ICYMI – Devotions for Lent 2024 – Complete Series

ICYMI - Devotions for Lent 2024 - Complete Series

Lent Day 40                                                                                                               Matthew 28

 

Today we finish our reading together. I hope the journey has been a blessing for you. I have read these encounters with Jesus with new eyes and am ready to celebrate the joy of the Resurrection tomorrow. But today is s day of waiting. Of silence and sadness. Imagine the deep sorrow of His friends. They didn’t know the end of the story…yet. Our passage today is really for tomorrow, so I’ve chosen to share a couple of poems by Malcolm Guite from his Lenten Cycle in “Word in the Wilderness”. Sit in the waiting today. Then in the morning! Feel the words of the Greatest News anew.

XIII Jesus’ Body Is Taken Down From The Cross

His spirit and his life he breathes in all,
Now on this cross his body breathes no more.
Here at the centre everything is still.
Spent, and emptied, and opened to the core.
A quiet taking down, a prising loose,
A cross-beam lowered like a weighing scale,
Unmaking of each thing that had its use,
A long withdrawing of each bloodied nail.
This is ground zero, emptiness and space
With nothing left to say or think or do,
But look unflinching on the sacred face
That cannot move or change or look at you.
Yet in that prising loose and letting be
He has unfastened you and set you free.

XIV Jesus Is Laid In The Tomb

Here at the centre everything is still,
Before the stir and movement of our grief
Which bears its pain with rhythm, ritual,
Beautiful useless gestures of relief.
So they anoint the skin that cannot feel
And sooth his ruined flesh with tender care,
Kissing the wounds they know they cannot heal,
With incense scenting only empty air.
He blesses every love that weeps and grieves,
And makes our grief the pangs of new birth.
The love that’s poured in silence at old graves
Renewing flowers, tending the bare earth,
Is never lost. In him all love is found
And sown with him, a seed in the rich ground.
Sent from my iPad

Lent Day 39                                                                                              Matthew 27

Walter Wangerin was an American Lutheran Pastor. He has written some of the most impactful writings I have ever encountered. Today’s passage comes from “Ragman And Other Cries of Faith”

I saw a strange sight. I stumbled upon a story most strange, like nothing in my life, my street sense, my sly tongue had ever prepared me for. Hush, child. hush now, and I will tell it to you.

Even before the dawn one Friday morning I noticed a young man, handsome and strong, walking the alleys of our City. He was pulling an old cart filled with clothes both bright and new, and he was calling in a clear tenor voice: ‘Rags!’ Ah, the air was foul and the first light filthy to be crossed by such sweet music.

‘Rags! New rags for old! I take your tired rags! Rags!’

‘Now this is a wonder,’ I thought to myself, for the man stood six-feet-four, and his arms were like tree limbs, hard and muscular, and his eyes flashed intelligence. Could he find no better job than this, to be a ragman in the inner city?
I followed him. My curiosity drove me. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Soon the ragman saw a woman sitting on her back porch. She was sobbing into a handkerchief, signing, and shedding a thousand tears. Her knees and elbows made a sad X. Her shoulders shook. Her heart was breaking.

The Ragman stopped his cart. Quietly, he walked to the woman, stepping round tin cans, dead toys, and Pampers.

‘Give me your rag,’ he said gently. ‘and I’ll give you another.’

He slipped the handkerchief from her eyes. She looked up, and he laid across her palm a linen cloth so clean and new that it shined. She blinked from the gift to the giver.

Then, as he began to pull his cart again, the Ragman did a strange thing: he put her stained handkerchief to his own face; and then he began to weep, to sob as grievously as she had done, his shoulders shaking. Yet she was left without a tear.
‘This is a wonder,’ I breathed to myself, and I followed the sobbing Ragman like a child who cannot turn away from mystery.

‘Rags! Rags! New Rags for old!”

In a little while, when the sky showed grey behind the rooftops and I could see the shredded curtains hanging out black windows, the Ragman came upon a girl whose head was wrapped in a bandage, whose eyes were empty. Blood soaked her bandage. A single line of blood ran down her cheek.

Now the tall Ragman looked upon this child with pity, and he drew a lovely yellow bonnet from his cart.

‘Give me your rag,’ he said, tracing his own line on her cheek, ‘and I’ll give you mine.’
The child could only gaze at him while he loosened the bandage, removed it, and tied it to his own head. The bonnet he set on hers. And I gasped at what I saw: for with the bandage went the wound! Against his brow it ran a darker, more substantial blood — his own!

‘Rags! Rags! I take old rags!’ cried the sobbing, bleeding, strong, intelligent Ragman.

The sun hurt both the sky, now, and my eyes; the Ragman seemed more and more to hurry.

‘Are you going to work?’ he asked a man who leaned against a telephone pole. The man shook his head. The Ragman pressed him: ‘Do you have a job?”

‘Are you crazy?’ sneered the other. He pulled away from the pole, revealing the right sleeve of his jacket — flat, the cuff stuffed into the pocket. He had no arm.

‘So,’ said the Ragman. ‘Give me your jacket, and I’ll give you mine.’

So much quiet authority in his voice!

The one-armed man took off his jacket. So did the Ragman — and I trembled at what I saw: for the Ragman’s arm stayed in its sleeve, and when the other put it on, he had two good arms, thick as tree limbs; but the Ragman had only one.

‘Go to work,’ he said.

After that he found a drunk, lying unconscious beneath an army blanket, an old man, hunched, wizened, and sick. He took that blanket and wrapped it round himself, but for the drunk he left new clothes.

And now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. Though he was weeping uncontrollably, and bleeding freely at the forehead, pulling his cart with one arm, stumbling for drunkenness, falling again and again, exhausted, old, old, and sick, yet he went with terrible speed. On spider’s legs he skittered through the alleys of the City, this mile and the next, until he came to its limits, and then he rushed beyond.
I wept to see the change in this man. I hurt to see his sorrow. And yet I need to see where he was going in such haste, perhaps to know what drove him so.

The little old Ragman — he came to a landfill. He came to the garbage pits. And I waited to help him in what he did but I hung back, hiding. He climbed a hill. With tormented labor he cleared a little space on that hill. Then he signed. He lay down. He pillowed his head on a handkerchief and a jacket. He covered his bones with an army blanket. And he died.

Oh how I cried to witness that death! I slumped in a junked car and wailed and mourned as one who has no hope — because I had come to love the Ragman. Every other face had faded in the wonder of this man, and I cherished him; but he died. I sobbed myself to sleep.

I did not know — how could I know? — that I slept through Friday night and Saturday and its night too.

But then, on Sunday morning, I was wakened by a violence.

Light — pure, hard, demanding light — slammed against my sour face, and I blinked, and I looked, and I saw the first wonder of all. There was the Ragman, folding the blanket most carefully, a scar on his forehead, but alive! And, besides that, healthy! There was no sign of sorrow or age, and all the rags that he had gathered shined for cleanliness.

Well, then I lowered my head and, trembling for all that I had seen, I myself walked up to the Ragman. I told him my name with shame, for I was a sorry figure next to him. Then I took off all my clothes in that place, and I said to him with dear yearning in my voice: ‘Dress me.”

Lent Day 38                                                            Matthew 26: 17-56

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the[b]covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

On Mount Zion in Jerusalem, there is a room. It’s been a Christian Church, and now has a mosque connected to it, but 2000 years ago, it was likely quite nondescript. But it’s a room that was a part of the events that changed everything.
It was Passover, and Jesus and his disciples are gathered to have the traditional meal. But as the evening progressed, Jesus took the bread and cup and gave them a new symbolism. He told them that the bread was His body that would be broken for them, and the wine was His blood that would be spilled for them. Then, a promise that this was a new covenant, a new promise between them and God to be His people, and He is their God.

To our 21st century minds, we instantly see this as communion, but to those gathered they will have known these words as the promise made between a young man and his beloved as they became betrothed. The groom offered a cup of wine to his chosen, and with the drinking of it, she accepts and the covenant, the promise of marriage is sealed. After this, the groom would leave and prepare the place where they would reside together.

All this, the birth 33 years earlier, the teaching and healings, the giving us a new way to relate to God and each other, the invitation into this new promise and the coming agony and triumph was all part of the plan from the very beginning. Jesus came to claim us, you and I as His own beloved. He knew he would seal the promise of union and then have to go away to prepare the home for us to live with Him.

The invitation still stands. He still offers that promise to us. Tomorrow is a hard day, the disciples were scared and hiding in the very room where this invitation was given. They were sure of arrest if they went outside, and were recognized as His friends. They will have spent many of the coming 50 days, and it’s in this same space that the coming of the Holy Spirit happened – just as it was promised.
Take, eat. Take, drink. This is the new covenant. He chose you. He chooses you still.

Lent – Day 37                                                                                          Matthew 26:6-13

Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy.  While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head.

The disciples were indignant when they saw this. “What a waste!” they said.  “It could have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.”

But Jesus, aware of this, replied, “Why criticize this woman for doing such a good thing to me?  You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me. She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.”

Today’s encounter with Jesus has Jesus back in Bethany, not far from the Mount of Olives, and just two days before Passover. Outside of the teaching at the Last Supper, the final Passover Meal Jesus had with his followers, this is the last time in Matthew Jesus is once again able to tell us how to respond to Him and his love.

One of the things that stands out for me most is the response of the Disciples.  They have shared life and learned at the feet of their Rabbi for 3 years.  They have heard his teachings, and watched as he healed and turned the 1st century world  rules upside down.  Yet, this unnamed woman comes in to where Jesus is and not only washes his feet (a beautiful act of hospitality) but anoints him with perfume.  And the first thought these men have is the cost of her offering.

How like us they were!  We see things that others choose to do with their money and resources, and we think of all the “better” things that could have been done with it.  We don’t consider the heart and sacrifice behind people’s actions and offerings.  We can know the Scriptures, be ready for Good Friday’s sadness and the celebration of Sunday, but still miss the call to see people’s hearts first.

There is always a back story to someone’s decisions. Let us look for the motivation first and the result or cost second.  It may truly not be a wise choice, but if we look just at the surface we’ll miss the big picture.  Maybe, we’ll even miss the God moment.

Watch for the ways we can honour Him in deep and sacrificial ways.  He wants us to give him all of our lives, not just the leftovers or the parts we won’t miss.  What’s the perfume you have to bring to the Saviour today?  Will you anoint him with it,  concerned about the cost?  The choice is yours, but only one choice will gain the pleasure of The King.

