others. Leadership in God's Kingdom is about service to others. Jesus told the Pharisees that the greatest are servants. Leaders do not rule. Leaders serve.

Do you use leadership to rule or serve?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

October 30 - Luke 17:11-18:14: The Kingdom of God, Jesus' Return, and P.U.S.H.

Today’s Reading: Luke 17:11-18:14

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

I'm glad I'm not like the people who say they are glad they are not like the Pharisee who said he was glad not to be like the tax collector.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Jesus healed 10 lepers. Only the Samaritan thanked Jesus.
Jesus told the Pharisees God's Kingdom was already here. To His Disciples He added, "Someday, don't fall for desperate attempts to see Me! I will arrive like lightning—like Noah's day or the demise of Sodom and Gomorrah—quick and sudden."
Jesus taught a parable about a woman bothering a judge until he answered her. "Continually pray to God and He will hear you."
He also compared a Pharisee's pompous chest-beating prayers to a tax collector's humble request for mercy. "The tax collector had his relationship made right, not the Pharisee."

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

The Samaritan leper and the other nine illustrated Israel's problem with God.

Israel was taken out of Egypt and brought into a new land. They were given a stable kingdom and lived in ease. Instead of becoming a lighthouse to the nations they became self-righteous and treated God as just another god. Eventually they rejected Jesus because He was not like them. The Samaritans (half-blooded Jews and outsiders) were willing to listen to Jesus. They obeyed Him and wanted Him to stay around. Just like the Samaritan leper thanked Jesus while the other nine ignored Him, Non-Chosen People bless God while His Chosen People cannot find the time to praise Him.
This should seem somewhat familiar to Chosen People today. We struggle with accepting Jesus as our Lord. We want Him as our Savior to wash our sins away, but we struggle with obeying Him. There are many outside God's Chosen People who bless God. We must be willing to see their praises for what they are and join them.

Jesus' Disciples would one day long to be with Him.

Jesus realized the Apostles and Disciples would have the world's worst case of nostalgia after He left. He knew they would desperately seek to be with Him again. This is why He warned them not to fall into a trap and believe when people said Jesus was right around the corner or hiding in a back alley. Do not listen to anyone saying they are (or have seen) the Return of Jesus. His Return will be so obvious there will be no confusion. Unfortunately, this message has been lost throughout the years when many people have thought themselves the reincarnation of Jesus (or the sibling of Jesus).

The Kingdom of God existed even before Jesus died.

We are left with a large question—what is the Kingdom of God? I have a semi-educated guess. I believe the Kingdom of God consists of any person willing to set things right under God's direction. This is why Jesus told the Pharisees that the Kingdom of God has already arrived. Some people were willing to set things right because they believed in Jesus and were willing to obey Him. Today, we spread the Kingdom of God not by claiming land for Him or by baptizing people in nations all over the earth. We spread the Kingdom of God by making Disciples of people around the world and help them obey Jesus.

P.U.S.H. (Pray Until Something Happens) is not a trite cliché.

I have a confession to make: I do not like acronyms or other silly language tricks. I especially can't stand ones that are religious (F.R.O.G – Fully Rely On God or the infamous W.W.J.D. – What Would Jesus Do). However, P.U.S.H. is quite biblical. In fact, it quite succinctly summarizes Jesus' parable of the widow nagging the judge until he protected her. Continue to cry out for justice. God will hear you and act.

We must not think too much on the story of the Pharisee vs. the tax collector or we risk becoming the Pharisee.

Jesus wanted to make sure that His Disciples understood that God did not need to hear how wonderful they were. They would not set right their relationship with God if they acted like they were greater than everyone else. Only humility is acceptable to God when we pray. Prayer requires humility—we cannot get what we need on our own. Highlighting your strengths or successes to God does no good.
There is a funny story of a person teaching this story to a group. At the end of the class the teacher exclaimed in an excited voice, "Aren't we glad we aren't like this Pharisee?" In reality, many in the Restoration Movement have almost done this very thing. It is not limited to the Restoration Movement, either. Many Chosen People have thought "God is so lucky to have me (us) as His Chosen Person (People)." We must be ourselves—not too proud but remembering that we are God's Chosen People. If we humble ourselves and allow God to mold us, He will turn us into more than we could be alone.

How is god molding your life?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

October 29 - John 11: Jesus Shows a Sample of the Resurrection

Today’s Reading: John 11

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Jesus is not some distant, aloof god. He joins in the weeping over the death of a friend.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Jesus' friend Lazarus was sick, to show God's Glory given to God's Son. Two days later, Jesus informed His Disciples, "Lazarus is dead and I will wake him."
Lazarus' sisters were distraught. Jesus told Martha, "I am the Resurrection. Anyone believing in Me will live."
As Mary ran to greed Him, Jesus wept.
Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb. Many believed.
Jesus kept performing miracles—the Pharisees' worst nightmare. One man suggested Jesus become a martyr. Unbeknownst to them, they were preparing a world-wide sacrifice for sin.
Jesus and His Disciples went into seclusion.
The Passover came once again.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Lazarus' death was meant to show Jesus' Glory given by the Father.

Jesus' miracles were meant to help others believe in Him. In this instance, He gave a clear sign that He was from the Father—He did something no other person could do.

Lazarus' resurrection provided an object lesson into how God will make all things right in the end.

Jesus wanted everyone to know He is the Resurrection and the Life. He had the power to take away death and return life. His Resurrection was meant to give hope that one day we, too, would be given life again. It is this Resurrection that makes Christianity worthy of its sacrifice.

The Pharisees set up the ultimate irony—their political move to martyr one to save their power was used to set relationships around the world right with God.

John is not a great storyteller if you love suspense. He adds commentary which gives the end of the story. In this case, the cat is out of the bag—Jesus is going to be murdered for the salvation of the world. The Pharisees, on the other hand, do not know this and think their prudent action to sacrifice one to save their power will work. It shows a great truth about God we saw way back in Joseph's dayGod can use acts meant for harm to set things right. The greatest act to set things right was meant to hold power in one group's hands.

How has God used harmful situations to set things right in your life?

Monday, October 28, 2013

October 28 - Luke 16-17:10: God's Crafty, Forgiving People

Today’s Reading: Luke 16-17:10

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Jesus wanted His Chosen People to be as crafty as evil people—but for the opposite purposes.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Jesus presented a parable of a manager cheating his employer to bank favors. Jesus summarized, "Be similarly crafty for setting things right."
Liars always cheat, regardless of responsibility.
Jesus told the Pharisees, "God's Law never loses Authority. He sees through your legal loopholes."
Jesus told a parable about a rich man punished at death. He wanted someone to warn his family; however, since they would not listen, no one was sent.
Jesus told His Disciples, "Forgive liberally during trials."
The Disciples cried for more faith. Jesus countered, "There is no such thing as 'more' faith. Do your job with humility."

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Jesus wanted His Disciples to be crafty about setting things right.

The story of the dishonest manager is strange. He praises a dishonest person in order to show the reason for his dishonesty. Then He tells His Disciples they should also be crafty. The difference, obviously, is that He wants them to be crafty in setting things right. Exploit loopholes in the law—to set things right. Challenge cultural norms—to set things right. Do favors for others so they need to do favors for you—to set things right. God's Chosen People should not be naïve when it comes to ways of exploiting the system to get God's Way. Find ways around existing barriers to set things right.

Honesty does not pop up when a person has more responsibility.

