Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Dealing With Injustice

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 18

Matthew 18:1 and following records an occasion when Jesus' disciples asked, "Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Previous to this occasion, three of the disciples had accompanied Jesus to the top of a mountain and been witnesses to His transfiguration. Possibly this event had prompted the question. But this was not the only occasion on which the question was raised by the disciples.

We know from the lives of these men that they were good and faithful servants. Servants unto death, in fact. But they, as with many of us, had a concern with prestige and recognition. Jesus' teaching had not yet permeated their thinking to the point it had become a part of their own mindset. For them, as is no doubt the case with all of us, the concept of self-denial just did not come naturally. Looking out for one's self and not letting others run over us is engrained in most of us from an early age. Partly due to human nature and partly due to the teaching of society.

This engrained behavior, along with our own sin nature, is difficult to break. I find it one of the most difficult characteristics in myself to break. As a result, I will sometimes find myself almost obsessing over some perceived wrong by another. I mentally rehearse what I'm going to say to the one who "wronged" me in order to set the situation right. It is only after I have spent considerable time in these mental gymnastics that I realize what I am doing and begin to make it a matter of prayer. Envariably it is I who is set straight through the prompting of the Holy Spirit rather than me setting the other person straight. Too often, though, I have acted on my sense of injustice in such a situation out of emotions rather than out of prayer and spiritual guidance. When I have acted out of prayer and been prompted to "back off," I've never been sorry. Rather I have been thankful I did not act on my emotions.

Jesus had much to say about injustice, but His concern was more in defense of injustice toward others than that aimed at Himself. Is there a rule of thumb concerning injustice aimed at ourselves upon which we should take action? Not to my knowledge. Jesus' teachings often leave unanswered questions. We are not always pleased with this, preferring to have neat explanations and guildlines for everything. Following Jesus, however, is not about following a set of rules. Rather it is about a relationship with Him and functioning out of that relationship to respond to life as He guides us.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Being Honest With Our Doubt

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 14

When Jesus came walking on the water to His disciples who were perilously caught in a storm in a small boat, Peter boldly stepped out of the boat to join Jesus on the water. But then he took his eyes off Jesus, focusing instead on the enormity of the storm and becoming overcome with fear and doubt causing him to begin sinking. Jesus said to him and the other disciples, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"

Indeed, why do we doubt? Was Jesus admonishing the disciples as we often assume, or was He raising an important question for them to ponder? Is doubt bad or can it have a positive affect? Is it a sin or not?
I lean on the side of doubt having potential beneficial results. There are times, in fact, when we should doubt. It is not that God warrants our doubt but that our assumptions concerning God can warrant it. To pursue that thought further, let's consider Peter's assumptions when he stepped from the boat. He had witnessed Jesus' power in a number of instances, witnessing that very day the miraculous feeding of 5,000 people with only five loaves and two fish. He was also witnessing Jesus at that very moment walking to him on the water. He would be accurate in his belief that Jesus not only had power to walk on water Himself, but to also enable Peter to walk on it.

Was it Jesus' ability to enable him to walk on water that Peter doubted or did he doubt that Jesus was willing to enable him? Given Jesus' statement to him and Jesus' demonstration of calming the storm after He got in the boat, we might conclude that Peter doubted Jesus' power. But neither should Peter assume or should we assume Jesus' willingness to exercise His power on our behalf without conferring with Him. This is where I struggle the most with doubt. Does Jesus want to exercise His power at my request?

Either way, whether it is doubt of Jesus' ability or doubt of His willingness, doubt can be a point of growth if we do not camp out in it, remaining in doubt indefinitely. We should go to God with our doubt and allow Him to correct us and teach us and get through the doubt, doing it right away and hitting it head on. It is important to resolve our doubt as soon as possible for while in doubt we are also susceptible to Satan's attack with additional doubts.

We need to hold to our faith while examining our doubts, keeping our eyes on Jesus rather than the source of our doubt.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Faith: A Choice

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 13

Matthew chapter 13 marks a shift in Jesus' teaching methodology with the crowds following Him. His shift was from revealing direct concepts to the use of parables which hid the truth behind the parable from the unbelieving mind. Jesus made this shift when it became apparent that the Jews, as a whole, where rejecting Him. By using parables those whose minds were open to receive what He taught could continue to learn from Him, but the truths of His teaching would be hidden from those whose minds were closed.

In revealing to His disciples His reason for using parables, Jesus gave an important principle: "whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away." (Matthew 13:12) The ability to understand is not the key to discerning spiritual things. It is faith. If one is open to receive what is revealed to them, they will be given understanding. An understanding that is spiritually discerned.

Something else we learn from Jesus' statement in 13:12 is that faith is a choice. People make statements such as, "I wish I had faith, but I just don't," or "I wish I could believe, but I just can't." Such statements misunderstand the nature of faith seeming to imply that faith is an ability that one either has or does not have. But Jesus' statement in Matthew says to us that faith is not an ability, but rather a choice. Nor does faith come only as a result of full understanding. It is FIRST a choice. And with that choice to believe understanding will follow. If one chooses to believe, more and more understanding will be given. But for those who choose not to believe, understanding is closed off.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Caught By Our Words

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 12

We are bombarded with words constantly whether they be verbal or in print. Everyone wants to be heard, assuming they have something to say that should be heard. There is a message about ourselves, though, that is revealed in our words that may say more than we assume to convey by our words. With our words we reveal the heart of the person behind the words, for our words serve as a gauge of  our lives.

This is why Jesus said, "I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:36-37) Yes, it is true people can be deceived by our words, but if we talk long enough, and we usually do, and people listen long enough, which the often don't do, the true person comes out. We will sooner or later become "ensnared by the words of (our) mouth." (Proverbs 6:2) As Proverbs further says, "When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise." (Proverbs 10:19)

We are wise to heed the words of James 1:19: "be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger."