One of my very favourite songs is by CeCe Winans.  She so beautifully tells this story in Alabaster Box…take a few minutes to have a listen today.  https://youtu.be/s9QZxS03FvY

Lent Day 36                                                                                Matthew 25: 31-46
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
There is a very old children’s song “I don’t want to be a goat. Nope…I just want to be a Sheep – baa, baa”. It comes from the passage we are focused on today. As I was researching, I learned something about the difference between these two animals. Especially when in herds.
Sheep tend to be more cooperative and will stay with the herd, while goats are a more independent species. They will stay close to the shepherd and be ore inclined to not wander. Goats though, carry on their own way as if they think they don’t need a shepherd. So who are the goats and sheep in this story?
Each group has made its choice, and goes to the place worthy of that choosing. The people whose lives were zeroed in on love and mercy come into the love and mercy of God – that’s the sheep. Those who ignored people in need have excluded themselves from God’s kingdom where there are only the opposite qualities.
Jesus refers to conditions that occur in all places and times: hungry and thirsty people, immigrants and people without clothing, sick and prisoners. He doesn’t use heady words like justice and solidarity, but speaks of basic needs: food, clothing, something to drink, protection from the elements. While he doesn’t specifically say to love them, we have had that requirement answered in the “greatest commandment” conversation. Here, the “loving our neighbour” part is to care about their basic needs through acts of compassion – that’s what the sheep do! The goats, do not. Their focus is inward, looking out for themselves and nor responding to needs around them.
That compassion is impactful when it comes from an obedient act because He requires it. One of the things that our church family does is provide bags of necessary extras to our food band clients in our town. We provide household cleaning, hygienic, and other basic household requirements that are not nutritional. We also include food for the soul each month, to let the recipients know that we do all this because we love Jesus first.
Because we know the Shepherd, we count ourselves sheep and as a “flock” we have responded to the need together.
What is God asking you to notice and respond to in your neighbourhood today? Will you be a sheep or a goat in your actions?
Lent Day 35                                                                                           Matthew 25: 1-30
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Another parable warning the listener to be ready when Jesus comes again. The first century Christians were sure that this would happen in their lifetime. So much so that some of them quit their jobs to wait and be ready. But that did not happen, and here he continues to prepare his followers about how to prepare.
First century weddings did not look like the show ours have become today. First the couple would be betrothed (a binding engagement), and the bride-to-be will have continued to live at home, while her bridegroom prepared their home. Then, when it was ready, he would come with his attendants to fetch her and the wedding celebrations would begin.
Our bride in this story has 10 attendants (maybe it’s closer to one of our weddings than we think!). They all get the notice that the bridegroom is arriving, and they grab their lamps to head out to the midnight meeting. Because he’s taken so long, only 5 have extra oil. The foolish bridesmaids do not have enough and go in search of supplies, but while they are gone, the groom comes and they miss him.
By the time the first readers of this Gospel, people were realizing that Jesus’ coming back was in a more distant future. And so we see the parable begin to become true. People began, and even now continue to take it easy and get lazy about living out the Gospel. The parable suggests it is not so wise to live this way.
The only way is constant readiness – much like we thought about yesterday. If we are not ready when he does come, we may find the doors closed and hear these ominous words: “I do not know you”. That’s the very worst thing a Jesus follower could hear from their Lord.
When Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd, he tells us that he knows his sheep and they know him. Not to be known by Jesus, it means that our relationship has been broken with Him through sinful and unfaithful behaviour. How tragic to live in that state. The choice remains ours, as we have been given so much warning!
The Gospel is clearly speaking about the final days, and the return of Jesus as King and Lord. But how foolish of us to not acknowledge that our time could be at any moment. Accidents, illness and violence take lives every day. Each of us could be one of those victims, no matter how healthy and together our lives are. But God will call us home when He will.
Will you have “oil in your lamp? Will you be able to show the Lord our faithfulness in our living for Him? At first, the “sensible” girls in our parable appear to be selfish, but we have to come before the Lord on our own. We cannot borrow the Christian life that someone else has prepared. It has to be totally our own decision and devotion.
What’s the best way to prepare? Decide that Jesus is your Lord and Saviour and decide to let him rule your life. Do not think anxiously of the future, but concentrate on living totally in the present. Seek and find God there. If you can do that, then the rest will take care of itself. And, if the Bridegroom arrives early or late, it won’t make any difference. You’ll have lived with Him as the constant in your life.

Lent Day 34                                                                                  Matthew 24

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
This is not the first time Jesus warns his followers to stay alert, as they do not know the hour when the Son of Man will come. Today’s passage serves as a strong reminder that we need to be always prepared and watchful for the second coming of Christ.
He speaks to the unpredictability of life and how important it is for us to be spiritually ready. Using the metaphor of a thief in the night to underline how sudden and unexpected his return will be. Like a wise homeowner who take advisable steps to keep the property protected from thieves, we are called to stay spiritually alert. Steven Curtis Chapman has a song that says, “I’m gonna live the next 5 minutes like it’s my last 5 minutes”. We must be ready to meet Jesus whenever He returns.
A message of vigilance carries a heavy implication for the Christian walk. It is a challenge for us to look deeply at the state of hearts and the priorities we place on our lives. Do we work at developing our relationship with God, or do we let distractions from the world’s sparkly and shiny things get in our way? Jesus urges us to prioritize our faith, stay rooted and prayer and remain strong in our commitment to follow Him and His teachings.
But it’s not enough to just have our hearts ready for that moment, we are called to share the Good News, encouraging others to know His love as well. People will know the truth of our relationship with God through our outward behaviour. Are we kind, generous, patient…those behaviours that come with nurturing the Fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians.
It’s not easy to stay alert to His coming. In a world filled with noise and distractions, it can be easy to lose sight of what truly matters. Our calendars get overly filled, we are never able to answer the question of “when is enough, enough?” The drive for instant gratification can dull our spiritual senses and lead us away from what God has planned for us. It all takes intentional effort and discipline to maintain a posture of watchfulness in the chaos of today’s world.
The promise of Jesus’ return should give us hope for us. It is a reminder that our current struggles and trials are temporary, and that our reward and true home awaits us in God’s Kingdom. In times of hardship and uncertainly, the assurance of Christ’s return gives us strength to carry on.

Lent Day 33  Matthew 23                                            Matthew 23

13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Jesus is truly ticked off in this whole chapter.  He’s calling out the behaviour and teaching of the Pharisees and he has nothing kind to say.  One can imagine the rising level of anger around the Temple during this speech.  A reflection on this passage is best to be pastoral for readers, and so today I thought we’d “hear” from one of the most pastoral writers I’ve every experienced…Eugene Peterson.  Here is his reflection on the chapter from his book, “The Message of Hope”.

The Most Contemptible of Conditions

I can find nothing worse to call a person than a hypocrite. It’s the supreme insult. Hypocrite. Phony. Fake. Fraud. Any of the bad names and vulgarities that are in common use to label a person as unlovely, or undesirable, or unacceptable are more tolerable than this one: hypocrite. The reason that hypocrite is such an awful word is that it reveals a lie at the very core of one’s being.

Do you agree that “hypocrite” is the supreme insult, the most contemptible of conditions? And do you agree that you’re surrounded by hypocrites, that the condition is epidemic? Then let me ask you to do something. For the next few minutes, refuse to think about anyone else except yourself. Deny yourself the luxury of labeling others and examine your own life. Because the plain fact is, you are a hypocrite. And so am I.

Most people do not start out to be hypocrites. We begin sincerely enough, with good intentions. But as it becomes easier to talk about God than engaging in the arduous process of deepening and growing in faith, we take the easier road. Outside fluency and expertise covers up inner sloth and emptiness.

The most famous attack on hypocrisy was by Jesus. His most famous address on the subject is in Matthew 23. In this chapter, three things take place. First, Jesus describes the nature of hypocrisy. Then he thunders out seven woes on the hypocrites, citing various examples of their hypocrisy. Finally, he concludes his address compassionately, with an invitation to repentance.

I don’t know of any easy way to break the hypocrite habit, but I do know one way: Take each example of hypocrisy that Jesus touched and become more interested in finding out whether his words are aimed at you personally, and not anyone else.

A prayer:

God, especially when people look to me as some kind of authority on religion, I find it easy to take on the role, meeting their expectations, but ignoring yours. But I want my life to be an on-the-knees response to you, not an on-the-pedestal lording over others. Amen.

Lent Day 32               Matthew 22:23-46              The Greatest Commandment

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[b] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[c] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

On the surface, this appears to be such a simple answer to a question meant to trip him up.  Jesus responds by quoting the Shema – that mantra faith Jewish people quote every day. Found in the book of the Law, the first in Deut. 6 and the second in Lev. 19.

Jesus, a faithful Jew is not reducing or even withdrawing the importance of the 10 commandments. No, he makes a profound statement: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments”.

Instead, he was giving them a summary.  The summary of the law of God is the
“Big 10”, and the summary of those 10 is given by Jesus.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself”.  This statement covers the first 4.

Those four give us God’s direction on our relationship with Him.  He is above all – we worship no images or idols.  We are to not to invoke God’s name in inappropriate ways (like exclaiming OMG, unless we are praising Him!) and to honour Him by keeping a day of the week holy.

“Love your neighbour as yourself” covers the remaining six.  These are God’s guidelines for relating to others in our lives.  And these 10 together are the very core of all the laws that we live under, even in 2024.

Loving God starts with an inward cleansing.  The questions posed on behalf of the community that had rules and rituals.  They had made an idol of their religion.  The commandment balances the negative – ‘You shall have no other gods before me’, and the positive, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” God is looking for a complete commitment from His people.  And Jesus, when he confronts people is also looking for that complete commitment.

 

When we worship God and God alone, we acknowledge that God loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning payment for our sins.  Looking at the 10 commandments as the template for right living, we see that we haven’t been able to keep any of them.  Our comfort is knowing that we are not righteous because we keep them, but because of the One who has kept them perfectly, but who paid the price for our violations.  That is the wonder of God’s Grace.

Keeping the two that Jesus answers, has us live in right relationships – with God and with others.  And from those two, through the sacrifice of Jesus, makes us right with it all, covered by Grace.

Lent Day 31                                                                                              Matthew 22:1-22

11 “But when the king came in to meet the guests, he noticed a man who wasn’t wearing the proper clothes for a wedding. 12 ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how is it that you are here without wedding clothes?’ But the man had no reply. 13 Then the king said to his aides, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
14 “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

N T Wright gives us today’s reflection – again from his book Lent for Everyone”

‘Get me to the church on time!’ It’s a famous song from a famous musical. I suspect it’s a favourite because we’ve all been to weddings, we all remember the sense of occasion, of dressing up, of the bride’s and the groom’s big day and everyone wanting to be there on time in proper order to give them an occasion to remember. Even in our own day in the western world, where marriage has been knocked about so much by careless pseudo-morality, and the divorce rate has risen alarmingly, almost everybody knows in their bones that this is something to celebrate, something to so properly.

In the ancient world, especially in the ancient Jewish world where the sense of family had remained very strong, this was even more so. And if the king himself had invited you to the wedding of his son…well, then you would be planning for months what to wear, what gift to bring, how to make sure everything was right on the day.

All of this only heightens the sense of shock, disappointment and anger at the story Jesus now tells. He exaggerates the detail to make it lurid, almost surreal. The guests, finally summoned, beat up and kill the slaves sent with the invitation, and the king sends troops to burn their city. But then comes the second shock. The king sends out some more slaves, and invites all and sundry to come to the party. In they come, ‘good and bad’ alike (there are echoes here of the ‘good and bad’ fish found in the Great Net in 13:48). Clearly the larger implications of the parable are influencing quite dramatically the way the original story is being told.

The new guests may have made it on time, but they are not all properly dressed. Here again the story has taken a lurid turn. One guest has not put on the wedding robe, and is thrown into the outer darkness. By this stage it’s clear that, as with Psalm 23, the original picture has more or less disappeared and we are left with a more direct statement. The king has now invited the whole world to the wedding party originally planned for Israel. But those who attend as part of this suddenly enlarged guest-list must take care to turn up in the proper outfit.