We all have some form of this in our lives: that part of us that we vow to fix when we need to use it. Jesus tells His Disciples they should be honest in everything, big or small. Honesty in small acts may translate to honesty in large acts. Dishonesty in small acts means dishonesty in large acts. If you find yourself being dishonest about something small, remember you may not be given more responsibility until you develop integrity in small things. Having more responsibility does not fix any part of our lives.
I remember a congregation that I worked for who had a member that only came once in a while to worship with us and when he left the building he also left his faith. One of the men thought if we gave him more responsibility he would shape up and be more involved. Needless to say, it didn't work.

The Pharisees wanted to be exonerated of their sins by technicality.

The Pharisees loved money. They wanted to keep their lifestyles intact. Part of having money was the ability to find a new wife when they were finished with their current one. So they found a loophole in the Law and exploited it to legitimize their lust and adultery. This is the exact opposite of what Jesus meant when He told His Disciples to be crafty in setting things right. Jesus had to tell them their actions were not acceptable because God knew their divorces were selfish attempts to get around God's Law. God sees through our pretenses and actions to know our heart's intentions for everything we do.

God's Law would never go away.

The Law of Moses has often been considered antiquated or "abolished". Earlier we read how God's Message stays the same—God wants rivers of mercy and oceans of justice. When we began the laws portion of the Pentateuch, I mentioned that when the laws were read as a whole they retained respectability. In our reading today Jesus added that the focus of the Law may have changed from sacrifice and prophets, but "The sky will disintegrate and the earth dissolve / before a single letter of God’s Law wears out" (16:17, The Message). Although we may not be under the literal demands of the Law of Moses, it is still relevant for today.

Abraham understood the rich man's family would not listen to Lazarus any more than Moses or the Prophets.

The rich man wanted Lazarus, a poor invalid who lived on the rich man's steps, to return and warn his family of their fate should they continue going down the same path. This could be considered the ultimate compliment for Lazarus and the ultimate humiliation for the rich man. Abraham, on the other hand, would not allow it. The reason he gave is chilling—they would not have listened. You may wonder why he would suggest such a thing, but he knew that people who have no trust in God and desire a sign will not believe that sign. Moses doubted himself, not God. Gideon also doubted himself. Signs are not meant to stop a person from doubting God. They are meant to show God's Authority resides in the person giving or receiving the sign, depending on the situation. God has provided sufficient witnesses for the world to trust Him. They do not need personal signs.

Forgiveness is the way to hold the bond between friends.

Today is the second time this thought has surfaced. In the first, Jesus told Peter to forgive in excess of 70 x 7 times. Today's reading urges His Disciples to forgive each other as often as needed. This is meant to keep the peace between Chosen People so they can endure their trials.

There is no such thing as "more" faith.

There is only "trust" and "mistrust". You either trust God to set things right or you don't. Either you are willing to obey His Way or you aren't. Either you are His Servant or you are not. Do not ask God to increase your faith. Trust God and your bond will grow.

How crafty are you in setting things right?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

October 27 - Luke 14-15: God's Chosen People Cannot Be Bothered to Eat with the God Who Sets Things Right

Today’s Reading: Luke 14-15

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Following Jesus has a high cost. It also has a high reward.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Jesus argued that if Pharisees could rescue someone on the Sabbath, then He could heal, too.
Jesus added, "Sitting in a seat of honor before being asked brings embarrassment," and "Inviting misfits who can't pay back brings blessings."
Jesus told a parable of a man whose friends were too busy to attend his dinner party. Instead, he called misfits, the homeless, and strangers to join him.
Personal sacrifice is essential to following Jesus.
God celebrates over one relationship set right. A man's son returned home after squandering his inheritance and received a banquet. His (faithful) brother resented the banquet.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Jesus presented another paradox: those who want to be in the seat of honor should take the lowest seat available.

Jesus previously mentioned that children were the greatest in the Kingdom of God and if the Apostles wanted to be the greatest they should become the servant of everyone. Today's reading continued that paradox of becoming the greatest by being the lowest. This time the setting is a banquet. If you want to be considered great and honored, become humble as a servant and take low positions. Then you can be called to a higher place.

We are to give without expectations of receiving.

At the same dinner Jesus told the host that he should not limit his guest list to those who were rich enough or friendly enough to invite him back. If we gave without expectations we would be blessed greater than if we only gave to our "friends". Christianity is among the few religions that give in thanksgiving to what God has done in the past. God challenged Israel to test His Faithfulness by giving the entire tithe. Jesus challenges us to give even when the person can't or doesn't want to give back. Giving is based on what God has done for us in the past, not what we want from God in the future.

God's Chosen People cannot be bothered to eat with Him.

The saddest part of Jesus' parable of the man who gave a feast is that the man's friends could not be bothered to join him in his celebration. Jesus is showing the Pharisee how his statement about those sitting at God's Table may be true but the ones at the Table are not who he thinks they are. The Pharisee thinks the people in the "Pharisee Hall of Fame" are there. Jesus tells him they couldn't be bothered to join God at His Table. In their place were the misfits, the homeless, the ones the Pharisees would least expect to be there. This is a glimpse into what will soon happen when Israel cannot be bothered to set things right even though God sent His Son to earth. God calls others to join Him at His Table because His Chosen People are unwilling to obey Him.
We as Christians should read this parable and realize we are in both groups. We were once the strangers on the highway God called to join Him. After a generation or two we became the ones to whom God sent an invitation. Now we cannot be bothered. We have taken a new job and need to make sure they are impressed by us. We have bought a new thing and need to spend time paying it off or playing with it while we can. Or we have married and want to enjoy our togetherness. You can fill in your own excuse but the truth remains—God is calling others to set things right because His Chosen People are too "busy" to do it. That may sound harsh, but it sounded equally as harsh to the Pharisees who heard it.

Becoming Jesus' Disciple requires greater commitment to Him than to any other person—even yourself.

God has twice told His Chosen People the great benefits of obeying Him and the great punishments for cheating on Him. Jesus gives another version of this when He says we need to count the cost before choosing to follow Him. We could lose our parents, our spouses, our children, our siblings, our friends, our freedom, or our lives if we decide to become God's Chosen Person. Jesus has wrecked many people's careers. He has taken away dreams. Many who obey Him would testify that He replaces them with much better relationships, careers, or dreams, but it still hurts to have them taken away. Being Jesus' Disciple is for anyone but not for everyone. If a person is not willing to pay the price, they are only setting themselves up for greater punishment in the future by trying.

God rejoices over one person who needs to repent.

Yesterday I mentioned how Jesus did not want to solve systematic problems because He wants to solve individual problems and through solving these individual problems the systematic problems would work themselves out. Today Jesus' saying is that God rejoices over that individual who sets their lives right. Just like a shepherd rejoices over the return of one sheep, God rejoices over the return of one person. The issue isn't that Jesus loves that person more than the 99 who are safe in His Care. It's because when something you own (or someone you love) returns, it is greater than replacing it (or them) with something (or someone) else. You have a relationship with that thing or person. It feels great to have that relationship set right. No person is too insignificant to God that He does not rejoice when they return.

The Prodigal Son's brother became bitter because the he never received a fanfare similar to his brother's.

The brother's issue sounds very familiar,
Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast! (15:29-30, The Message)
The brother thinks that his father's rejoicing over his brother's return means the father loves his prodigal son more than his faithful son. The brother is wrong—everything the father owned now belonged to him. The fanfare was because a severed relationship was set whole. The brother did not realize he was inside the safe barn with God's other sheep the entire time the lost sheep, his brother, was in danger of death. God's Chosen People must deal with their bitterness and rejoice when someone sets their relationship right with God. If not, we start down the road Jonah and his contemporaries travelled and may become so bitter we kick someone out for trying to set things right with the "wrong" people.

