Monday, January 30, 2012

Upside Down, Rightside Up

"One Year Bible" New Testament Passage
Matthew 20:1-28

And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave -- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. Matthew 20:27-28 (NKJV)

The Kingdom of God turns everything upside down. Or rather we should say, it turns everything right side up! The first shall be last and the last shall be first -- and the greatest shall be the servant of all.

In these things, God's ways are diametrically opposite to the world's ways. The world is built on top-down domination. Christ's kingdom is built on humility and service.

We should get nervous when there is much talk about RULING. Our strong suit is not ruling, but rather SERVING. Ruling can easily slide over into pride. Serving always keeps us focused on others rather than ourselves.

So here it is: in those instances where God grants you rulership, rule like a servant. Always seek to lift others up. You can make everyone around you BIGGER. That is the heart of servant leadership.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Signs of the Times

"One Year Bible" New Testament Passage
Matthew 115:29-16:12

And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. Matthew 16:3 (ESV)

The Pharisees wanted Jesus to give them a sign.  Many people today want God to give us a sign.  We want some sort of outward indicator from God about what's going on around us.  Or perhaps we want a special token of guidance.

During turbulent times, it is common for people to seek outward signs to interpet the hidden realities that shape our world.  Unfortunately, this desire for a sign from God can often degenerate into unbelief.  In other words, we want reassurance from God instead of simply trusting in WHO HE IS.

This is the contrast about which Jesus speaks in this passage.  It's like trying to read the weather.  We really aren't trying to determine ABSOLUTES when we ask about the weather.  We are asking about PROBABILITES.  Our weather forecasters will predict "20% chance of rain" or "80% cloudy" today. 

God's kingdom does not operate on the basis of probabilites or percentages.  Jesus said we are to "discern" or "interpret" the "signs of the times."  That means we are to look at God's Word, listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and then trust God with all our hearts.

God does not give signs simply to overcome our skeptical natures.  God doesn't try to talk you into trusting Him.  He says instead, "Know Who I Am!"  "Know what I have said."  "See clearly what I want to do."  Then trust Him with all your heart.  That is what it means to correctly "interpret" or "discern" our times.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Seed

"One Year Bible" New Testament Passage
Matthew 12:46-13:23

But he who received the seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Matthew 13:23 (NKJV)

The parable of the seed and the sower is one of the most important lessons that Jesus taught. It encompasses a wide spectrum of human experience. It is a story of contrasts. There are numerous and varied "life CIRCUMSTANCES." And there is essentially one CONSTANT.

That one CONSTANT is the Word of God. The metaphor used to describe the Word of God is that of a seed - something very small but with great power - something with hidden potential. A seed is useless unless it grows. A seed only has value in what it produces.

The VARIABLE in this story is the soil. The soil is a description of your life and of your receptivity to God. Here's the good news: if I keep my heart in the right place, I will receive all the the Word (the seed) describes! If my life is good soil, the seed WILL BEAR FRUIT in me!

So, what is your "heart condition" today? God promises you this: if you will receive His Word in the simplicity of faith, laying aside all distractions of worldly care, focusing on Him as your supply, He will prevail in you!

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Supernatural Walk

"One Year Bible" New Testament Passage
Matthew 11:7-31

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

Walking with God is a supernatural walk! It simply does not make natural sense. It involves strength that is made perfect in WEAKNESS. It calls us to LOSE our lives so that we can GAIN them. We are called to die so that we can live.

This just does not make natural sense. For most of us, life is full of burdens and trials. Stress is at epidemic level. It seems the entire world is WORN OUT.

So, Jesus steps into the scene and declares, "Here! I'll help you. I'll give you a new burden to carry. It's called 'My yoke'." Instead of reducing our labor, it seems He's adding a new challenge. But look closer!

Jesus does not say that He will give us a new burden. He invites us to join up with His burden - His yoke. It never becomes ours. It will always be His and He alone can carry it. We get under His care and we get a two-fold benefit. We no longer have to carry the load, but we get the benefit of His effort. His purposes for us are perfect, and He brings them to pass. Such is the joy of a supernatural walk with God.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Core of Our Faith

"One Year Bible" New Testament Passage
Matthew 10:24-11:6

Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31 (NKJV)

The foundation of our faith is God Himself. Christianity is not simply a self-help program designed to give you a better life. It will certainly give you a better life, but that is not the core. Our faith rests ultimately on God and what He is like - His characteristics - His attributes.

