Faith – January 14, 2019

Genesis 28.1-29.35
Matthew 9.18-38
Psalm 11.1-7
Proverbs 3.11-12

Our next section in the gospel of Matthew gives us three stories about someone(s) being healed from either a disease or a person being brought back to life.

The first story is of a daughter of a synagogue leader who has a daughter who has “just died.” The man approaches Jesus with the proclamation that if Jesus would simply lay his hand on this daughter, she would be brought back to life. We know very little about this specific Jewish leader. However, most of the synagogue leaders would not have thought Jesus an acceptable teacher of the law (he was uneducated in the law and grew up the son of a carpenter) nor an individual one would go to in order to try to receive healing for a family member. Most Jewish leaders opposed Jesus, yet here is this man making a simple statement of faith: You can bring her back to life.

The second story is placed within the middle of the first, the incident happening while Jesus’ was on his way to the Jewish leader’s house. A woman who had been bleeding for twelve years comes up behind Jesus and touches the fringe of his robe, just the outer edge of his garment. The response is twofold. The woman was healed, and Jesus turns to the woman to tell her: your faith has healed you. It was a bold move by this woman to reach out and touch Jesus. What if nothing happened? How awkward would it have been for Jesus to turn around and ask: Did you need something? Yet, as Jesus points out, this woman had faith that healing could come from him.

The last story is of two men, both blind, who literally follow Jesus into the home where he is staying. (Speaking of boldness, right?) Jesus asks the two: Do you believe that I can make you see? Yes, they reply, we do. And because of their faith, we are told, Jesus heals them.

It is fairly easy to see a common thread running through these stories: the faith of the individual seeking healing. Yet in spite of the clear example in each of the stories, putting that faith into action in our own lives can be much more difficult.

Our faith in God is always filtered through the lens of our own experiences and our (limited) understanding of what is and is not “humanly” possible. The harder challenge is to look through the eyes of God, allowing his boundaries to define what can be accomplished. As Ephesians 3.20-21 says, the one who is able to do more than we can imagine is faithful to us, he will do those amazing things.

Will we be faithful to him and trust that is true?

Questions:

God’s appearance in a dream to Jacob serves as an “introduction” of sorts of God to Jacob. How were you introduced to God? What sort of events precipitated your knowledge of him? How has he continued to demonstrate to you his working in your life?

Join with Jesus and Matthew’s readers this week in praying for workers who will work the harvest, that is, individuals who will share the stories of Jesus’ compassion on people who need to hear a word of good news.

Can we join with the psalmist is saying we trust in the Lord for protection? Do our efforts to always prepare for the worst demonstrate a lack of trust in God for protection? Why or why not?

Most of us despise discipline and correction. How can we view these things as benefits from God who loves us, rather than something negative to be avoided?

A Friend Indeed – January 12, 2019

Genesis 26.17-27.46
Matthew 9.1-17
Psalm 10.16-18
Proverbs 3.9-10

Those who have been in ministry for any length of time have at least one story about being completely humbled by a word of wisdom from someone from whom we least expect it. I have had more than fair share of moments like that, but the one that always stands out to me is one I remember anytime I read today’s story of the paralytic healed by Jesus.

I was teaching this story to a group of students and began to describe how boring the paralytic must have been as a friend. I mean, I exclaimed, there really wasn’t a whole lot he could do. (Remember: this was one of my humbling moments, not a moment of glorious brilliance!)

There was a young man in that particular group whom today we would probably define as an outlier. He wasn’t necessarily a menace or trouble-maker, but he was aware enough of where the edge of the envelope was to walk to that edge and begin to kick the line. I had been told prior to teaching that group that this young man might be an irritant to me as I taught. So, I went into the class almost ready to set him on the straight and narrow. (Have I mentioned this story is about my humbling?)

As I am describing this paralyzed man who really was a drag on his friends (pun intended) and as I described that there was very little he could do, this “outlier” sitting seemingly disinterested on the very back row suddenly interrupted me and said: “That’s not true.”