Have you counted the cost to becoming Jesus' Disciple?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

October 26 - Luke 12-13: On Possessions and Who is Saved - Both are Irrelevant

Today’s Reading: Luke 12-13

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Jesus begins the long transition of His Ministry to His Apostles.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Jesus comforted His Apostles. God would help them through trials.
Jesus warned, "Possessions do not matter. Focus on giving, not getting. Your heart follows your treasure.
"Responsibilities are based on gifts. I've come to set everything right, not nice and easy. People will fight their closest family members."
Jesus warned against comparing sins, "Repent or join these sinners in death!"
His critics were embarrassed when they challenged Him for healing on the Sabbath.
"God's Kingdom lifts many with a few. How many are saved is irrelevant."
Jesus said He would die in Jerusalem because they killed God's Chosen Prophets.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Jesus did not care about possessions and did not want His Chosen People focused on possessions.

Jesus was asked pointblank to help a disenfranchised man gain an equal share of his family's estate. He turned it down, not because He doesn't care for social justice but because Jesus cares nothing about possessions. We were to focus on giving not receiving. Jesus did not want to be part of this conflict. He did not want anything to do with fashion. He emphasized that life is more than food and clothes.
One of the problems I have with more progressive politics is the need to tie Jesus to income and possession inequality. Jesus is used to justify taking from the rich and giving to the poor though taxes and social programs. We can debate the merits of these social problems as potential solutions, but Jesus would consider those debates meaningless (or at least not part of His Ministry). Jesus did not come to solve systematic problems in society. He came to solve individual problems in society and through that solve systematic problems in society. Social justice, to Jesus, was not about equal income or access to healthcare. Social justice was about voluntarily giving to those in need—not because you were commanded to but because you wanted to set things right. This is why taxes can never fulfill Jesus' aim for His Chosen People. Taxes can never be given freely. They are always taken under threat of fines or imprisonment. Greed to gain more and more possessions is no better than greed to seize those riches. Life is more than food and clothes (or healthcare).

Jesus will come unexpectedly.

Jesus wanted to make sure His Chosen People were setting things right and not waiting around for the "end times". Since we do not know when He will arrive, we should always have things set right for His Coming.

Jesus did not come to bring "peace".

Peace that the world wants is actually "agree with me at all costs". Political debates are considered the antithesis to peaceful dialogue most of the time because these debates focus on getting the other person to agree with you—no matter if you are correct. Jesus' Way sets people against another. Jesus' Way leads to more arguments, more fights, more animosity because it is not based on agreeing with you but obeying God. Jesus' Way is not peaceful because we do not want to set all things right but because there will always be someone fighting God's Chosen People. Sometimes the fights will come from the inside. Jesus wanted us to know God does not abandon us in the fight. God is in the fray alongside us, giving us what we need to know to defend His Way. We may go to jail or become "that annoying Christian person", but if we are setting things right we should not fear what happens.

Who is "saved" and who is not is irrelevant to God's Chosen People.

Jesus' point in dismissing any comparison in sin is because we have much more pressing matters before us. Jesus warned that people could sit around and compare themselves to "pagans" and feel great about their lives, but when they arrived at the Gate they realized they knew nothing about God and were rejected. The reason who is "saved" and who is "unsaved" is irrelevant is because we do not decide in the end. Only God decides who can enter the Kingdom. We are to focus on setting things right.
Understanding this passage transformed my teaching and preaching. I once focused so much on the "salvation" moment that I tried to get people who knew nothing about Jesus into the baptismal water. I wanted to "save" them using the blood of a complete stranger! How many years have we spent arguing over who God would allow or reject into Heaven? Generations! Instead, it is essential that we focus on getting our lives right with God. If we did this we would see Jesus' parables come true.

Only a few, dedicated Chosen People can set many things right in a community.

This is what the parables of the pine nut (or mustard seed) and yeast are about, God can set a multitude of things right using only a few people dedicated to spreading His Way.

Jerusalem was a paradox: God's Chosen City who killed God's Chosen Messengers.

Jesus wanted to gather Jerusalem and set everything right but they refused. Instead they consistently killed the Prophets God sent. God chose Jerusalem to be the city where He lived. He wanted the city to be the bulb where His Light could go to the nations. Instead, they never truly obeyed Him. They eventually set up shrines to other gods inside the Temple. When God sent Jesus to call them to repent and set things right they rejected Him. Beware the Chosen People Paradox. Chosen People can become the most ardent opposition to Jesus setting all things right.

Do you focus on getting your life set right or arguing over who can or can't go to Heaven?

Friday, October 25, 2013

October 25 - Luke 10-11; John 10:22-42: Setting Things Right with Your Neighbor

Today’s Reading: Luke 10-11; John 10:22-42

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Similar to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus wants His Chosen People to no longer focus on "standards" or definitions. He wants us to set things right because we can.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Jesus sent 70 disciples to teach. God's Authority would protect them.
Jesus was asked "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus told a parable about a Samaritan man who helped a stranger. The Samaritan was the man's neighbor.
Jesus taught the disciples to persistently ask God to give what they needed. God would give what was best.
Jesus complained, "You want 'signs' but argue over minutia. Your eyes are too narrow to allow in My Saving Light. Stop looking for loopholes around God's Law."
Pharisees and religious scholars wanted Jesus murdered.
Jews refused Jesus as their Shepherd, but many believed in Him.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Jesus' missionary style was to allow insiders to call people to the messengers.

Churches have a problem going out. We love to stay in and wait for people to somehow find us. Jesus wanted His disciples to find a generous person and let them bring others to hear about Jesus. This is similar to how the first city accepted Jesus as their Lord. Find people in your city who can call others to listen to the Good News.

Jesus removed any limitation to the definition of a "neighbor".

As He did in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus took a standard (or a request for a definite answer) and turned it into a mindset. The Samaritan helped the man because He wanted to set things right. There was no law or moral code requiring him to act. There was no money in helping the man. The injured stranger needed someone to help him and the Samaritan was the one. There is no rule or standard to who constitutes your neighbors. Help anyone who needs your help.

Mary understood what was essential and what could wait.

I believe Jesus' point wasn't that kitchens were unnecessary. His point was that priority should go to learning how to set things right. We should not use this story as an excuse to never leave our lecture halls or living room small groups to do community service projects. We should learn from this example not to siphon time from the essentials in order to keep up a sparkling-clean home.

Jesus taught that prayer is like a friend calling another friend to help.

I struggle with prayer. It isn't because I don't think God hears my prayer or that He doesn't want to answer them. I struggle because I have difficulty seeing prayer as calling out to a friend to help in the middle of the night. It seems too distant, too formal. I struggle to balance rote prayers for the sake of praying and persistently praying for what I need. However, persistence pays off—especially when it comes to God. Before you start praying a million times for $10 million, remember that God gives us what we need. Don't bargain, ask for tradeoffs, or give ultimatums. Continuously ask God to set things right until it happens.

Jesus came to set things right, not perform magic tricks.

The Pharisees, religious scholars, and Jews wanted Jesus to perform sign after sign. They were not interested in following Jesus but discrediting Him, as I mentioned earlier. Jesus would not perform a miracle at their every beck-and-call. They had all the evidence they needed. They lacked faith not evidence.

It is not the outside that matters. The outside should mirror the inside.

The Pharisees struggled to obey God because they wanted all of the esteem from obeying God without the hard task of changing themselves to set things right. This is why Jesus has to make them see they are like a clean tomb—the dirty, dead bones are inside.