How you view God will determine how you trust Him. If you see Him as distant and uncaring, you will relate with Him long-distance. If you see Him as angry and malcontent, you will either resent Him or run from Him. If you see Him as holding you in the palm of His Hand, you will love Him.

How do you see God today? Is He near or far? Scripture is clear! He is working even now is secret ways to show you the magnitude of His love and care over your life! You are not an after-thought in His otherwise busy day. Even the MINUTE DETAILS of your life are under His care and control.

Therefore, rest in His love. Relax. Be secure in the very attributes of our God. You need have no fear. We can walk in confidence that our God KNOWS and He CARES.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Amazing Power

"One Year Bible" New Testament Passage
Matthew 10:1-23

And when He had called His twelve to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease. Matthew 10:1 (NKJV)

Matthew 10 is a chapter about COMMISSION. Jesus is sending out His disciples and He gives them the ground rules of ministry. He gives them amazing power. They carry not only the news of the Kingdom, thy bring the power of the Kingdom.

Far too often we relegate these dimensions of healing and deliverance to the super-heated realms of hyper-spirituality. We use words like "anointing" or "divine encounter" or "special presence." And these terms certainly have their place. They are biblical.

But please note, Jesus gives this power PRIOR to the day of Pentecost. These disciples had not yet had the "deeper life" experiences. They had NOT yet had any substantive encounter with the Holy Spirit. That would happen in Acts 2. THEY WERE SIMPLY SURRENDERED TO JESUS.

The only thing you can say for these guys is that they were under Jesus' authority. So here's the lesson for us: you are never more powerful than when you are simply surrendered. You are not called to measure uo to someone else's profile of power. You are called to hear God's voice to you and then to obey. Do it in humility and self-lessness. There is nothing more powerful.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Seeing the Lord at Work

"One Year Bible" New Testament Passage
Matthew 9:1-17

Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son, be of cheer; your sins are forgiven you."  And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, "This Man blasphemes."  Matthew 9:2-3 (NKJV)

Even while a remarkable miracle is taking place, there are some people who are getting offended.  Isn't it amazing?! 

We have here a man who is in desparate shape.  Friends love him and bring him to Jesus.  This is a power-filled, God-filled moment.  It seems that not only is Jesus dealing with the man's condition, but also with the CAUSE of his condition.

There is no necessary connection between sickness and sin.  We needn't think that everyone who is paralyzed is in that condition because of some sin in their life.  But, for this man, this particular man, it appears that there is such a connection. 

Jesus, in essence, says to him, "I'm not only going to heal your parlysis, I'm also going to forgive the very sins that brought you to this place!"  We can be amazed at the great grace of God!

But, despite the wonder and beauty of the moment, there are those who get offended.  They even think that BLASPHEMY is taking place.  We should take this as a lesson.  We should be quick to see God at work, even in ways that surprise us.  We should be slow to bring judgment and write off those things that are "unconventional" or "non-traditional."  May God help us always to see His Hand at work in our lives and in our world.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Overcoming Resistance

"One Year Bible" New Testament Passage
Matthew 8:18-34

Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him.  And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves.  But He was asleep.  Matthew 8:23-24 (NKJV)

When we follow Jesus, there are times that He leads us headfirst into a storm.  Later we see that He calms the storm with His rebuke, but really, He could have prevented the storm in the first place.  He could have led in a different direction.  He could have prevented the distress from ever materializing.

The Word of God always provokes resistance.  There is always be a challenge to the advance of the Lord's purpose and presence in your life.  In fact, if there is no battle, no resistance, we might want to be concerned.

This storm was severe.  It came suddenly.  It threated to take this fledgling apostolic band down.  But, Jesus stayed on course.  He did not panic as it appears the disciples were prone to do.  Out of the calm in Jesus' heart, He spoke calmness into His world.  We are called to do the same thing.

The resistance described in this passage was more than just a freak weather event.  There was a reason it happened.  Jesus was on assignment.  There were two demon possessed men at the far side of the lake that were the object of His attention.  The storm and the resistance was not designed to just scare Him and the disciples, it was resistance AGAINST fulfilling the ministry before them.

What resistance are you facing today?  The real issue is not what's against you.  It is what has God told you to do.  Go for God's objective, and the storms will obey.

Monday, January 9, 2012

"Flattened" by the Word of God

"One Year Bible" New Testament Passage
Matthew 7:15-29

And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Matthew 7:28-29 (NKJV)

How often have you been "blown away" by the Word of God?  Matthew says here that when the people heard God's Word from the mouth of Jesus, they were "astonished."  Another translation of this word would be "surprised", "amazed", or "overwhelmed."  In common language, they were "knocked out" -- "flattened". 