We should not be surprised that some people have tried to suggest that Jesus never told this parable, or that this last bit was added later on. You can go extraordinary lengths to protect your image of the gentle Jesus who wouldn’t hurt a fly. But what he is saying, as he does in one way or another throughout, is that just because God’s wedding party has been thrown open to all and sundry – to Gentiles as well as Jews, as Paul never tire of insisting – that doesn’t mean that once they’ve accepted the invitation they can carry on as though it wasn’t God’s wedding party. All are welcome; but all must dress appropriately.”

Lent Day 30                                                                            Matthew 21:34-46

The stone that the builders rejected
has now become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing,
and it is wonderful to see.

One more parable, as Jesus continues to make his point about the faithlessness of the religious leaders.  This time, the tenants are the religious leaders.  The owner, of course is God and the servants?  Well, they were the prophets that God had sent to speak for Him.  The Son, his is the One telling the parable…

 

In first century Israel, it was not uncommon for land owners to rent out their harvestable lands.  In the case of vineyards, historians tell us that it would have been 5 years before the first rent payment was required.  That allows new vines to be ideally productive, and for the tenants to card and invest the results of early produce from their work.  So, as can be human nature, it will have been easy for the tenants to think of the land as their own.  And now these tenants are being asked to follow through on their agreement with the landlord.

 

Don’t miss this – Jesus is telling this parable about 5 days before he will be put to death by the religious leaders who are not happy with his work and teaching about the coming Kingdom of God.

 

Are there still lessons in this parable for us today?  We are not the people calling for Jesus’ death – but if we had been there, would we have done the same?

 

Our landowner still hasn’t returned (but He will!) for 2,000+ years.  Judgement day still hasn’t arrived.  Our sharing or not, of our resources will not likely result in our being struck down by lightning.  If we are not kind to our neighbours this week, we likely won’t receive a visit from the owner of the vineyard to have our consequences delivered.  If we life selfishly this week, our consequences from our Heavenly Father may not be immediately felt.

 

This parable is a warning for us to not take any of our day-to-day blessings and way of life for granted.  Our world, our life and our salvation are all grace.  An unmerited gift from God.  We can sometimes think that all we have been given, and that we can keep what we ‘harvest’ for ourselves.  It’s easy to forget that everything we have is not ours, but the Lord’s.  (“The Earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof” Psalm 24:1)

 

What have you been blessed with, and that God has given it for you to share?  Talents, teachings, spiritual gifts, resources – all are to be shared to build up the Kingdom.  None of us are promised tomorrow.  Today should be the day we begin (or continue) to be faithfully stewarding all we have been given.  This world is the vineyard of God, and none of us own it.  We have been entrusted with it, and one day the landowner will hold us accountable to the agreement.

 

Being real, God sent us His Son, not just to show us how to best care for the vineyard, but to die for us, and for the sins of all.  After He died on the cross, he was raised from the dead and now sits at the right hand of the Father.  One day He is coming back to judge the living and the dead.  To check on His vineyard and to see what we have done with the place and to receive the fruits of our labour.

 

Will he find that we too, have rejected the Cornerstone, or will he find a plentiful harvest?

Lent Day 29                                                                                             Matthew 21:22-33

“I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. 32 For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.

The tension between Jesus and the religious leaders is continuing to build. Jesus has been teaching on the temple steps (right where our picture is from today). Indignantly, they ask him, “By what authority” he is teaching.

Jesus turns the question around by challenging them to answer a question. Get it right and he’ll tell them what they want to know. Asking them to state the source of John’s authority, the leaders are caught in a quandary. If they say John’s authority was human sourced, they will be denying God’s power. If they say it was from God, they will have to reconcile why they didn’t believe him. So they take the easy way, and answer “We don’t know.” (Just like a toddler getting caught with a cookie!)

This time, the teachable moment is not in the form of a parable, but a very pointed allegory. Jesus calls out the spiritual fakeness of the religious leaders. Their outward behaviour – the rituals, the piety – looked good. Jesus indicates here that when it comes right down to it, they were missing the very core of what it means to follow Him. They had all the knowledge of what God required from them, but ultimately failed to do what God was (and is still) asking.

Sometimes, Jesus’ words to the Pharisees can feel a bit like looking in the mirror. It has been clearly spelled out for us in Scripture – those things that we are called to do in the Kingdom work. How we are to live among others, and how we are to function among a world that doesn’t know Him.

We get so comfortable in our chosen pew that we forget there are many who are searching for a greater meaning, and we who know Jesus as Lord have the greatest news possible. But we don’t want to upset our routine so we stay in our safe places, saying “No” to the request to go to the harvest. The request our Heavenly Father still makes of us today.

What part of the Kingdom is God asking you to tend to? It may be right around the corner or halfway around the world. The work is there, be the son who followed through on the request.

Lent Day 28                                                                                     Matthew 21:1-22

           18 In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry,19 and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” And immediately the fig tree withered up.

20 The disciples were amazed when they saw this and asked, “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?”

21 Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen.22 You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.”

I make paper flowers. I create them with varying weights of crepe paper and using different mediums I add depth of colour to bring them to “life”. The highest compliment one can pay me is to be sure that what I have crafted is real.

At Jeff’s mom’s funeral visitation, one of the guests told me how much she loved peonies, and leaned over to take a deep sniff of the saddle I had made for her casket. She was surprised to smell nothing, and I assured her that if she caught a scent, I will have done something wrong.

Looks can be deceiving, and disappointing when something we expect to be alive is a fake representation, and unable to bear life. Just like the tree Jesus encountered after his triumphal entry celebration.

As he is heading back into Jerusalem, he notices a fig tree in full leaf – odd, given the time of year. Typically, full leaf equals developed fruit. But not this time. Jesus’ response is a shocking one. He performs a reverse miracle! We read of the stakes when one not only fails to produce fruit, but of giving the impression of being fruitful and failing to be able to show results.

The fact that he had repeatedly called his followers to be fruitful, combined with the Passover celebrants – coming together to remember God’s past act of redemption from slavery- have just hailed Jesus as “king” as he prepares to lead a “new” exodus from our own slavery to sinfulness.

One commentary suggests that Israel’s fruit will now be harvested; blessings will pour forth. The rest of the nations are not yet in leaf, but Israel is ready (although they don’t fully understand this).

But the worship, the crowds, the singing – it’s all a show. When Jesus entered the Temple, he found a “den of robbers”. Lots of action, lots of bustle but no holiness. Leaves, no fruit.

This passage does not just point out that we as Jesus followers are called to produce spiritual fruit. It also is a warning about false pretenses of fruit. The fig tree, like the busy Temple courts during Passover, was all show.

Let us be warned. Our personal lives can look like we are “in full leaf”. Super parent, key employee, super spiritual Christian with all the right verses at the right time…but your root may be withered. There is no real fruit to pick because of our disconnection to Jesus, the source of our growth.

I want Jesus to find fruit when He comes to look at our lives. What will He find when He comes to you?

Lent Day 27                  Matthew 20:20-34                                                              32 When Jesus heard them, he stopped and called, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Jesus is being followed by a crowd, yet again. As they are walking from Jericho, 2 blind men are seated beside the roadway, and being to call out to Him. The crowd tells them to be quiet – but they will not be silenced and continue to call out to Jesus. Our focus verse today tells us that they were heard and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” They tell him, and their prayer is granted.

The blind, lame or otherwise afflicted were considered to be those being punished for their sin, or for the sin of their parents. Positioned along the pathways where people passed, their only means of income was to beg. This resulted was, quite literally, that they would be looked down upon.

The followers of Jesus were excited to be a part of the miracles and teaching. I imagine they were irritated at the possible delay of “lesser” people gaining Jesus’ attention. But these men were persistent in their petitions, and a compassionate Jesus heard them.

The pleas they cried, “have mercy on us”, was a common cry to beg for alms. Here, it is easy to hear the passionate tones that would have been out of the ordinary tone of the request. To the gathered crowd, Jesus surely had more important things to do. Jesus, always using the present to teach, models for us what true servanthood is about.

Jesus is the One who serves. He stops and asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind men knew exactly what they needed and wanted.

How often do we in the church make the same assumptions as the crowd travelling with Jesus? We assume that those who are not with the “in crowd” are not able to know what they need. We give them what we presume they need. Instead of reaching people where they are, we begin with where we want them to be.

The blind men ignored the crowd and kept their focus on Jesus, not letting them sway them from their desired outcome. The showed determination and hope – two essentials that help keep us rooted in our faith and our eyes upon our Lord. We are called to remain persistent in prayer, even when the noise of the world would seek to drown us out.

Then, when our determination and hope take the right path in God’s will, the test becomes where our focus is. Is it on just you or on His glory? Are we maturing and then pouring our lives into others? We need to be careful that our petitions are not selfish.

We must keep our faith real, so that our devotions and prayer life are not always focused on selfish concerns. Our prayers are to train us in bold intimacy with God, for there lies full healing.

Lent Day 26         Fair or Not           Matthew 20:1-19

“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard.

As an experiment, I hired the modern-day version of the last workers hired.  I asked Chat GPT to write today’s reflection…it did so in less that 30 seconds.  And honestly…not bad!  Here’s what it offered:

In the Gospel of Matthew, we find a parable that transcends the boundaries of time and culture, revealing profound truths about God’s grace and the kingdom of heaven. The Parable of the Vineyard Workers challenges our human understanding of fairness and justice, inviting us to contemplate the boundless mercy of our heavenly Father.

The parable begins with a wealthy landowner who goes out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard.  He agrees to pay them a denarius, a fair wage for a day’s work. Throughout the day, at various intervals, the landowner returns to the marketplace and recruits more workers, promising to pay them what is right. As the day progresses, he continues to hire labourers until the eleventh hour.

What is intriguing about this parable is the unexpected twist in the compensation plan. When evening falls and it’s time for the labourers to be paid, those who were hired last receive a full day’s wage, just like those who toiled throughout the entire day. Naturally, the early workers anticipate receiving more, assuming that those who worked longer would be compensated accordingly.

The discrepancy prompts murmurs of discontent among the early workers, who feel their efforts should be rewarded with a higher wage.  The landowner, however, challenges their perspective, asking why they are envious when he chose to be generous. His response underscores a crucial aspect of God’s character. His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Is. 55:9).

At its core, the Parable of the Vineyard Workers teaches us about the boundless and unconditional grace of God. The landowner’s decision to pay all the workers the same wage, regardless of the hours they worked, mirrors the extravagant love and grace God freely offers to humanity. In God’s economy, grace is not earned; it is a gift bestowed upon us out of His immeasurable love.

In Ephesians 2:8-9, the apostle Paul echoes this sentiment: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The parable challenges the legalistic mindset that seeks to earn salvation through human effort, reminding us that salvation is a gracious gift given by a loving God.

The parable invites us to reflect on our own attitudes towards God’s grace. Do we, like the early workers, sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that we deserve more from God because of our efforts? Or do we approach God with a humble recognition that everything we have, including our salvation, is a gift from His benevolent hand?

In Romans 5:8, the apostle Paul encapsulates the essence of God’s grace: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God’s love is not contingent on our performance or merit. It is extended to us in our brokenness, inviting us to experience the transformative power of His grace.