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

First Things First

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 8

People were drawn to Jesus' works of healing. The more He healed, the larger the crowds that gathered around Him. One day a couple of followers proclaimed their interest in being a regular follower of His, going where He went. Jesus made it clear that following Him was not a casual decision to be made. If they were to go wherever He went they needed to count the cost.

Jesus told the first of these two, "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head." Who knows what this man thought were the benefits of following Jesus? But Jesus disavowed him right away of any great expectations. There would be no outward benefits or prestige to following Him. A second man also expressed interest in following Jesus but said that he had an obligation to fulfill before he could do so. The obligation was to bury his father. There is much discussion about whether the man's father was already dead or the man was saying he was obligated to his father until he was dead and buried. While this may be an interesting discussion it is insignificant to Jesus' point. The point being, followers of Jesus place Him first above all else.

We easily give this man a pass for we are often slack in our own priorities regarding Christ, thinking there are reasonable excuses for placing other obligations before Christ. But Jesus taught, "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it." (Matthew 16:25) Losing our lives to Christ is the expectation of a follower of Christ. The life He offers is found in placing Him first above all else. This doesn't mean nothing else, including this man burying his father, is of any importance. They have their place, but we cannot give them their proper place until we have made Christ first.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Two Roads

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 7

So much of Jesus' teaching seems counterintuitive to us requiring us to exercise faith to even accept them or practice them. What is it that keeps us from accepting His teaching? Is it unbelief? Certainly, but primarily, it is pride. Pride in our own reasoning over Jesus' teaching. Jesus says, "Do this and you will have life." But it doesn't make sense to me so I reject it. Although the Son of God, Creator of all that is, has said this is the road to life, we trust our own reasoning over His. That's pride.

In what is known as the "Sermon On The Mount," found in Matthew chapters 5-7, chapter 7 records Jesus' teaching about the road to life being a road of self-denial, saying, "whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them." In other words, telling us that if we live a lifestyle of doing for others we will find that they will also do for us. We reason that if we want something we should go for it trying to get it from others and even demanding it if necessary. But Jesus tells us that this has only short-term benefits. It eventually turns on us and brings destruction.

Instead, Jesus says, if you want something from others, do it for them first. Though this may not bring an immediate result, in time when people are convinced we are genuine, they will begin to reciprocate. And we do have to be genuine in this, not doing for others simply to get something in return. Compared to the practice of being self-serving, self-denial is like a narrow gate through which few pass. Not many are interested in self-denial while the road of self-service is broad and many take this road.

The outcome of the two pathways is very different, and opposite to what we might think. Jesus taught that the broad road of self-service leads to destruction while the narrow gate of self-denial leads to life. Unfortunately, few discover this truth, convinced that the broad road of doing what I want and getting what I want is really living.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Putting First Things First

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 6

Most of us spend a great deal of time and energy worrying about things over which we have little or no control. Things, for instance, such as our lives, the food we will eat, or the clothing we will wear. But Jesus said that we should "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be provided for you."

Jesus wasn't saying that these things are not important, only that we should make first things first. And the thing we should make first, He said, is "the kingdom of God and His righteousness." Neither was Jesus saying we should do nothing to provide ourselves with food or clothing. He was simply saying we need to get our priorities straight. The truth He wants us to learn is that if we will put Him first in our life we will have everything else we need, when we need them.

Jesus gave some examples of how nature is taken care of. Birds seek food when they need it but do not store up extra for fear of what the future may hold. Wildflowers grow in the field unattended, but even Solomon in his kingly splendor was not adorned any better. Then Jesus admonished His listeners saying, "If that's how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won't He do much more for you--you of little faith?"

Some might mistake Jesus' instructions to suggest that we don't need to do anything to provide for our needs. No, He was not encouraging laziness. He taught against laziness. Rather, He was teaching priorities in life. The main priority being God - to seek Him above all else. When we get this priority right other priorities begin to fall into place. When material concerns are no longer our first priority no longer do we misuse them or squander them, for they are no longer as important as before. Nor are we making decisions as we once did.

Putting God first in our lives means seeking Him and spending time with Him. It means seeking His guidance for how we use our time and our money. It means looking to Him for the decisions and choices we make. And along with these changes comes an inner peace and joy. Life is as it should be and we are no longer stressed about things that we need not be stressed about.

But we must first accept that God has made us His first priority.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Christian Humility

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 2

The Gospel of Matthew gives the account in chapter 2 of the visit of the wise men from the east to the baby Jesus in Nazareth. These men are a mysterious group. Who were they? What country in the east were they from? How did they know of Jesus birth and of the significance of the star they followed? And how did they know of Jesus' significance? The list of questions about these men could go on, but these are an example of the mystery surrounding them.

All of us who consider ourselves to be faithful followers of Christ should take caution from these men. Why? Because we are ever in danger of becoming smug in our understanding of scripture and of God's purposes as were the religious leaders of Jesus' day. No one was wise as they were, they supposed. No one merited God's favor as did they, or so they thought. And yet, here were these non-Jewish and unknown men, from who knows where, who were wiser than they regarding the birth of God's Son.

We must ever be cautious about presuming to be the only true followers of Christ or having greater knowledge or inside information from God or in general being smug about our relationship with God over anyone else. Warren Wiersbe comments on these wise men saying, "Their experience is a good lesson in finding the will of God: (1) they followed the light God gave them; (2) they confirmed their steps by the Word of God; and (3) they obeyed God without question and He led them each step of the way. Note that they went home by “another way” (Mat_2:12). Anyone who comes to Christ will go home another way and be a new creature (2Co_5:17)."