We are reading the Bible through in one year.  This can be a matter of self-discipline and obedience (and that is ok), or you can go further.  You can allow the Word of God to astonish you -- to amaze you -- to overwhelm you.

I am not talking about some mystical experience.  I am talking about not only reading God's Word but also letting God's Word READ YOU.  Let truth penetrate your inmost being.  Let God speak into the deepest parts of your heart. 

When God's Word impacts us under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, there are explosive results.  So, please, do not just go throught the motions of daily reading of Scripture.  Eat the bread that will fill you so that you never hunger again.  This is what life is all about!

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Simple "Yes"

"One Year Bible" New Testament Passage
Matthew 5:27-48

But let your "Yes" be "Yes," and your "No," "No." For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.  Matthew 5:37 (NKJV)

We live is a world full of words.  All kinds of words.  We are at times word-weary and dulled by the mass of verbal messages.  I am afraid that this has produced an epidemic of cynicism.  It seems that we are always being sold a "bill of goods."  As a result, we often learn not to trust what anyone says to us. 

I love the commentary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on today's passage in the Sermon on the Mount.  He wrote in his classic The Cost of Discipleship about Jesus instructions to us about oaths and the value of our words.  Bonhoeffer notes that anytime we promise or vow concerning something, we are actually hinting that we might be a liar!  In other words, why do we have to PROMISE?  Why do we have to say, "NOW I'M TELLING YOU THE TRUTH?"  Why do we need to swear?  It is because we don't have enought respect for our simple "yes" or "no." 

If I tell you I will do something, isn't my flat statement enough?  Unfortunately, it too often is not.  There was a day that a major business deal could have been sealed with a hand-shake.  Now we no longer are accustomed to such integrity, so we require witnesses and notaries and courthouse filings, etc. etc. etc.

Jesus said "Keep it simple."  Let your words be simple and stick by them.  If you say "yes", that should be enough.  If you say "no", that too should be enough.  Anything beyond this is an indicator of the possibility of lies (and the prince of liars -- the evil one).

Once again, we find that the way of Jesus is the simplest, best, and most beautiful way to live.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Nature of the Incarnation

"One Year Bible" New Testament Passage
Matthew 2:13-3:6

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:
       18 “ A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”  Matthew 2:16-18 (NKJV)

The story of the birth of Jesus is an amazing sequence of difficulty after difficulty.  It is actually hard to read if you put yourself into the bare facts.  It is a story of fear, anger, jealousy, the assumption of guilt -- and now even murder.

I in no way want to pollute or defame the wondrous and beautiful story of the coming of the hope of the world!  Jesus truly is our Savior.  The question is, however, what does He come TO and what does He save us FROM?  What does He come to save us out of?

The INCARNATION is a mind-boggling and dramatic event.  Jesus came down to where we are.  If I may take liberties here, I will carry our thoughts further. 

Jesus came down to a place of pain.  He came down to a place of fear and misunderstanding.  The circumstances surrounding this great event are indicative of a world gone crazy with sin, pain, bloodshed, and treachery.  JESUS COMES TO WHERE WE ARE.  He got down and He got dirty -- amidst the "mud, the blood, and the beer" (to quote Johnny Cash).  He did not come to a genteel, orderly, nice world.  He came to a life and death battle.

He comes to our difficult places.  He gets down into the muck and the mire.  His first experiences on this planet involve fleeing from a murderer.  Hebrews says the Jesus came down to "lay hold of the sons of men" (Heb. 2:16). 

I love knowing that my Savior comes to where I am.  He does not demand that I measure up in order for Him to love me.  That is the good news of the incarnation.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Birthing of His Purposes

"One Year Bible" New Testament Passage
Matthew 1:1-2:12

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: after His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:18 (NKJV)

God always sets up an amazing set of circumstances. Notice the words "after" and "before" followed by "was". It's like a puzzle. The CONCEPTION of a miracle always takes place in midst of the most unlikely circumstances!

It can be CONFUSING. Does God really know what He is doing? He stretches us to bring about the birthing of His Life and Purposes through our lives. In this story, Joseph is in distress, but he remains steadfast in commitment to DO THE RIGHT THING.

It is wonderful to know that God is never distressed, never confused, never worried. The results are world-changing.

So let God's life be birthed in you today. Let the GREAT ADVENTURE begin!