Do you struggle with praying like you are asking a friend for help?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

October 24 - John 9-10:21: Jesus is the Good Shepherd who Sets Things Right

Today’s Reading: John 9-10:21

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Jesus calls His Sheep by name and sacrifices Himself for them. The Pharisees argue with their sheep and insult them.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Jesus told His Disciples that God shows His Power by healing.
Once blind, a man confessed to his townspeople that the Prophet Jesus healed him. The Pharisees sneered at this ridiculous idea.
The man's parents confirmed that he was once blind. Angry, the Pharisees threw the new believer out.
Later, Jesus told the man, "I give sight to the blind and blind arrogant 'see-ers'. I am the gate only shepherds use. I sacrifice Myself for the sheep. I will soon merge them all into one Flock. I give Myself freely and can retrieve My Life by the Father's Word."

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

The Apostles wanted to find someone to blame for the man's blindness.

Jesus' point was not that handicaps never occur because of sin. We know some issues are caused by mothers abusing their bodies during pregnancy. Others are caused by lifestyle choices. Jesus point is that trying to find someone or something to blame for a person's handicap detracts from God's purpose—setting all things right. A Chosen Person should seek ways God can set the situation right, not find out who is to blame for its existence.

The man was wiser than the Pharisees.

As I mentioned yesterday, the Pharisees were trying to discredit Jesus using technicalities. The man Jesus healed received the same treatment. They questioned him, doubted his infirmity, and bullied him to get their way. The man held firm—Jesus, the one who healed him, was a Prophet. All the evidence he needed was found in his eyes. It is here that Jesus' statement about the blind receiving sight and the arrogant "see-ers" being blinded comes into focus. Those who see God's Work believe faster than those who want to control God's Work. The man believed because of what Jesus did. The Pharisees insulted and threw out a person healed by God because they could not control Jesus.

Jesus' Sheep would be in one flock.

This is one of the earliest inklings that enrollment in God's Chosen People would become open for the world. Jesus wanted to bring all of His Sheep into one flock, where He would lead and die for them. Jesus' death would allow the entire world to enter His Flock.

Jesus laid down His Life so we could gain ours.

Jesus became the Good Shepherd because He was willing to sacrifice Himself to prevent His Flock from suffering. If we want to be like Jesus, we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves to prevent others from suffering.

Are you part of Jesus' Flock?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

October 23 - John 7-8: Jesus Passes Light to the World, Except Those who Reject Him

Today’s Reading: John 7-8

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

The Pharisees try to find every little thing they can to discredit Jesus.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Jesus showed the world their evil hearts. They wanted Him dead.
The Jews were impressed by Jesus' Wisdom. Jesus told them, "Anyone can understand what I teach except those who refuse to set things right." Many people believed.
On the last day of the feast, Jesus openly called for followers. The police refused to arrest Him. Nicodemus stood up for Him.
An adulteress was brought to Jesus but let go for lack of an executioner with perfect morals.
The Pharisees failed to see Jesus as the Light because they missed God. This prevented them from understanding Jesus' Ways and Teachings.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

The world wants to destroy Jesus because He sheds light on their evil hearts.

Jesus tells us, in exact terms, why the world wanted to destroy Him: He was a threat to keeping their evil intentions hidden. He had to be destroyed.

The Jews and Pharisees wanted to discredit Jesus on technicalities.

One of the parts of Jesus' Ministry I love is His dedication to the larger picture without losing the details, and vice-versa. Jesus understood the Real Story of life but made sure all of the prophecies were completed. Because the Jews and Pharisees could not defeat Him by finding fault in His teachings, they resorted to picking at Him—His hometown, His healing on the Sabbath, a lack of corroborating witnesses, His Father's identity, His identity, and their freedom and lineage. They wanted to discredit Jesus so much they were willing to do any and everything to get rid of Him.

The "religious scholars" rejected Jesus. The "religiously ignorant" accepted Him.

Before we discuss education and training for God's Chosen People, we must first remember that Jesus was not rejected by people who knew the Law. He was rejected by those who had studied the Law since birth. People ignorant of the Bible may be the ones who accept Jesus easiest.
It is this reason that I find the fact that Americans are growing less and less knowledgeable about the Bible to be a two-sided coin. On the one hand, they will not know what Jesus did because He is unknown to them. On the other hand, Jesus' teachings can be taught fresh because they do not have the baggage which prevents many from accepting them.

Nicodemus defended Jesus.

Jesus had friends in high places.

Jesus realized the adulteress was brought to Him to test Him, not because the crowd wanted justice done.

We do not know if this story is really in the Bible or not. Either way, what is important to see is that the Pharisees and Jews did not want Jesus to bring justice upon this woman. They wanted to put Him in a lose-lose situation. When he not only refused to execute her but also condemned them, they had no recourse but to walk away. Beware moral traps meant to snare a quick win and not a substantial dialogue on how to set things right.

Anyone who sins is a slave to sin.

It is a difficult statement which is essential for us to understand. Stay away from sin! It will make you a slave!

Jesus provides plenty of Light to free the world from its slavery.

We are to be lighthouses for the nations. We do this not by originating light but by reflecting the Light that comes from God through Jesus. Jesus' Light frees the nations from their bondage in sin because His Way is the Truth, meaning His Way is the right way to live.

Do you live in the Light or are a slave to sin?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

October 22 - Matthew 18: Jesus On Forgiveness and Arrogance

Today’s Reading: Matthew 18

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Jesus wants forgiveness to rule—both in seeking it and giving it.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

The Apostles asked about rank. Jesus responded, "Childlike people rank highest. Treat them well. It's better to be handicapped and God's than whole and the Devil's. Watch your arrogance.
"A shepherd searches for lost sheep. So will God. Seek lost Siblings: first alone, then with a small group, and finally with everyone. If no resolution, treat them as an outsider who needs God. All spoken words are binding."
Peter asked how often to forgive. Jesus spoke a parable, "A servant, forgiven a huge amount, was greatly punished for not forgiving a small amount. God forgives those who forgive others."

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Childlike people are the highest in the Kingdom. Treat them well.

I never realized these verses went together. I had always thought the "children are first in the kingdom" scripture was separate from the "chop off your hand if it offends you" scripture. Jesus wanted them to go together. He understood the heavy cost of discouraging a young, childlike Chosen Person.
How many times do we see a person new to His Chosen People want to do something or set things right with an undesirable group be rejected by a "mature" person who "knows better". We need to heed Jesus' warning,
Watch that you don’t treat a single one of these childlike believers arrogantly. You realize, don’t you, that their personal angels are constantly in touch with my Father in heaven? (v. 10, The Message)

Jesus wanted conflicts to end with friendship, not bitter partings.

All my life I thought Jesus meant if the person would not listen to the church you should throw them out. However, reading this time alongside Jesus' discussion of the 99 vs. the 1 I realized He does not want people to throw their hurtful Siblings out the door. He wants them to continue seeking a way into the person's heart but treat them as a person who lives an open life of sin. Jesus dined with sinners and called them to repentance. So should we.

Everything a person says is heard and heeded by God.

In an interesting ending to the discourse on regaining a Sibling Jesus says the following,
Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there. (vv. 18-20)
Jesus wants to make sure we know not to go and tear a person down around others, even if they hurt us. This saying both encourages and terrifies. It encourages us because no person is insignificant to God. God hears all. That, on the other hand, terrifies us, God listens to everything we say. Be careful what comes out your mouth.

God's Forgiveness is conditional on our forgiveness of others.

One of the few conditional parts of God is forgiveness. God's Love is boundless. His Compassion knows no end. But His Forgiveness will be taken away if we hold on to our bitterness and do not forgive others. This is a hard saying.

Do you need to forgive someone?