One of the dangers highlighted in this parable is the toxic nature of comparison. The early workers became discontent because they compared themselves to others, focusing on perceived inequalities rather than recognizing the generosity of the landowner. Similarly, in our spiritual journey, comparing ourselves to others can lead to dissatisfaction and a distorted understanding of God’s grace.

As followers of Christ, we are called to run our own race, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). When we shift our focus from comparing our journey to that of others, we open ourselves to a deeper appreciation of God’s individualized plan for our lives and a greater understanding of His limitless grace.

The Parable of the Vineyard Workers challenges us to shift our perspective from a mindset of entitlement to one of gratitude. Instead of demanding what we think we deserve, let us adopt an attitude of thanksgiving for the immeasurable blessings God freely bestows upon us. Gratitude opens our hearts to the transformative power of grace, allowing us to experience the joy of a relationship with a loving and generous God.

In the Parable of the Vineyard Workers, Jesus invites us to grasp the depths of God’s boundless grace. As we contemplate the generosity of the landowner who paid all the workers the same wage, we are reminded of the extravagant love and unmerited favour God pour out on us. May we embrace this lesson in humility, gratitude, and a renewed understanding of the unfathomable grace that defines our journey with the Creator of the vineyard – our heavenly Father.

Lent Day 25               Matthew 19                                                                                     
21 Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. 24 I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
I don’t know about you but these days I have a hard time putting a thread through a needle, let alone trying to put me through a needle. That is what Jesus is using as the illustration, is it not?
Actually, it is not. In various places throughout Israel, we experienced the “eye of a needle”. The picture today is the one at The Church of the Nativity. Not exactly a grand entrance, and that’s the point.
The man that Jesus had encountered was a man of means, and in those days that also meant a man of social stature. When they travelled, they did not walk. Instead, they rode on camels and those camels were laden with all they needed on their travels.
These entrances were built into walls to make it exceedingly difficult for enemies to storm into the city. In order to enter through it, the rider had to dismount, unload the camel, make the camel bend down and then bend over to enter himself. It was a humbling act, and one that was seen as demeaning.
In our society that tells us “more is best” it’s easy to be like the rich young man. We are so attached to our things that we leave no room for God. Jesus tells us that “man cannot serve two masters”. God must be above all things in our lives. Any other way diminishes who He is in our lives.
We have multiple friends who have made significant moves, and were only able to keep less than a ¼ of everything they owned to do so. When I’m really honest with myself, I’m not sure I could easily do that.
It may not be physical possessions that God is asking us to give up. It may be status, advancement at work, relationships, etc. He may be asking you to pursue something in order to know Him better. Would any of these asks cause you to walk away from His offer of a holy life:
• Pursuing foster care / adoption
• Rearranging your life to spend large swaths of time with people unlike yourself in race, age, or education…like A LOT of time
• Pivoting your career to reprioritize relationships
• Pursuing spiritual family at the cost of living near blood relationships
• Spending vacation time to dig deeper into church family
• Devoting yourself to a life of singleness in order to have increased flexibility and resources to be used by Jesus
• Giving up your deepest passions and desires in order to love your spouse better
• Allowing for the possibility of your political preferences/beliefs to be wrong
• Having a “boring” life that is filled with slow-growing, slow-moving, agonizingly difficult relationships
• Opening yourself to deeper accountability about your sin with your church family
When the Lord is calls you to one or more of these things, His goal is not our sorrow. It is to free us from the chains of untruth and to bring us into a place of freedom, a place free of bondage to worldly pursuits that do not have a Godly view of eternity.
He calls us to a way of life that is filled with love for Him, His church, and our neighbors in the world. God desires His children to be free to live in His love, His glory, and His Kingdom, and He still asks us to yield. Will you be willing?

 

 

Lent Day 24     Matthew 18:21-35

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times

I love Peter – he always has a question, and is always quick with an answer.  Usually that answer sets Jesus up for a great teaching moment.

 

Today’s moment has Peter asking about the extent and frequency regarding forgiveness.  In the Jewish tradition of the time, and dictated in Amos 2:6 and Job 33:29, the number was 3.  So, Peter  doubles and adds a bit and suggests seven times.  (In Biblical imagery, 7 is a perfect number.)

 

It’s important here not to get stuck on a literal number.  Jesus’ response is seventy-seven.  Theologian R. C. Sproul suggests that Jesus’ answer is essentially, ‘As many times as it takes’.

 

Therapists tell us that not forgiving someone is to let them “live in your head rent free”.  Jesus isn’t asking us to carry on as if nothing happened. But he does want us to get in the habit of forgiving those who ask for it, and to do it so much that it becomes second nature.

 

Biblical forgiveness involves not holding someone’s sin against them in a way that the relationship is strained.  Of course, you may never forget the way someone has wronged you.  People are capable of terrible, even evil things.  This includes fellow believers (I think that their acts against us hurt more).

 

The point of forgiveness though, is that we no longer keep a record or tally of those wrongs to use against them in the future.  When someone sins against use, if we’ve truly forgiven them, we add that to a previous sin.  Their debt has been erased; the score is settled.

 

The best gift of forgiveness is that we are freed from bitterness, anger and the constant need to demand reparation for their wrongs.  It isn’t easy.

 

The truth is though, that what God has done for us, we are called to do for others – and ourselves.  If God is willing to forgive us day after day after day for our repeated offenses, how much more should we be willing to forgive those who have wronged us.

Lent Day 23    Matthew 18:1-20

12 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? 13 And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away!14 In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.

The shepherds in First-Century Israel were not like the shepherds of today. They didn’t have beautiful pastoral settings, or sleek, modern barns. More often than not their herds would have spent time in a setting like our picture today. This is the wilderness and desert area around the Dead Sea. Read this focus passage again, but picture the shepherd trekking through these hills looking for one lost sheep.

You and I are the solitary sheep. We wander, sometimes into dangerous regions of life. We get separated from the safety of God’s grace by the treacherous terrain of sin and disobedience. In our wandering, we easily wind up lost and enveloped by the shadows of guilt, shame and despair.

The heart of the Good Shepherd is moved by compassion and He embarks on a tireless pursuit to bring us, the lost sheep back in to His safe care.

Once the sheep is found, a way of joy can be heard throughout the landscape. All the anxiety and frustration through the search is gone. He lifts and carefully carries the rescued sheep on his shoulders, rejoicing in its recovery. What was

lost has been found, and wat was separated and has been restored.
What a beautiful picture of the joy of God when one of us turns back to Him. He doesn’t lecture to condemn, but welcomes us home with open arms full of grace and love. This joy is does not require our perfection, but on the Perfect Love of the Shepherd who never stopped caring for us. Such Good News, isn’t it?

I love the imagery of being carried on God’s shoulders. We are elevated, and in that positioning it is impossible to not feel a fully personal connection. We are broken and exhausted from the running. God choses to carry the weight of our sins, our burdens and our weariness. We cannot restore the broken relationship with Him, only the act of rescue through the Cross of Jesus can do this.

Today, be that lost sheep. Allow yourself to be ‘caught’ by the Shepherd who has been relentlessly seeking to rescue you from your personal wilderness. Let Him rejoice in your rediscovery (and if you’ve experienced this, soak in the truth that He still celebrates you).

Lent Day 22.

Matthew 17 – Looking A Gift Fish In The Mouth24 On their arrival in Capernaum, the collectors of the Temple tax[e] came to Peter and asked him, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the Temple tax?”
25 “Yes, he does,” Peter replied. Then he went into the house.
But before he had a chance to speak, Jesus asked him, “What do you think, Peter?[f] Do kings tax their own people or the people they have conquered?[g]”
26 “They tax the people they have conquered,” Peter replied.
“Well, then,” Jesus said, “the citizens are free! 27 However, we don’t want to offend them, so go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin.[h] Take it and pay the tax for both of us.”
This is an odd conversation, and one that was preceded by Jesus stating, once again, that he was going to die (for us, a foreshadowing to the end of “the Temple”).

Jesus and the disciples meet some tax collectors on their travels. These men are not Roman. The money they collect are not for Caesar. No, these are Jewish men obtaining a small tax from Jewish people for the maintaining of the Temple in Jerusalem. They turn to Peter and question Jesus’ dedication to the building’s support.

Before he answers the question, Jesus begins a teachable moment with a question about who kings tax. Peter’s answer is the perfect set up for the response.

So the answer was that the “citizens and inhabitants” who are not free are the Jewish people who are rejecting Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus is the Son of God, and those who trust him and follow him are sons of God because of their attachment to Jesus.

One author I read makes this point for verse 27: “the payment of the tax” seems to be this: If you are a child of God, you decide how you will support a non-essential building (and all of them are these days) not by thinking of yourself as taxed by God, but by thinking of whether there are reasons the building will advance the cause of Jesus Christ – which is not building-oriented, but God-oriented, and kingdom-oriented, and ministry-oriented, and people-oriented. Does what we choose to support further the Kingdom, with or without a building?

So that the Temple tax collectors were not offended by Jesus stating that they have no requirement to pay the tax, he directs Peter to go catch a fish, and tells him what he will find. Chance? This may be one of the most overlooked miracles in the Bible. Because Jesus is who he is, the coin appears just as Peter was told, and it’s enough to cover Jesus and Peter’s tax. But what does all this mean for us?

One point of the miracle is that when you act in freedom and love -not under coercion or constraint – God himself works for you in ways you would never dream. It’s like the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus says to the disciples who have five loaves and two fish borrowed from a little boy, “You feed the five thousand.” When they set out to do that (just as when Peter sets out to pay the temple tax), God causes the five loaves and two fish to become enough to feed them all. And God causes a coin to be there in a fish’s mouth.

It is not that God will always work a miracle to get you out of some scrape, but that he will do whatever he has to do to help you pursue the path of freedom and sacrificial love that may seem impossible to you.

You are not bound to give, but love may compel you to so, generously. And if it does, there will be a way – if God is in it, God will make a way. That’s the second point of the miracle. As Hudson Taylor said, “Depend upon it. God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack for supplies.”

We can’t become the children of God; we are sinners. We don’t deserve to find a coin in a fish’s mouth; we deserve to be thrown into the mouth of hell. We are not free from the condemnation of the law; we are under the curse of the law -unless the Son of Man gives himself freely as a substitute for us on the cross and purchases for us forgiveness from all sin and escape from hell and freedom from condemnation.

And that is what Jesus did. That is what Lent and Easter is all about. That is what we need to believe and embrace, and ponder this week. The foundation of our everlasting freedom as the children of God is the death of Jesus. All God’s promised help in our lives was bought by the blood of Christ.

Believe this. Cherish it this Season.

 

Lent Day 21.   Matthew 16

Matthew 16:3 – “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

 

Sometimes, we get startled when we read something in Scripture. It never ceases to amaze me how I can notice something quite new in a passage I’ve read many times before. Such was the case a few years ago. I was reading passages that had to do with Jesus teaching through the Galilee, and I stumbled on the verse just before the one at the start of today’s thought…perhaps you know those verses in these words: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.”

 

Sunsets are such a beautiful part of our day. One Bible teacher I heard has a wonderful ritual of going to a particular spot and watching the sky be painted each evening. How glorious. In Israel, the red setting sun over the sand and stone is really quite spectacular. The picture today, while not from the Galilee, was from our last trip in 2019. We were at the Dead Sea, and the sky just lit up. And true to the wisdom, the next day was great weather.