Monday, October 21, 2013

October 21 - Matthew 17; Mark 9; Luke 9:28-62: Confirmation of Jesus' Authority

Today’s Reading: Matthew 17; Mark 9; Luke 9:28-62

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Jesus receives confirmation of His Authority.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Jesus received confirmation of His Authority before Peter, James, and John. He later cleared confusion around John the Baptizer's role as the second Elijah.
His Apostles lacked sufficient faith to excise a certain demon.
Jesus predicted His betrayal.
He paid the Temple Tax.
The Apostles argued over rank. Jesus taught them that a childlike servant is the pinnacle.
Jesus reminded them that all things done in His Name were acceptable regardless of the source. Harassment of a young believer would be punished.
Jesus set course for Jerusalem. He stopped the Apostles from harming some unaccommodating Samaritans.
Following Jesus required sacrifice.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Jesus prepares for His betrayal and death.

He started by telling the Apostles He would suffer and die. In today's reading, He showed the three closest Apostles (Peter, James, and John) confirmation of His Authority. He was shown with Moses, the author of the Law, and Elijah, the second-greatest prophet (to Moses). When Peter offered to build three memorials, God interjected—not anymore; listen to Jesus. Aside from the lapse of judgment each of them had at the crucifixion, this experience would keep their faith strong for the duration of their lives.

The Apostles could not excise the demon because they lacked faith.

The Apostles could not expel the child's demon. When they asked Jesus He gave a cryptic response, "Because you're not yet taking God seriously" (Matthew 17:20, The Message, emphasis original). I'm not sure what all that means, but we can be certain of one thing—Sometimes the only way to set things right is through fasting, prayer, and trust in God.

Those who wish to be the greatest should serve others.

Jesus provides a leadership paradox. If you think about it, managers in offices do not get things done. People on the ground get things done. So any discussion over who is the most important or greatest has to take that into account. Those who serve as small children are the greatest.

Anyone who does something in Jesus' Name (unless it is self-serving) is acceptable to God.

A few days ago we read where Jesus stated those who are not for Him were against Him. Today He elaborates on that a little more—those who set things right, no matter who they are, are blessed for it. I believe this is connected to the next section about bullying childlike believers. Those who disqualify young believers because they are not part of "their" group can cause them to become cynical and abandon any form of community.
This saying is difficult for Christians today. We love our exclusive claim to setting all things right. We want to think of the world in a simple duality: saved (those in the church) and completely and utterly depraved (those in the world). We cannot accept anyone not part of our group setting things right. Inclusion in God's Chosen People is not a prerequisite for setting things right.

Jesus valued peace over principle when it was necessary.

Once again, Jesus foregoes freedom for the sake of peace. The first time He told the man He healed to stop carrying his bed. In this reading, Jesus pays the Temple Tax even though He was the one it was built for. The reason was for peace, to not give them a reason to complain. When dealing with unreasonable people, sometimes it is better to sacrifice principle to preserve peace.

What do you do in the Name of Jesus?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

October 20 - Mark 8; Luke 9:18-27; Matthew 16: Beware Bad Influences and an Unwillingness to Suffer

Today’s Reading: Mark 8; Luke 9:18-27; Matthew 16

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Only those who let Jesus lead will find their True Selves.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Jesus compassionately fed thousands with a few loaves and fish.
Pharisees wanted a sign. Jesus replied, "I'd rather not give you anything!"
Jesus warned the Apostles of "Pharisee yeast". Disappointingly, they thought He meant physical yeast.
Jesus asked who the Apostles thought He was. Peter piped in, "You are the Messiah."
Jesus responded, "Peter, you will get the keys to My Everlasting Church."
Jesus told them about His future suffering. Peter protested, but Jesus asked Him to back off, "I must lead or you risk losing your True Self. If you find Me embarrassing, remember that everyone associates us together!"

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Jesus fed the crowds because He felt compassion for them.

We have now read five stories spanning four days where Jesus feeds thousands using a few loaves and fish. Each describes how He looked out over the crowd and felt compassion for them. Jesus wanted to set things right because He has compassion for the world.

Jesus warned the Apostles to stay clear from influences that would corrupt their allegiance.

The Pharisees and Herod were pledged to their own causes—the Pharisees to keeping their version of the Law and Herod to his greatness. Jesus knew they would offer a helping hand in return for special treatment in this new Kingdom. So Jesus wanted to make sure the Apostles stayed either stayed away from them or did not let the corruption seep into their lives. Keep away from harmful influences and legalist who miss God.
How do we do this and still help sinners? It depends on the person. If the person doesn't seem interested in setting things right, we might do better by keeping a distance. If they seem open, be open.

The Apostles were sometimes quite dense.

Right after Jesus feeds four thousand people, the Apostles were afraid they would run out of food. When Jesus told them to beware the yeast of the Pharisees they thought He meant they could not patron the Pharisees' favorite stores. I can see Jesus doing a facepalm. Sometimes, God's Chosen People are not the brightest in the world.

The Apostles were given the Keys to the Kingdom because they trusted in who Jesus was.

Peter's answer showed the difference between the Apostles and the rest of the world. The world was confused as to who Jesus was but the Apostles knew. Jesus would not let anyone tell who He was. Peter knew Jesus was the Messiah because of what He saw, not what He heard. They were given the Keys to the Kingdom because they were willing to trust Jesus. Those willing to trust God will have the opportunity to spread His Message more than anyone else.

Suffering is not optional.

Jesus started His preparations for the cross long before it came. Peter, in typical fashion, goes from hero to goat in a matter of hours. He does not want the Messiah to suffer. He wants Him to have a comfortable throne, high above any other one. Jesus has to remind Him that servants do not decide what God does. They must obey, not dictate. What He adds gives why—it is through suffering that we understand the True Nature of God. Through suffering we find our true selves by giving ourselves to God.
Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? (Matthew 16:24-26, The Message)
Only through sacrifice we not only find our souls, we find God protecting our souls.

When Jesus returns, the world will compare Him to those who openly obey Him.

Jesus warned the Apostles that by openly associating themselves with Him they would receive both the suffering and the blessing that He received. If they were willing to suffer, they would be revered; however, if they were unwilling to suffer or were ashamed of their suffering, why would they be revered? Our steady faith—or lack of—projects onto Jesus and not only ourselves.

Would Jesus need to apologize for you?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

October 19 - Matthew 15; Mark 7: Pharisees' Traditions vs. the Law - Unclean is in the Heart

Today’s Reading: Matthew 15; Mark 7

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

"Religious purity" no longer depends on food or drinks. It depends on the heart.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

The Pharisees complained that Jesus' Apostles did not strictly follow the Law and traditions. Jesus countered, "Why do you ignore the Law and allow 'religious' acts to trump God's Requirements? Only things that mess up relationships are unclean." This made all foods clean. He continued, "They are blind guides for the blind."
A Gentile wanted Jesus to excise her daughter's demon. Jesus refused, stating He came only for Israel. She only asked for a scrap of His time. Jesus granted her request.
Jesus continued healing. Many people praised God. Feeling compassion, Jesus fed them with a few loaves and fish.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

The Pharisees did not understand the role of religious acts.

The Pharisees wanted to outdo everyone else in obeying the Law. If God placed a barrier to prevent people from going off a cliff, they would have put two or three barriers inside God's just to make sure no one got close to the edge. Earlier, Jesus had complained that they read the Bible but missed its Message. They considered religious acts more important than people. This philosophy anchored their tradition of giving to God what should have gone to parents and caused them to miss God's Purpose for His Chosen People. Instead, they fell into Isaiah's description, "They just use me as a cover / for teaching whatever suits their fancy" (Matthew 15:9, The Message). Those who stress law to the omission of heart are in danger of missing God.

"Religious impurities" were no longer physical impurities.