 

So, what does a red sky have to say to us today? This exchange with the religious leaders has them asking Jesus to give them a sign from heaven. He is not impressed at just how obtuse they are at missing the obvious, and that He is with them. Jesus chastises them, noting that they know the signs of the colours of the sky, but don’t see what is before them. He goes on to say that the only sign they will see will be the “sign of Jonah.”

To understand this, we need to recall what happened to that prophet. Jonah was swallowed by a whale and stayed there for 3 days and nights, before being spit out on the beach. Jesus is telling those who might understand of his coming death and resurrection.

 

For us, God’s presence and care is all around us. How often, though, do we miss it? The delay that has us miss a huge traffic accident. The phone call of encouragement that comes on a day that has been not so great. A sunrise or sunset that takes your breath away. There are countless ways that God sends reminders that we are always on His mind, and that He is always working in our best interests – even when it doesn’t feel like it.

 

Watch for the signs, they are everywhere.

Lent Day 20.  Feeding the Dogs   Matthew 15: 21- 39

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

This is a hard passage.  Jesus appears to be so cold, and unlike anything we have known of him up to this point. But wait!  There is more to the eye, and we miss it without knowing some background and geography.

Jesus is still in Gennesaret is in the Gentile area on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  It was an unexpected place for Jewish followers to be, and the woman who approaches Jesus was certainly and Gentile woman.  Two strikes against her, but that is not the motivation behind Jesus’ response.

Notice that Matthew points out this woman is Canaanite. While it is reminiscent of Old Testament writings, it lets us know that she comes from a culture of pagan people who opposed Israel. Yet, her cries to Jesus indicate that she knows this will appeal to this Jewish visitor.

Jesus begins to set the God-glorifying moment in motion.  While it looks dismissive to our western eyes, Jesus needs her to respond to his insult.  Dogs were a Jewish term of distain for Gentiles.  One scholar has suggested that Jesus stated this because he knew it was the kind of response she would have expected of a Jewish leader, to test how she would respond.

Her “yes” here is not one of agreement, but of argument and pleading.  Dog at least get the crumbs, so why would he withhold even the smallest amount of the grace that Jewish followers would experience.  Her use of Lord acknowledges who Jesus is, and by those two statement words she shows that she is aware of Jesus’ primary mission to Israel.  Here, it is suggested, that we have foreshadowing to a time when Jesus’ ministry will reach beyond Israel’s borders.

The child is healed because of her mother’s faith. Here’s the good news that this Canaanite woman teaches us: Our worthiness has nothing to do with it. She is not worthy. And neither are we. But it doesn’t matter. Great faith doesn’t require us to be worthy. Because great faith turns us to the only one who can make us worthy. Great faith turns us to the one who died for us, to make us worthy to stand before him.

By telling the Canaanite woman that she isn’t worthy, and then answering her prayer, Jesus is telling us that it is not about our worthiness. It never was, it was always about grace. The simple gift of God’s love given to all of us by God’s Son.

Lent Day 19.    MMM Bacon   Matthew 15
(From the Message)

11He then called the crowd together and said, “Listen, and take this to heart. It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life, but what you vomit up.”

12 Later his disciples came and told him, “Did you know how upset the Pharisees were when they heard what you said?”

13-14 Jesus shrugged it off. “Every tree that wasn’t planted by my Father in heaven will be pulled up by its roots. Forget them. They are blind men leading blind men. When a blind man leads a blind man, they both end up in the ditch.”

15 Peter said, “I don’t get it. Put it in plain language.”

16-20 Jesus replied, “You, too? Are you being willfully stupid? Don’t you know that anything that is swallowed works its way through the intestines and is finally defecated? But what comes out of the mouth gets its start in the heart. It’s from the heart that we vomit up evil arguments, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, lies, and cussing. That’s what pollutes. Eating or not eating certain foods, washing or not washing your hands—that’s neither here nor there.”

Peter and Jesus are back in the boat (from yesterday’s reading) and have landed at Gennesaret.  Word quickly spreads and people a gathering to be healed.

The Pharisees have had enough, and decide it’s time to call out the disciples for not following the rules the church leaders love so much.

But Jesus calls them out.  It’s not what goes into the mouth that makes a person unclean, but what comes out of it. Then, worried about the reaction of the leaders, the disciples question Jesus’ motive.

I love the response in the vernacular of Peterson’s “The Message”.  It’s a paraphrase, but sometimes the language is so earthy that it makes the point just so relatable.  Here, Jesus can’t believe that the disciples just don’t get it.

Food will eventually make its way out of the body.  But the mouth gives life to what starts deep within – what starts in our hearts.  It’s our selfish, harmful and willingly sinful nature that comes out in our words and actions.  That is what makes us unclean.

Friends, we are free to eat what we want.  But we are not free to engage in behaviours and decisions that impact our heart and actions.  Enjoy that bacon – the body will utilize the nutrition it needs and remove the remainder, indulge in that cheeseburger if you choose.  But, we eventually become the lies we allow ourselves to digest over and over, and those lies come out in how we live.  Cheating on taxes, engaging in a sexual relationship outside the covenant of marriage, lying about the behaviour of someone you have an issue with – you can add many other things to the list – these make us unclean.

Thankfully, we know the cleansing solution!  Jesus came to rescue us from our sinful nature, and to forgive us when we call on him.  So, eat what you desire and ask God’s help in keeping your heart clean so that what proceeds from your mouth will be life-giving and not polluting.

Lent Day 18. Rescue Me!    Matthew 14; focus 22-33

Today, I want to share an insight on this passage from Theologian, N. T. Wright.  I love how he writes, and how much I learn each and every time I read his works.  This is from his book, “ Lent for Everyone – Matthew)

 

“Forty years ago I sat in my college room with a friend and we read this passage together. He had come to a living faith in Jesus just a week before. He was still wide-eyed with delight at the sense of Jesus’ personal presence within him, and at the changes he could feel happening in his heart and head. But he was also anxious. Is this just a fad? Can I keep it up? Will this just be one of those things that is very exciting for a few weeks, and then will fade, leaving me a bit sad and cynical?

 

“This passage might have been written for someone in that frame of mind. Peter is one of the characters in the gospels, other than Jesus himself, whom we really get to know. This story is typical of the man we see all through – loyal, impetuous, wanting to do the right thing, then getting it embarrassingly wrong and having to be rescued once more. Many of us can identify with him only too easily.

 

“But before we even get to Peter’s bit, notice what has happened. Jesus has just fed five thousand people with what started out as next to nothing. As we know from the other gospels, the crowds were, not unnaturally, very excited at this. Jesus as always was anxious that things shouldn’t get out of hand (John tells us that the crowd wanted to seize him and hail him as king then and there, which would have been disastrous). So he quickly sent the disciple away and disappeared up the mountain.

 

“Then it happened. Some time after midnight, as they were still tugging at the oars and getting nowhere, he came to them. Walking on the water.

 

“This is such a strange story that many have sneered at it, but Matthew and the other writers knew perfectly well how strange it was and told it anyway. The disciples, not unnaturally, are scared out of their minds: it must be a ghost! But no; Jesus tells them it’s all right. They are not to be afraid. (‘Don’t be afraid’, by the way, is the most frequently repeated command in the whole Bible – something we all need to remind ourselves in our worrying and frantic world.)

 

“Then it’s Peter’s turn. Triumph, disaster and rescue. Peter the fisherman knows perfectly well you can’t walk on water. But as chapter 10 showed us, Jesus gave the Twelve power to do the things he’d been doing…so maybe with this as well? And amazingly, it happens. Peter walks towards Jesus. That is the walk of faith which we all take when we hear Jesus’ voice and begin to follow him. We know perfectly well the world isn’t like this; that money, sex and power are what matters; what we can’t possibly give up our bad habits or keep up a life of prayer and holiness…but perhaps we just might, if Jesus himself called us to do it? Yes, he says, I am calling you; and off we set.

 

“But then it all goes wrong. The wind has been there all along, but now Peter noticed it as if for the first time: what am I doing? I must be mad! I can’t possibly…and he starts to sink. That’s how it is for us, too. But the crucial moment is the next one. ‘Lord, rescue me!’ The simplest of prayer, and one which Jesus loves to answer. That’s what he’s come for, he said on another occasion, to look for people in need and rescue them. He may then smilingly remind us that we shouldn’t have doubted. That’s the lesson we need to learn, and it will take time. But he comes into the boat with us; the wind stops; and the result, of course, is worship. I doubt if the disciples quite knew what they meant by ‘Son of God’ at this point. But there wasn’t much else they could say.

 

“I lost touch with my friend after we left college. But just the other day I met someone who attends the same church. He is still going on, trusting Jesus, walking with him, helping others in their own faith. No doubt there have been times when, like Peter, like you and me, he’s been tempted to doubt, and has started to sink. But Jesus loves rescuing people. That’s what he’s come to do.”

 

Lent Day 17. What’s the Story?

 

Matthew 13: 24 – 58

I love stories.  I love to be told stories, to read stories and to tell stories.  Reading stories has always been a part of my life.  I remember, as a very little girl, running in and jumping on my dad’s sleeping head to wake him up.  And as the morning began, he would read me my story of choice.  I don’t think it’s an accident that I have spent the last 2+ decades working in some aspect of Christian publishing.

 

Our focal reading this morning contains more of Jesus’ parables.  He made the very real aspects of life and truths of heaven relatable for His listeners.  The majority of those early hearers of Jesus’ teaching were not schooled in the Scriptures.  They didn’t know the nuances of theological debate.  But His ability to communicate drew them in, and when they came, He taught in stories.

 

When is the last time you engaged with a contemporary parable?  There are a number of excellent authors of Christian fiction – there are many more who are not worth the paper the on which their story is written.  Skilled authors teach us the way Jesus did – in story.

 

A.W.Tozer wrote that, “What goes into the mind, comes out in a life.”  The contemporary version (usually referring to food, but it works with reading too), is “garbage in, garbage out”.  Think about your last book(s) you read.  How many of them had any smidgen of heavenly application?  How would you feel if a guest saw that book on your end table?  Would you be comfortable to relate the plot to them?

 

Let me commend some worthwhile reading to you –

·      Randy Singer, a former Prosecutor in Georgia writes Biblical Allegory lifted from modern headlines.

·      Angela Hunt, her series “Dangerous Beauty” takes a fresh look at Delilah, Bathsheba and Esther.  I love all of her books.

·      Francine Rivers, she sets the standard for quality Christian Fiction.  Redeeming Love sets the book of Hosea in the Klondike Gold Rush, but anything by her is worth your time.

·      Amanda Dykes, new to the fiction scene, is my new favourite author.  Try “Whose Waves These Are”.  She is a word painter!

·      James Scott Bell, mystery writer.  Think John Grisham meets Jesus.

·      Sharon Garlough Brown.  A Spiritual Director by calling, her series “Sensible Shoes” follows 4 women who grow in their walk with Jesus together.  Read with tissue!

·      C. S. Lewis – reread (or read for the first time) the Chronicles of Narnia.  With adult eyes, Biblical truths are deeply woven into the entire series.

·      Charles Martin, “Long Way Gone” is a beautiful retelling of the story of the Prodigal Son.

 

While reading good fiction is a great way to learn a new truth, the best story to spend your time reading is “The Big God Story”.  The entire Bible is an account of God’s creation and His love for it.  In the arching narrative, He loves us so much that He sent Jesus to be the way to restore our very broken relationship with Him.  We are invited to play a part in the continuing story until we join Him, through our belief in Jesus, in eternity.

 

Make your reading list good for your soul! Bring stories of Truth into your story.  If any of these authors are of interest to you, but you don’t know where to obtain copies…I know a place 😉

 

Lent Day 16   Sloppy Seed Slinging

Matthew Chapter 13: 1-239 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Today begins our time in Jesus’ parables. He tells many of these earthly stories with a heavenly meaning, and we’ll look at some of the lessons He shared.

Today’s is the parable of the Sower. It’s often used, and rightly so, to highlight the reason we need to be sharing our faith – not just keeping the Good News to ourselves. Jesus’ saving love is the greatest thing we can ever be a recipient of, and to not want to tell others is a little selfish!

I won’t expand on what so many great teachers have said about this parable. But, go back and read it again. This time take notice of verse 9.

We miss so many underlying meanings of Scripture when we read it in a language other than the original languages. Culturally, the words used were so much deeper than we have on our paper. See, Biblical Hebrew has only about 8,000 words. English, 100,000+. One writer likens Hebrew words as being overstuffed suitcases that carry so many extra meanings. Rather like the word “Aloha”…

Unpacking those words, means that the ideas and concepts are often grouped together. Such is the case in this one verse in today’s focus.

Shema – is often translated to the English word “hear”. But, its deeper meaning includes listening, taking and responding to what one has been told. We see this first in Exodus 24:7. Moses has recited the covenant with the people of Israel, and in most English translations they responded “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey”.

But the Hebrew here actually reads, “All that God has said we will DO and will HEAR.” In other words, “we respond and will be obedient with our actions because of what we heard you say”.

So, our parable here concludes with a directive from Jesus. It isn’t just a great story about a Sower sloppily slinging seed. No, it is a call for us to generously share the seeds of God’s love. We have no control over where it will germinate, blossom or wither. We do have control over how widely we
talk about who Jesus is and what His love has done in our life.

You don’t have to have all the answers, and you may not be the one who tends the seed all the way to harvest, but be very sure – you do have a role to play in the process.

So, live “Shema” – hear, respond and obey to the call Jesus has placed on you. Someone’s eternity is counting on it!

 

Lent Day 15 – Stretch Out Your Hand

 

Matthew Chapter 12

9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?  How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

Nicole Johnson is a Christian dramatist.  I have seen many of her presentations at Women of Faith gatherings.  Of all that I have seen, the one she does on this passage is the one that has been the most powerful for me.

 

Picture a first-century episode of Court Cam, but an episode that would change the lives of all who were there.  We have just the basic facts, but what really happened that day?

 

Jesus responds with not just a lesson about questioning Him, but about the value of human life – a lesson our world would do well to relearn.

 

Jesus saw that there were more people with shriveled parts present that day.  The man’s hand, yes, but the Pharisees’ hearts.  Those had also become withered and useless.  Maybe just as with the man, a wound or injury had taken the life out of them.  Perhaps just the hardness of unyielding religion had stunted their growth and made them small. And just like the man, the religious leaders tried to keep their withered hearts tucked away from Jesus’ stare.

 

,

 

Jesus had entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and he began to teach.  Among those gathered was a man whose right hand (as we are told in Luke’s account) was withered.  That was a big deal, because it was only the right hand was considered “clean” by Jewish standards.

 

We’re not told why the man’s hand was withered.  At this point, it no longer matters. He will have been told it was shameful, and so he will have taken steps to conceal it. Taken steps to be invisible in the crowd.  But the Pharisees had different plans.

 

Perhaps they had invited him to make a point, or to lay a trap for The Teacher.  Can you just see them push him forward a little, and ask Jesus about healing on the Sabbath.

 

I would love to have been there, to hear the palpable silence fall over the space, as Jesus tells the man to “stretch out your hand”. Nicole’s words describe what happened then.

 

“The crow wanted a show, a miracle, a spectacle.  The Pharisees wanted a conviction and a public humiliation of this heretical teacher. And Jesus wanted to do what he had always done – reveal the heart of God to people who didn’t get it.

“Don’t you know this man wanted to say to Jesus, ‘Stretch out my hand? Do you take me for a fool? I cannot. If I could, I would have stretched it out long before now. Don’t make me stretch it out.’

 

“Jesus makes a profound statement in this simple request. It is the stretching that separates faith from fear and self-righteousness and pretense from humility and honesty. And ultimately stretching is what took him from woundedness to wholeness. Jesus wasn’t interest I the man’s good hand. He asked him to stretch out what was shameful and humiliating. It is as if he were saying, (soak in this for a minute)

 

“You keep what is whole and pretty; you know what to do with that.  But you don’t know what to do with what is broken. You despise it; you want to hide it.  But I have a better way.

 

““Stretch out your hand.”

 

“And so the man did so, and his hand was restored.”

 

So the broken one – the man with the withered hand who had been so afraid of humiliation – left the synagogue and went home with a new hand, whole and clean. And the “whole” ones – the self-righteous ones with perfect hands – went home broken and humiliated.

 

What do you need to stretch out to Jesus to heal today.  Don’t hide it, let him make it whole and honoured.

 

Lent Day 14

 

Matthew Chapter 11

The Father Revealed in the Son25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.  Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

A few years ago, the book “The Shack” hit the shelves in bookstores.  Written by Wm. Young, it was a work of fiction depicting the relationship between the 3 persons of the Trinity, and how each gave a specific level of care to a very hurting main character.

It caused much controversy, mostly because of how the Father was portrayed in the early chapters of the book.  But, remembering that it was a work of fiction, and not a theological resource, many of us were able to look beyond that. (It was beautifully explained later in the story).

One of the loveliest things that Young was able to portray was the closeness of the relationship between the members of the Trinity.  I wouldn’t be surprised if today’s passage was a significant inspiration for that.

Jesus tells those gathered that “no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.”

Friends, Jesus has chosen to reveal the Father to those of us who believe in Jesus – he teaching, death and resurrection.  We are invited to see God through the Son.

The writer of Hebrews begin his book this way – “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”  He chose to reveal the Father to us through his own presence.  When he was baptized by John, God chose to introduce the Son to us.

We have been given a library of books that fully show us the nature of God, and have Jesus written into all of it.  Are you able to say that you know all 3 persons of the Trinity?  If you have a relationship with Jesus, you have been introduced.  Spend time in God’s Word and you will grow to know them more and more.

 

 

Lent Day 13

 

Matthew Chapter 10

In today’s passage… (the whole chapter to keep us on track…), Jesus gives his disciples their playbook.  It’s the directions on how to carry out the mission before them.  At times, it’s a bit like reading the cautions on a bottle of medicine.  He lists what they will accomplish and how to do it – but also give guidance for all the opposition and difficulties they will experience.

 

We still today are to follow those directives.  We are called to make disciples – to take the Gospel to the world.  Notice that he first sent to the neighbourhoods near them.  Today there is still work to be done at home!

 

Matthew lists the twelve, and Jesus has called us to carry on the call.  He didn’t send them out to acquire the skills they would need to carry out the ministry.  He gave them the power to do what he was sending them out to do.  When God calls us, he supplies us with the means to undertake the task at hand, and we are not sent alone.  God is always with us.

Read the list of names again.  I’m certain that never, in their early years, did any of the twelve think that 2000 years after their lifetime we would still know their names!  These men were some of the most ordinary people of Galilee.  It was a small region in a small country.  Our names are on God’s list and if we have chosen to follow Jesus, our names are in the Book of Life.  Called like them, we are partners with Jesus in the salvation of the world, in whatever corner of the globe we may find ourselves. Through our words and lives we try to let others know that the kingdom of heaven and the love of God are very near.

 

No matter where we are in life, act as God’s messenger, an instrument of your peace.   The prayer of St. Francis is still appropriate in our current world.  “Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O, Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”

God’s new Kingdom is surely near showing through the preaching, teaching and life of Jesus. We pray daily that His Kingdom will come soon. How can you and I bring this reign of God alive in the world today? In the world where evil can easily reign, the reign of God comes only through people who believe strongly in the goodness of God’s message in Jesus.

Who can you share the Good News with in your day today?

 

Lent, Day 12               Significantly Insignificant

Matthew 9:1-38

18 While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.
20 Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. 21 She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”
22 Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.
23 When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes, 24 he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. 25 After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. 26 News of this spread through all that region.
And he said to her, “Take heart, Daughter, your faith has healed you.

She was never meant to be seen. After all, the men and soldiers in the crowd were so much bigger than she. Quite aside from her stature, ailment and gender gave her no standing, even to be recognized as a person. 12 years of bleeding will have taken its toll on her general health. And so, in desperation she thinks that if she can simply touch the hem of The Healer’s cloak she might have some restoration to her body.

There’s a quiet chapel in the beautiful worship centre at the Magdala site and the entire back wall is painted with this mural. It’s magnificent and quite stirring. It depicts the humble but trusting desperate act of faith. The memory of our time here is one of my most cherished times in the Holy Land.

When we read our English Bibles, we miss an important detail from the original languages. The word for “hem or skirt” – referring to the hem of the cloak that faithful Jewish men would wear – is the same as “wings”. Certainly, the woman with the issue of blood knew of this tradition, and it explains why she sought to touch the corner (the wings) of Jesus’ prayer garment.

The same word used in Numbers 15:38 for corner is used in Malachi 4:2 for wings. She will have heard these words from her Scriptures: “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings,” Malachi 4:2. Does the end of that verse bring a song to mind? It’s bits of the carol “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”!

Mild he lays his glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth…
Risen with healing in his wings
Light and life to all he brings…
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!…
Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace…

All of this happens while Jesus is on his way to honour the faithful request of an anxious father. He was a leader at the synagogue who recognized who Jesus was. After the healing of this previously insignificant woman, Jesus heads to heal a daughter – another insignificant person in that society’s order of importance.

Here, he arrives to a house of people in deep pain over the girl’s death. Jesus tells mourners to go away. In Mark’s gospel, he calls to her and she is healed. Here, Matthew records Jesus entering the house and taking her hand, she rises, and the crowd is in awe. And news of this miracle spread through the area.

Two women (who were invisible in 1st Century Israel) are the center of two remarkable healings. The unnamed woman knew that Jesus’ healing was in His wings, and by touching the corner of his cloak it was within her grasp. The young girl…it was simply her faith. 2000 + years hasn’t changed the requirement. We simply need to reach out to God. He sees you and makes your wholeness possible. It only takes enough strength to simply touch the corner in prayer. He still knows and responds when we draw near.

 

Lent, Day 11   Waves in a Tea Cup

Matthew 8:22-43

23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
We’ve been on the Sea of Galilee twice. Once on a lovely, calm day and once in the rain. Not quite a storm but, very wet. The first time, our sail was delayed because of weather. The picture today is of the whitecaps that were brewing, preventing safety on the water.

Our focus today is the very passage that is always read while on the wooden fishing boat on the same waters Matthew write of here. It’s awesome, and never stops being overwhelming.