This point stood out much more then than today. To them, religious impurities were based on food, what you touched, and your genetics. God wanted to make His Chosen People stand out from the wicked people who lived in Canaan. Israel, in turn, used these distinctions to think they were better than everyone else even though they practiced the same wicked acts. Jesus took away the physical impurities and simplified them to spiritual impurities only. God only considers heart-pollutants as impurities.
We may not have dietary impurities today, but we do have religious quibbling. We argue over worship styles, obscure and unimportant theology, and which interpretation of events should be taught in school/seminary/church. I believe Jesus would have a similar statement for us today, "It doesn't matter what enters your head. What matters is what enters your heart and comes out in your actions that pollute a person."

The story of the Canaanite woman in Tyre shows both Jesus' Purpose and a non-Chosen Person's faith.

Jesus did not come to be a miracle-worker. He came to set things right for God—first with the Israelites and then with the world. Jesus did not come to fix the world's problems personally. He came to fix Israel's problems so they could go and fix the world's problems. The Canaanite woman begged Jesus to reconsider not because she was worthy (she never questioned His "dog" comment) but because she loved her daughter. Her humility to accept the second-class citizen status in God's Kingdom meant she was actually a first-class citizen in God's Kingdom—someone willing to obey God. This is why her daughter was healed. When we ask God for what we need, remember we are only worthy of the scraps left behind. The bountiful blessings God bestows shows His greatness!

Are you using God as a cover to teach whatever you fancy?

Friday, October 18, 2013

October 18 - John 6: Jesus is the Bread of Life

Today’s Reading: John 6

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Jesus wants them to follow Him because of spiritual bread, not physical bread.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Jesus fed five thousand people using five loaves and two fish. His Apostles crossed the lake. Jesus joined them, walking on the water.
Jesus challenged the crowd, "Seek My Food—you will never hunger or thirst again."
The Jews were outraged, "How dare You say that!"
"Eat My Flesh and drink My Blood and you will have Life."
Jesus' disciples complained these teachings were too tough. Jesus warned them, "People come to Me only through God's Guidance." Many deserted; however, Peter exclaimed, "You have the way to eternal life."
Jesus replied, "One of you, my hand-picked 12, will betray Me."

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

The Jews wanted Jesus as their political ruler, not their Guide to setting all things right.

Israel never understood their true purpose as God's Chosen People. During Jesus days, under occupation by the Romans, they finally had their Messiah. Instead of wanting Him to set all things right in the world, they wanted Jesus to set their politics in order. They were ready for the charismatic leader to lead a successful rebellion. Jesus' had to tell them (repeatedly, so expect this theme again) that He did not come to restore the physical kingdom of Israel. He came to restore the spiritual Kingdom of God. The difference is stark—the physical kingdom of Israel never obeyed God in spirit. The spiritual Kingdom of God first puts their spirits under God's Reign and from there disciplines their bodies to act accordingly. God's Kingdom is first a spiritual kingdom.
We struggle with keeping our priorities right, too. Israel as a nation today was created by people called "Zionists" who thought God wanted a physical kingdom of Israel forever. The Jews who returned to the new nation are not necessarily people fully converted to God setting all things right (at least that was not the criteria used to repopulate the nation). They were chosen because they were physical descendents of Abraham. We have a difficult time remembering that Jesus did not come to set up a political body. He came up to set up a world-wide movement of people setting things right because they can.

The Jews wanted Jesus to keep giving them free bread, not teach them how to set things right.

Jesus' entire discourse on bread vs. Bread was to help them get out of their physical mindset. They took the prophets' words to mean the Shoot of David's tree would be a physical savior, not a spiritual liberator. This is why they wanted more bread and why their "test" was to reproduce God's feeding of Israel in the wilderness. They were completely unprepared for what came next.

Jesus is the Bread of Life.

Jesus came to offer everlasting life to anyone willing to follow Him. Everlasting life comes from His Teachings—the Bread of Life. Follow the Bread of Life. Follow Jesus.

Jesus' teachings are not easy to swallow.

Jesus' disciples realized their publicity campaign went south when He told the masses following Him to eat His Flesh (the Bread of Life) and drink His Blood (cleansing of sin). The crowds wanted a physical kingdom and more bread for their poor. Jesus wanted them to set things right. Many of them deserted to jump off the doomed train. Peter's remark showed the 12's loyalty,
Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God. (vv. 68-69, The Message)

Are you willing to eat of the Bread of Life and drink the Blood of Jesus?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

October 17 - Matthew 14; Luke 9:1-17; Mark 6: Jesus Feeds the Wandering Crowds

Today’s Reading: Matthew 14; Luke 9:1-17; Mark 6

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

John was executed because of the pride of a powerful ruler.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Herod imprisoned John the Baptizer and later executed him to save face before a crowd of important dignitaries.
Jesus was rejected by His hometown.
He sent His Apostles to teach with orders to keep a simple life and keep a low-profile—even if rejected.
Herod believed Jesus was John reincarnated.
Jesus taught the crowds. He fed the entire group using a few loaves and fish.
Jesus sent the Apostles across the lake while He prayed alone. He joined them, walking on the water. Peter walked on the water but sank when he became afraid.
At Gennesaret, many people were healed.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

John provides a warning to all people who publically call out people for immoral acts.

John lost his life because he was unwilling to compromise God's Truth and approve of Herod's relationship with Herodias. Although John did nothing wrong, his life shows one warning—when publically calling out a person's immorality, prepare for blowback.
Christians need to straddle the fence between silence and public condemnation. Jesus did not come to condemn the world; however He did come to call the spiritually sick to set their relationships right. We should not go out of our way to call people sinners publically or privately and we should not fail to give the plain Truth when asked about sin. It is an important balance we should keep.

Jesus fed the thousands because He wanted more time to teach them how to set things right.

Jesus said that teaching was His nourishment. In this case, He taught right up until dinner time. His Apostles asked Him to send the people home or they would be hungry (and grumpy!). Instead, Jesus did something unexpected—He fed them all with a few loaves of bread and fish. What an awesome God!

Jesus went to pray alone.

I mentioned this earlier. A friendly reminder.

Peter's fear outweighed his faith.

A few days ago I mentioned that Jesus' Mission is only hindered by those whose fears outweigh their trust in God. Peter walking on the water provides a case study in this principle. Peter was fine until he looked down and fear gripped him. When we fear something more than our trust in God, we fall.

Do you let fear control your faith?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

October 16 - Matthew 9-10: The Interconnectedness of God and His Chosen Messengers

Today’s Reading: Matthew 9-10

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Jesus wanted to make sure His Chosen Apostles understood their task and who would be behind them.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Jesus forgave a man's sins then healed him, chaffing religious scholars.
Jesus kept company with sinners wanting to help their relationships with God.
Jesus continued healing—unlike anything anyone had seen.
Jesus grieved for the crowds—they needed a leader.
Jesus sent His 12 Apostles to teach and heal. He told them not to be interested in money or luxuries. Any form of rejection was nothing personal—the people rejected God instead. Jesus reminded them how much God cared for them. If they stood up for Him He would stand up for them. Any small act would be rewarded.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Jesus gave power to His Messengers.

Jesus does not send out His Messengers without giving them ways to prove their authority. He wants His Message to be heard.

Jesus wanted His Messengers to focus on spiritual problems.

Jesus saw the confused, searching crowds. He wanted to give them a way to set things right. To help this Message, He wanted His Apostles to not worry about political power, public perception, funding, or their lodging. They were to focus on bringing light to a world of darkness—health to the sick, life to the dead, personhood to the "irrelevants", and comfort to the demon-possessed. Jesus' Messengers should focus on healing spiritual problems. By focusing on spiritual problems we then can affect physical problems better. He did not want big scenes, press conferences or releases, or great fights in the town squares. He wanted His Messengers to be peaceful, proclaiming the Truth and letting It do the work.