The Sea of Galilee is really just a mid-sized lake. Picture Lake Simcoe, and you’ll get the picture. The terrain around the lake make it kind of like a tea cup. Blow on the surface, and it ripples significantly.

Author Ken Gire provides this insight in his book, “Moments with the Saviour”. It’s a bit long, but his words fit today so well…
“For Jesus, the days have been running together like one long, flowing, seamless garment that was fast beginning to smother him in its folds. By day, he has revealed mysteries about the teeming masses. By the crackling light of the evening campfire, he has explained those mysteries to his closest circle of confindants. From the first pastels of dawn until the dying embers of midnight, Jesus has been tirelessly about his Father’s business. Teaching. Healing the sick. Casting out demons. Performing miracles.

But now he is tired. The constant crush of the crowds has given him no margin in which to rest or refresh himself. So when evening comes after another exhausting day of teaching, Jesus is ready for a sequestered Sabbath from the long week his body and soul have put in. With the crowds growing smaller to dot the shore behind them, Jesus finds a cushion and cuddles up in the cupped, wooden hands of the stern. There, rocked by the idle rhythm of the lapping waves and fanned by the gentle hand of the demure wind, Jesus falls asleep.

The constellations, pricking through the black velvet of the sky, serve as a guide as the bow cuts a swath through the coarser fabric of the sea. The disciples are tired too, but somehow the sea breeze and the proud sail fill their spirits enough to lift the heaviness from their eyes.

Suddenly, in a bracing affront to the calm idyllic night, a gust of cold wind slaps the sail. The disciples are flounced to the hull where they find themselves caught up in the sweeping rage of a tempest. As they steady themselves in the canting vessel, a glinting blade of lightning rips through the sky.Tirades of wind shriek at the sail, causing it to flap and pop in nervous response. In its fury the wind takes pitchforks from the sea and hurls them at the cowering disciples.
Heaving waves toss the boat back and forth on its frothy crests. Wave after wave bursts against its sides, each one sloshing more water into the boat. Some of the disciples frantically bail, while others pull at the oars, while still others wrestle to subdue the erratic sail.

Meanwhile, there is a calm eye in the midst of this storm. Jesus is fast asleep. What a profound slumber must have overcome the weary Messiah. And what a profound faith he must have had in the Father’s care. For it is not the wooden hands of the stern that shelter him from the storm, but the powerful hand of his heavenly Father. Jesus, however, is the only one in the boat who knows that. The others are in a frenzy. With the sea threatening to swallow them, they shake Jesus awake, yelling at him to drown out the competing howls of the wind. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

Jesus awakes to a dozen pairs of faithless eyes, bloodshot with terror. He turns his piercing gaze toward the storm. He gets up and speaks to the wind first and then to the waves, almost as if speaking to unruly children, playing too loudly in the house. “Quiet! Be still!” Immediately the roughhousing stops. Without so much as a word or a whine or a whimper in reply. The sail falls limp. The boat steadies itself. The storm is over.

The Lord then turns to rebuke his other children. “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
It is the greatest unleashing of raw power they have ever witnessed. But with the storm calmed and the danger of drowning behind them, why are they still afraid? Why? Because within their minds they find themselves facing a more terrifying storm – a storm that came upon them as suddenly and as turbulently as the one they just survived. The vortex of that storm swirls around their master’s identity. “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!”

Then their eyes see. He who stands before them is no mere teacher or prophet or faith healer. He who stands before them holds the wild mane of nature in the tight grip of his hands. To him, the unbridled forces of nature submit, without so much as a kick or a whinny of resistance.  And in the wet, shivering presence of such a power, the disciples stand terrified, knowing that the man who slept in the stern rose from that sleep to do only what God himself could do.”

Ask God today to help you when the sudden storms of life come crashing over you. Pray specifically for people you know are going through tempestuous times. Pray that they, and you, will see the one who rules the wave with a simple word.

 

Lent, Day 10   Simply Believing

 

Matthew 8:1-22

 

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.

If you are a parent, or a manager of people – how frustrating is it when someone says, “No” to one of your directives?  I recall one particular time when I asked a volunteer to do something at an event I was leading and the forceful “no” response actually stopped me in my tracks.  It was quite off putting, and made me rethink the working relationship.

 

The centurion was man who, by his ability to follow directives, had advanced through the ranks of the Roman army.  Notoriously strict and hard-edged, he will have had to be unwavering in his willingness to follow orders.  No questioning of the authority over him will have been tolerated.

 

This man was an officer of the Imperial Army, holding power and status.  The focus today finds him begging a favour from a penniless itinerant teacher, and declaring himself unworthy to even welcome Jesus into his home.  Jesus’ reaction is one of amazement.  Not just at the pure trust of the man, but also the care for his servant.  So much so, that the Centurion cut through the barriers of rank and societal standards.

 

Roman soldiers followed direction without hesitation.  Their commanding officers will have demanded it, and accepted nothing less.  Here we see this non-Jewish leader recognize the Lordship of Jesus.

 

He knew that simply by Jesus’ words, the sickness would leave.  He recognized the Authority of God in his presence.  And so, his faith was honoured, and the servant was healed.

 

Is our faith that strong?  Do we ask God for rain and choose not to bring an umbrella?  Do we seek direction for a decision we are facing, and then “Yes, but…” the answer?  If Jesus is Lord of our life, will we follow with the unwavering response of a soldier?  Rededicate yourself to fully follow Him today.  Pray with the faith of our centurion, and let your response simply be “Yes, Lord”.

 

Lent, Day 9   The Golden Rule

 

Matthew 7:1-29

 

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

 

We are still learning from the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus is teaching about so many aspects of life and today’s focus is no different.  He’s talked about lives of blessing, what to do with worry, how to pray.  Chapter 7 continues with the sage advice.  Let’s look at vs 12 in particular.  Commonly called “The Golden Rule” it is likely one we’ve known most of our lives. Truly, imagine what life would look like if we fully lived it out.

 

We have become a society of “me first”, and at all costs. Friends, if you believe that all people are inherently good – just recall the behaviours in our grocery stores during the height of Covid! We are not!! It was the case when Jesus gave these lessons, and it is still the case today. If we want the resources we need to be available when we need them, we should have respect for those who come behind us.  Food insecurity is a shameful part of North American greed.  Grocery stores making record profit, while the numbers of people who need the assistance of food banks explode.

 

We make decisions every day regarding our behaviour.  This weekend, before doing something that may be more convenient for you – consider the repercussions.  Where does your “right” to be happy/comfortable clash with someone else’s.  What will your neighbour have to give up in order for you to have that item or moment.

 

Imagine with me, a world where we all look out for each other. Where we are thoughtful and grace-filled as we encounter others.

 

What if we modelled Jesus’ teaching, all because we love him and want others to see that in us. It could change everything!

 

Lent, Day 8  Why Worry?

 

Matthew 6:16-34

 

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

 

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

 

“Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere”. Erma Bombeck

 

It’s easy to let your mind get overwhelmed by what-ifs. We can easily get lost in rabbit holes of possible outcomes.  The media knows this, and expertly helps us see the “what-could-be”.  We play and replay situations, (usually ones out of our control) and work ourselves into a lather over things that haven’t even happened yet!  One’s mind can know that truth, and still fall into the worry trap. It often happens to me on the weekend, in the wee hours of the morning, when my body is seeking restorative rest.

 

We waste so much time needlessly worrying. We spin the worst-case scenario, and play through possible solutions. It’s human nature, and really, who can blame us.

 

There is a better way to look at worry, and for people who are Jesus followers it should be a startling reality check. Worry tells God that we don’t trust Him. It says that this particular topic is out of His control, and that we are taking it back. We sing about how sweet it is to trust Him, and then we spend energy obsessing about things that are out of our hands.

 

Over these past few years, it’s been easy to fall into that trap. Here’s a thought: when you start to worry – turn it into a prayer. Ask God to help you release the control over the issue, and to reclaim the trust you have in Him. Look back at past times of worry, see where He showed up, and where the solution was more than you could have known to ask for.

 

One of my favourite Christian artists is Steven Curtis Chapman, and his song, “Remember to Remember” is a great reminder.  Yes, recall the valleys and celebrate the mountain top moments.  More importantly, recall that God was, and is, with you through it all.

 

If He sees and cares for the sparrows, and dresses the lilies how much more will he care for his favourite part of Creation. Watch for the signs of His care today. Let us know what you see!!

 

Lent, Day 7     When You Pray

Lent, Day 7

 

When You Pray

Matthew 6: 5-13 MSG (focus verse 6)

“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.”

Ouch. This passage, read from the Message, is so much more in your face than we are used to reading. Here we are given direction on how to pray, and in the following verses Jesus models prayer for his disciples.

We are so often tempted to think we have to “get it right” in some prayer settings. I marvel at people who so eloquently include flowing verses of Scripture in their public prayers, who have such a deep, but easy conversation with God. It’s easy to tell myself that I must have the “right words” to commune with The Father.

Have you ever found yourself in times of group prayer to be praying “with your response running”. You know, rehearsing what you will say while someone else is in earnest petition. It’s a natural trait, but one that Jesus is encouraging us not to do.

This passage is not saying to never pray in those situations, but it is setting an important standard for those who are Jesus followers. We are called to be in real, honest, and raw fellowship with God. We must pray in private, and lay it all on the table. Those prayers can get messy, and the Psalmist proves to us over and over, that every emotion we bring before God will be heard and honoured.

Are you thrilled with a situation? Praise Him.
Are you scared about what lies in your future? Ask Him for peace in the waiting.
Are you angry at the diagnosis? God can take it – tell him and ask Him to walk even closer to you.

Lent, Day 6

 

Matthew 5:13 – 6:4   Having heard it

 

As you read this section of Matthew, remember that Jesus is speaking to the gathered crowd.  He’s already turned the world’s understanding of blessing on its head.  Now, Jesus tackles aspects of the law.  Read this section of Matthew carefully.

 

Each section begins with the words, “You have heard…”, and the he carries on his teaching.  Do you notice what happens following that statement?  His expectation/direction actually makes following the law harder.  The religious leaders, especially the Pharisees were sticklers to making sure that all 633 laws were adhered to by the faithful.  I can’t even begin to imagine how they kept track of all of it!

 

Jesus, knowing this, ups the ante for his followers.  Contrary to those who teach that Jesus came to wipe out the Old Testament laws miss what he does here.  He states in vs. 17 that “I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writing of the prophets.  No, I came to accomplish their purpose.”

 

All of this teaching boils down to a better way to living in relationship with God and each other.  We keep the law not just because it’s the best thing to do, but we keep the laws of God because it’s the best way to care for the people and things that God has placed in our lives.

 

We reconcile with those whom we have issues.  We don’t even look lustfully at anyone we are not married to.  We stay married – even through the hard times.  We turn the other cheek when someone wrongs us.  We love our neighbours as ourselves.  We give generously and don’t brag about those gifts.

 

The Sermon on the Mount gives us hope in Christ.  It resets our worldview, and assists in our day-to-day decision making.  It says that through Him, and as we walk by the Spirit, only then can we obey His commandments in love and love one another well.  Thus, we can express and give witness to the love God has given to us.

Being Blessed?