People would persecute the Apostles because they rejected God, not because the Apostles were incompetent.

This is a difficult passage to swallow. On one hand, Christians are often too quick to claim persecution. They immediately judge anyone with a differing opinion as rejecting God. On the other hand, people rejecting God's Chosen People because they do not like God is as old as King David. Jesus wanted to make sure the Apostles understood their way would not be cupcakes and ice cream forever. Some people in the world hate God's Chosen People because of God, not His Chosen People. What these people do not realize is that by smearing God's Chosen People others will see how unfair and wrong they are and may decide to set things right with God. Public displays should happen only when God's Chosen People are summoned to defend an unfounded charge.
What does this mean for us today? We must not lose heart when we are persecuted. People want the quickest way to make their lives easier. Jesus' Way is not easy. Setting things right is not easy. Jesus' Way is better. Setting things right is better. People will reject it because they do not want to grow up. Also, it is not our incompetence which prevents the Gospel from being accepted. Don’t be confused—this does not mean we can keep doing what we are doing! If you feel you are setting things right with others without calling attention to yourself, God is pleased. We should not be affected by bullying tactics and we should not be affected by a lack of "success".

God's backing of our work is dependent on our backing of His Work.

After Jesus warns His Messengers they would be persecuted, He reminds them both of their worth to God and their responsibility. God's acceptance of them depended on their acceptance of Him. God's defense of their teachings depended on their defense of His Word. God's Way is not easy. It is not "safe". Yet Jesus gives the ultimate irony,
If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me. (10:39, The Message)
If you wish to find your purpose in life, look to God to point you in the right direction. Only then will you find your true calling.

Any small act will be rewarded as though God did it Himself.

Jesus ended His instructions to the Apostles by helping them understand that they are not alone. Acceptance meant God was accepted. Help given was as good as helped received. The smallest act meant you were on the way to setting things right. Do not be discouraged by large acts others do. God will reward the smallest act of setting things right because it all gives glory to Him.

Do you let God be the one people accept or reject?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

October 15 - Matthew 8:14-34; Mark 4-5: Never a Perfect Time to Follow Jesus

Today’s Reading: Matthew 8:14-34; Mark 4-5

The Message

English Standard Version

Today's reading, except one short story, is a collection of stories previously commented on. I will use this opportunity to rest and let you read my comments from the previous posts.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Jesus' Way is not easy.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Jesus taught with stories.
Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law. The next day Jesus and His disciples left to cross the lake. Two people asked to join but He answered, "My Way is rough. Either follow Me now or not at all."
Jesus calmed a severe storm.
Jesus healed two madmen with demons. The demons went to live in pigs but they ran off a cliff and drowned, angering nearby inhabitants who made Jesus leave.
Upon return, Jairus asked Jesus to heal his daughter. On the way, a woman reached out for Jesus to heal her.
Jesus returned life to Jairus' daughter.

Are you waiting to set things right?

Monday, October 14, 2013

October 14 - Matthew 13; Luke 8: Jesus Unearths Kingdom Truths through Parables

Today’s Reading: Matthew 13; Luke 8

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Jesus tells parables to demonstrate the Kingdom to those who are not ready for the straight truth.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Jesus used stories to unearthed truths about the Kingdom.
The disciples asked why Jesus used parables. "They do not know how the Kingdom works. The stories prepare them to accept the truths. A well-trained student can describe them to Kingdom-seekers."
Jesus' storytelling fulfilled prophecy.
Nazareth was puzzled by Jesus—the carpenter's son who now possessed great wisdom.
Jesus calmed a storm.
At the Gerasenes, Jesus excised the demons torturing a man. Locals asked that He leave.
Jairus begged Jesus to heal his daughter. On the way a woman touched Jesus and was healed. Jesus raised Jairus' daughter from the dead.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Jesus used stories to prepare people for the hard truths of the Kingdom.

Jesus understood that some people wanted to set things right but may have had something in their life blocking the truth of the Kingdom from their hearts. He used stories to soften their hearts to receive the truth. Once they could accept the truths, they would exponentially grow. In essence, what Jesus is doing, using the language from the parable of the soils, is tilling the roadside, removing the stones, and weeding the ground to help the difficult soil produce more grain. Some people need preparation for understanding the truths about setting things right.
When we try to pass on the truths about the Kingdom, we must also remember some need preparation before they can hear the straight truths. This is another reason we should model the Kingdom in our lives. They must see the Kingdom at work before they hear about the Kingdom.

God allows evil people to live among His Chosen People to protect His Chosen People.

This should answer the question of why evil people are blessed. God does not want to destroy His Chosen People as collateral.

The Kingdom is worth selling out.

God's Reign is worthy of giving up everything else to join.

Jesus brought everything into the open.

Jesus wanted His disciples to share the truth about the Kingdom to the world because doing so would encourage them to set things right. When God's Chosen People only share the Good News with few, only few will accept the Good News.

Jesus' Work is hindered only by those who fail to trust Him.

No one should blame the Apostles for being scared on the lake. Many people died there. Their fears were real. The problem was their fears outweighed their trust in Jesus. When our fears outweigh our trust in God, God's Work is hindered.

The Gerasenes were afraid of too much change.

The demon-possessed man was a scourge on their land. When he was suddenly and dramatically healed they were unprepared for the great power and great change that came. So Jesus left the man to give the message to them. When people are scared of too much change, let the Message pass through people who are insiders. They can have better success.

Are you willing to take a risk in trusting God?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

October 13 - Matthew 12:22-50: Of Signs, Demons, and Family

Today’s Reading: Matthew 12:22-50

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Unless we fill ourselves with God's Spirit, we will become worse than we were before.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

The Pharisees accused Jesus of working with Satan to excise demons. Jesus responded, "If Satan banished Satan, he would be destroyed. If you reject the Holy Spirit, you are condemning yourself."
The Pharisees questioned Jesus' Credentials. Jesus responded, "You aren't looking for proof. Even so, here is My Credential: Like Jonah, I will be in a grave three days and nights. You squabble over 'evidence' in front of the Son of God. Be careful, evil spirits love empty minds."
Jesus' immediate family came to visit. Jesus told everyone, "Obedience is thicker than blood. Those who obey Me are My Family."

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

There are only two sides: those who set things right and those who hinder setting things right.

This is a tough saying. At first we recoil from the thought that Jesus says either you are for Him or against Him. If we realize that Jesus does not say you either God's Chosen People or Satan's pawns this saying doesn't sound as radical. Jesus will later have a different saying in a similar situation, and realizing what He is saying here will help put the two together. People who may not recognize Jesus as their Savior often agree with His Teachings and thus set things right in their relationships. I don't believe this is what Jesus is getting at here. The Pharisees did not want to set things right because they wanted to make sure the Law was followed to the letter. They were against Jesus because they preferred to hold to their dogma instead of set things right.

Words can either be your salvation or your damnation.

The Pharisees openly doubted Jesus' Authority. Jesus wanted them to realize what you say will eventually get you into or out of trouble. Words are like people—they either help set things right or hinder it.

The Pharisees did not want proof.

Jonah did not get a great display of God's Power. He missed Elijah's view of God. He did not see a burning bush. Jonah was swallowed by a large fish and lived there for three days in order to see God's Power. The Pharisees wanted Elijah's and Moses' miraculous signs. Jesus knew their hearts and that they did not want to see to believe but find the limits of Jesus' Abilities to discredit Him. Therefore they would receive a similar sign as Jonah—nothing for three days. Beware those who seek great signs in order to believe. They may be stalling to figure out a way to get out of belief.