Lent, Day 5

Matthew 5:1-12

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,[a] for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
4 God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,[b] for they will be satisfied.
7 God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
9 God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.

Before you continue, take a few minutes to read through the list of the “blessed are” statements that Jesus makes in this opening to his teaching on the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. They sure don’t sound like the self-help gurus that are popular today do they? These statements were, and still are, quite counter-cultural. It doesn’t feel like a blessing to mourn someone we love. It doesn’t feel like a blessing to have people insult us because of our faith. I’m certain that the first hearers of this teaching will have wondered what on earth he was talking about.

Today’s view is from the ground of the chapel on the Mount of Beatitudes. It’s the traditional site that honours the Sermon on the Mount. We have no evidence that tells confirms that this is where Jesus taught, but the landscape of the Galilee shore indicate that it’s highly probable that this is the area. Just across the lake is Tiberias, the literal “city on a hill” that Jesus speaks of, and to our left is Capernaum. Just to our right lies the chapel, and beyond that is a natural amphitheater. It’s not accessible, as the landscape is not safe for people to wander on, but it’s quite something. It would have been the only spot on the shoreline that is able to accommodate such large gathering of people, and where a speaker would be able to be heard by so many with first century sound systems! The setting is perfect to wander the garden and ponder on this passage of Scripture.

Ken Gire, in his book “Moments with the Savior” shows us how God uses all of these unexpected blessings to craft in us the character of Christ. He says, “When the Father begins crafting character, a crushing must first take place. Not because he’s a temperamental artist who’s angry with his work, but because the raw materials for his art come from a broken heart.”

Jesus was poor in spirit – he chose to leave his heavenly kingdom to have no earthly possessions. He mourned– Isaiah called him the “man of sorrows”, and we see him cry over the loss of his friend Lazarus. He was meek – riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, and staying silent when he was on trial speaks to this. Jesus knew was it was to hunger and thirst – he waited in the desert for 40 days, and in his final moments he cried out for something to drink. He was merciful – he showed compassion on so many through his healing of body and soul. His very life shows that Jesus was pure in heart, and he was certainly a peacemaker. Yet, because of all of this, he was persecuted by the religious leaders.
When we are led into Christ-likeness, what is the outcome from these blessings? Gire reminds us of these:
“Comfort from the sadness we’ve carried in our hearts. An inheritance that staggers the imagination. A feast to satisfy every inner longing we’ve ever had. Mercy to salve every wound we’ve encountered along the way. And, most exciting of all, the embrace of the Father welcoming his children home.

These are the blessings of a Christlike character. Freely extended to that motley crowd who first heard them. From a hand that reaches through the centuries to extend them to us as well. Blessings that should not only give us hope for the road ahead…but happiness here and now so we can enjoy the trip.”

What are hardships that became blessings for you? Take some time to thank God for them today. Write them down as they occur to you, and revisit them when you are feeling less than, and forgotten by the One who loves you beyond measure.

 

Lent Day 4

 

Putting Down Your Nets

 

 

Matthew 4:1-25

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Jesus has now left his hometown.  Mark’s Gospel tells us that he escaped a very angry crowd. (A cool bit of  foreshadowing to another angry crowd demanding his death). He walks by the Sea of Galilee and begins to form his inner circle. He didn’t go to the synagogue, or the schools to gather the most faithful or the smartest scholars. No, he went to where the average joe workers were, and he meets some fishermen.

Today’s picture shows a wonderful view on Mount Arbel (although it’s cloudy and raining, on the day we were here) of the entire Sea of Galilee. It’s truly not a sea…more like the size of Lake Simcoe. It’s also referred to as the Sea of Kinneret from the Hebrew word for “harp or lute”, since that is its shape.

There are 4 words that stand out for me in this passage. Read the focus verses again, and see if you notice anything astounding, I’ll wait…

For me, those words are “At once” and “immediately”. Now, in Mark’s book, he.liked to use phrases that indicated immediacy.  Matthew not so much, but he does here. Simon, Andrew, James and John had been working at their know trade and Jesus tells them to follow him. They don’t say they need more time, or that they have to finish something first – no, they don’t delay and straight away become first of the 12 who will become Jesus’ closest circle.

We have so many excuses when it comes to fully following Jesus. To let him be the centre of our lives, we must give him the centre of our lives. That means letting go of our own agenda and control to follow the teachings and directives of Jesus. It’s a hard, hard thing to do, this living a life of surrender to our own way. Once the decision is made, it’s hard not to take bits of control back from God.

 

Someday, I’m going to fully learn that it always goes better when I don’t try to put my way into effect first and pray about direction later. It’s a lesson that the head and heart don’t learn at the same time. Jesus still asks us to, “Follow Me”. His plans for the coming Kingdom have roles for us to fulfill. Cheifly, we are to share the Good News. There’s no reason big enough to stop us from saying, “Yes”.

It’s the best decision you’ll ever make, “because 100 years from now, the only thing that will matter is someone’s relationship with God”(Reggie Joiner)

 Day 3

 

Matthew 3:1-17

Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.14 But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”

15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.[f]” So John agreed to baptize him.

16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened[g] and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him.

17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

Today I want you to recall a few things. Imagine taking a bite of a fresh apple. Can you hear the crunch, and taste the tart and sweetness on your tongue? Next, picture a grape. Can you feel the juice rush as you bite down on it? Now, picture the smell and taste of a pomello. How your mouth reacts with the first bite, how much work it took to prepare it for eating. You likely can’t do this, because you’ve never been introduced to the fruit. (It’s a like a very large grapefruit, with an extremely thick skin, and a slightly sweet sectioned fruit).

The main character in today’s account is a bit like picturing the eating of that fruit you’ve never tried. The Israelites knew that the Messiah was coming – eventually. But they had nothing to be able to picture what he would look like or where they would encounter him. Just as you need to be introduced to new foods to be able to know what to expect, Jesus had to be introduced to the people he had been sent to save. It wasn’t until a friend of our preached on this topic that I realized that this is the first time the Persons of the Trinity appear together in Scripture. Jesus (the Son) is in the water. The Holy Spirit descends like a dove as a voice (The Father) says, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

Our picture today is roughly the spot where that Baptism occurred. We can’t know the precise location, but we do know this area of the Jordan and its proximity to the Wilderness that Jesus spent the next 40 days. It is here where we find the centuries old church and location that hundreds of generations of prilgrims have come to remember that event.

It’s not the cleanest of water – it travels from Mt. Hermon in the north down through fields and valleys and picks up who knows what on its way to the Dead Sea. There is a structure just out of the picture, on the Jordanian side, and it was only in 2012 that this site was reopened to the public again after years of unrest between the 2 nations.

It’s a powerful moment during a pilgrimage, and while I have not been in the water, I still marvel that this site is there. It was in this area that Elijah and Joshua split the waters, the power of God through Man. But it was in this area that God split the Heavens to show that Jesus was the power of God to Man.

Today, thank God for that moment and that person (or people) who introduced you to His Son. Then, ask Him to show you to whom you can do the same.

Such a Dreamer, Lent Day 2

Matthew 2:1-23

Are you one who dreams? Sometimes our dreams can work out a problem, or remind of people we miss, or be downright strange and disturbing.

Last spring, I was asked to organize an event for at the workplace of a friend. It was unlike anything I had ever pulled off, and I hadn’t realized just how stressed I was until I had a horrible dream about it. What was quite off-putting in the dream turned into a blessing. The dream helped me work out some of the logistical issues, and as I worked through it, all the pieces just clicked together. The event was success and I couldn’t have been more pleased.

Sometimes, a dream can hold a message for us. There have been occasions that Jeff has had very vivid dreams, and through conversation with a friend who has a true gift from God in interpreting these things, he was able to work through situations going on in his life.

In our reading today, Joseph as 3 separate dreams. In all of them, God give him direction for his family. The journeys to and from Egypt. These were to escape Herod’s attack, as well as fulfilling the prophecy from Hosea that, “I called my Son out of Egypt.”

The final dream Matthew records is the call to return to Nazareth. Again, God’s direction fulfills a prophecy. This time it’s, “He shall be called a Nazarene”. (Some background on this…it is likely that we miss the significance of this when we don’t know the word for “branch” is netser in Hebrew. It’s the same word as Nazareth. So, Jesus was the branch Isaiah referred to, as well as someone from this little Galilean town.)

Joseph couldn’t have ever imagined that the daydreaming about his future would hold dreams with direction from God. It became a life that would change history, but a life that no faithful Jewish person would have believed without living it.

We all imagine what our life will look like. I don’t think we ever stop. These days, I find I’m daydreaming about where we will live, if we are ever able to retire. I live though, knowing that God has always gone before us. He has always prepared the details before we even know what to seek from Him. We both confidently know that He will do it again.

What is God asking you to faithfully complete for Him? Ask Him to show you the path before you. The steps may be scary and even feel reckless, but He will bring you to the outcome He has planned. Will you be like Joseph and respond in obedience?


Shaking Family Trees – Ash Wednesday

Matthew 1:1-25

Today begins our journey to the Cross – the season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday.  This year, that season also begins with Valentine’s Day.  I think it’s quite appropriate, given that Lent prepares us for the culmination of the greatest Love Story ever written.  God so LOVED the world, that He gave His Only Son!

On our journey this year, we are going to read through the book of Matthew.  40 reading for the 40 days of Lent (we take Sundays off, because they are the Sundays IN Lent not OF Lent).

Thanks, in advance, for joining me.  It is a discipline I look forward to, and having you along is a helpful part of that activity.  Ready? Let’s begin.

The first 17 verses in Matthew may well be the one of the most skipped over sections of the Bible – after, perhaps, Leviticus and the lists of names in Nehemiah. It’s an important part of reminding ourselves of the lineage of Jesus, and the kinds of people that God used (and still uses) to bring about His grand narrative of His love for us, and desire to be in communion with His people.

Family trees are fascinating things.  My family has been blessed by a genealogist on my mom’s side of the family, and she has recently published her life’s work.  We can trace the Eastman side of things back to William the Conqueror!  There are many amazing stories – some tragic and some quite triumphant, most quite ordinary.  One of our wedding gifts was an up-to-date edition that included Jeff being added to our branch.  From those lists of names on the pages of the family tree, those stories of our history brought about who I am.

Matthew organizes Jesus’ family tree in sets of 14 generations.  The first set are the patriarchs of the Jewish people. Names like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob appear here.  The second fourteen include Israel’s Kings.  The remaining 14 are largely unknown names, but people whose roles were vital in the coming of the Messiah.  5 women are mentioned by name – Tamar, Rahab and Ruth were not Israelites, and Bathsheba was not married (at first) to an Israelite, but she did give birth to King David, through an illicit encounter.

The shock value of a) including women in a lineage and b) the shock value of each of their stories, likely prepared the Jewish readers for the shocking way God brought about the infant Jesus’ very conception.  All of the stories of Jesus’ family line are important to knowing His history.

If you know them, think about the names in your family tree.  Reflect of their stories, and give thanks that because of them, you are a part of their narrative.

Then, give thanks that because of Jesus’ lineage you, Child of God, are a part of the ongoing Grand Narrative of your Creator.  Jesus’ death secured your spot on The Family Tree.  The stories of those named in Matthew, and those who went before you make you the very special part of The Family of God that you are.

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