Demons love a vacuum.

John's message was received by many who later were not ready for Jesus' Message. They were tired of their old religion but were not ready to set things right. This is why Jesus tells them the parable of a man cleaning his home then having more devils take up residency. Bad ways of thinking and acting must be replaced with right ways of thinking and acting or the bad thoughts and acts will return and become more difficult to stop.
One thing I am concerned about when discussing people who do not like the church but love Jesus is that the removal of "religious" acts may never be replaced with relationship-building practices. Instead, they become cynical about anything related to a community of people setting things right and later become stuck in a new cycle of not setting things right without anyone to help. When discussing the problems within your church and what you do replace dead, traditional acts with new, lively ones. Stopping them all together may lead to a worse relationship with God.

Will your words save you or damn you?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

October 12 - Matthew 11: God's Way Makes Sense Only to Those Who Obey

Today’s Reading: Matthew 11

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God reveals His Way to those who will enact it, not those who will dissect it.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

John sent disciples to question whether Jesus was the Messiah. This was Jesus' answer: many people taught and healed.
Jesus chastised the crowd, "John was called a religious nut. I am considered too worldly. Why so fickle? God's Kingdom's inhabitants put John to shame.
"Evil cities of old will have punishment easier than yours because they would have listened."
Jesus thanked God for showing His Way to ordinary people.
"Let Me tell you about the Father. Are you at the end of your rope? I will give you rest. Work for Me. I will assign only what you can handle."

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Jesus' proof to John was examples of God's Way working.

John's disciples may have been expecting a long oration of how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of old, how He taught the right doctrine, or how He kept His Will under check to God's Will. Instead, Jesus showed John's disciples how He worked. That was His message to John. Jesus' Message is best communicated by people seeing it work.
If you want to help set many people's relationships right with God, show them how God's Way works. Set things right within the church and in your life. Then they will know Jesus is the Messiah.

Tyre and Sidon would accept their punishment easier than the cities that saw Jesus at work.

Tyre and Sidon were guilty of terrible sins against Israel. Yet Jesus said they would receive less punishment than the people who saw Jesus working. What that means exactly we do not know. I personally think it means Tyre and Sidon would have a slight consolation, "At least we did not reject the Son of God!" and kick themselves ever so slightly less. What we do know is that people who see God setting things right have no excuse—they either must set things right or be punished.

God's Way is a paradox—only those who do not analyze it will understand it.

Jesus' prayer is somewhat strange,
Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You’ve concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that’s the way you like to work. (vv. 25-26, The Message)
But in reality, I understand what He means. Ordinary people listen to Jesus and try to obey them (Yoda excluded). Sophisticated know-it-alls dissect, analyze, search out the hidden meanings, and spend so much time getting to THE meaning of the text they have no time or energy to set things right. This is the paradox of obeying God—to truly understand it you must first obey. Only then does its intricacies and layers upon layers of truth bubble up. If you want to understand God, obey Him.

Jesus shows the True Nature of God.

God is not a fire-breathing, lighting-throwing, smiting God. God wants the tired, the overworked, and the ones who can't stand "organized religion" anymore. He wants them to "Learn the unforced rhythms of grace" (v. 29). Learning to live God's Way frees and lightens our psyches to set all things right. The True Nature of God is not a religion. The True Nature of God is natural grace which freely gives blessings to every person.

Are you seeking to obey God's Way or dissect it?

Friday, October 11, 2013

October 11 - Matthew 8:1-13; Luke 7: The Irony of Israel and the Pharisee

Today’s Reading: Matthew 8:1-13; Luke 7

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

The Pharisees watched Jesus perform miracles but wanted to destroy Him. The Roman centurion wanted Jesus to perform a miracle but did not want inconvenience the Savior.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

A Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant but preferred Jesus do it long-distance. Jesus marveled, "The man with the greatest trust isn't an Israelite! Soon 'pagans' like him will take faithless Israel's place in God's Kingdom."
Jesus returned life to a widow's only son.
Jesus proved His Authority to John's disciples. They passed the message to John in prison.
Jesus complained, "John was ignored as a crazy, religious nut but you ignore Me as too worldly. Make up your minds."
A prostitute cleaned Jesus' feet at a Pharisee's home, exemplifying that affection is often proportional to forgiven sin.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Jesus wants to heal.

God has always wanted to heal His Chosen People. All the leper needed to do was ask. God wants to heal when we are willing to ask.

The Roman Centurion's faith in Jesus demonstrated the irony of Israel.

In Malachi we read that people from all over the world wanted to worship God. The Roman centurion gives a great example of this saying in person—he did not think he was worthy of a visit from the one the Pharisees wanted to destroy. There are people who want to obey God around the world if they only had a chance to hear His Name. Those who know His Name could not be bothered to lift a finger for Him.
Today we find this same irony in churches where individuals who come to know Jesus later in life are often more interested in obeying God than the people who have been there for generations. I believe this is more of a generational problem than anything else. People who grew up with Christian parents who also grew up in Christian homes have no great "salvation" story to tell, similar to Israel's forgetfulness of the Exodus. God took them into exile so the big event that tied them together could be the salvation from exile. It is this reason alone that missions are an essential component of setting things right—it spreads God's Name all over the world. The spreading of God's name can re-infect trust and obedience to God's Chosen People.

Soon the distinction of "God's Chosen People" would be open for the world.

Because of the Roman centurion and the multitude of others willing to obey God if they had the chance, Israel faced losing their exclusive claim to being God's Chosen People. God would no longer keep them exclusively as His Chosen People if they were unwilling to obey Him. When God's Chosen People refuse to set things right, He finds new Chosen People.
Is this happening today? I believe so, but not in the same way we think. God's Chosen People are losing their place as the center of attention in society. This is both a positive and a negative (more on that later). Non-Chosen People willing to set things right replace God's Chosen People as the ones worth emulating. We no longer tie "righteousness" and "church" as we once did. I believe this can provide a place for non-Chosen People and Chosen People to help each other—one pushing the other to go out and set things right while the other gives the Name of the One ultimately setting all things right. We need both and if we work together, we may help non-Chosen People give praise and honor to our God.

"The masses" do not know what they want.

Jesus described the religious leader's dilemma—either you are "too holy" or "too worldly". There is no middle ground when it comes to popularity. John the Baptizer dressed, ate, and acted differently than the masses. He was considered a religious nut who didn't need a place in a "civilized" community. Jesus dressed and ate like the people but they dismissed Him as too much in the world, unfit for the "religiously pure" community. John's and Jesus' rejections were not because they failed. They were rejected because Israel did not want to obey God in the first place.
We, too, should not be surprised when popular culture rejects Jesus' difficult teachings. They do not wish to set things right and therefore cannot legitimize Jesus' teachings. It is not new, it's as old as popular culture.

The prostitute in Simon's house gives another example of the principle that great forgiveness is met with great affection.

As mentioned earlier, God's Chosen People had difficult times obeying God. Within God's Chosen People there were varying abilities to see God's Way. The woman lived a sinful life. She knew it. Jesus knew it. Simon and his guests knew it. However, she also trusted who Jesus was. She was willing to humiliate herself in front of these powerful, influential men and women. Simon and his guests were not. Because of her humility and trust in Jesus, her sins were forgiven. The guests could not see what was going on because they were stuck in their religious arguments—"Who does this man think he is, forgiving sins!" (Luke 7:49, The Message). They could not see God's Love because their sins did not cause great suffering. Those who have seen the consequences of their sins express their love for God more than those whose consequences for sin stay easily hidden. May we neither miss God's Forgiveness nor God's Way!

Do you feel jealous when non-Chosen People outdo you in setting things right?