Here’s the thing. I can distinctly remember thinking: OK, I’m going to let this young man dig a little deeper in this hole he has created before I show him the error of his ways.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, he apparently was a good friend to others.”

I wanted to just crawl under a chair or slowly back out of the room. He was right. Think about it. What kind of person gets carried around by friends? The gospel of Mark includes in this story that these friends of this paralytic actually carry him up on a roof and begin to tear through the roof, they were so intent on getting him to Jesus. And notice also that when Jesus saw theirfaith. The company you keep says something about you, doesn’t it?

Again, what kind of person gets that kind of response from his friends? As that young man pointed out: a man who was a good friend to others.

I hope today that you did not find yourself in a situation where you were humbled by a person from whom you least expected it.

I DO hope, however, that today you were the kind of person those around you would go to whatever length to repay the blessings you have showed them.

Questions:

As you think about the Jacob and Esau conflict, what sort of response do you have to each of these boys? Who is the hero? Why?

What have you seen today that caused you to praise God? You did remember to praise him, right?

How have you seen God bring justice to individuals who oppressed?

Do you honor God with your best? How can you honor God more with your best?

Now or Later – January 11, 2019

Genesis 24.52-26.16
Matthew 8.18-34
Psalm 10.1-15
Proverbs 3.7-8

The story of Esau selling his birthright is such an interesting story because of the shocking nature of the sale of something so valuable. The firstborn, based solely on the order of his birth, received an extra portion of his father’s inheritance when the father passed away. The son received recognition and perhaps a higher honor during his father’s life, but the real blessing would have been the tangible reward he would receive upon his father’s death.

Of course, this blessing was also a challenge. The eldest son had to wait for his father to pass away to ever receive the monetary blessing of this inheritance. And that wait could easily Seem. Like. Forever.

This is what is happening here in our story today. Esau had a problem. He was hungry. Esau also seemingly had a solution: his brother Jacob was a great cook and just happened to have some stew. Jacob, come to find out, was more than willing to share some of the stew he had prepared … for a price.

We might ask ourselves: How good was that stew? Worth our birthright? Worth giving up the extra portion of our inheritance? Man, that really WAS some good stew, if so.

To Esau, the equation was not one of net worth, it was one of current, immediate, physical need. His desire—his only desire—was to find something to fill his stomach and avoid, in his own words, starvation.

Was Esau really going to starve? I doubt it. It was somewhat akin to my children, after stubbing a toe or bumping into something saying: I’m dying. (My response? Yes, you are in the process of dying, but except in rare circumstances, that is not happening in the next couple of minutes!) When one feels like they are dying, or starving in Esau’s cause, their desire is to correct the problem as quickly as possible, regardless of the cost or net worth of the tradeoff.

Here is where the story gets really challenging: it is a description of what we do all of the time. We sacrifice the value of something important down the road for the immediacy of (reduced value) gratification right now. The problem with that mentality is the reward of the immediate never compares to the blessings of what takes time.

I am a big fan of BBQ. Can you imagine going to your favorite BBQ place and ordering a plate of sliced brisket, then watching the person behind the counter placing a slice of raw meat in a microwave? Do you really think that meat will taste as good as a slice of brisket smoked over a long period of time?

Your faith grows in a similar way. Following Jesus and becoming mature is the result of a long time of faithful obedience, not a momentary decision to trade what is valuable for what is immediate.

So, what’s your choice? Now or later?

Questions:

How do you think Rebekah dealt with the knowledge of the prophecy claiming her twin boys would be rivals and competing nations? In what way would such a blessing affect how you would raise your children?

In what ways do you see the excuses given by the people claiming they would follow Jesus as lame excuses? In what ways were they legitimate? How do we make similar excuses about following Jesus today?

List all of the descriptions of a wicked person from Psalm 10. Do you know this person? Are you this person?

Where do you see people who are impressed with their own wisdom? How do we prevent ourselves from being impressed with our own wisdom?

Yahweh-Yireh – January 9, 2019

Genesis 20.1-22.24
Matthew 7.15-29
Psalm 9.1-12
Proverbs 2.16-22

The story of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac is difficult to read, especially if you have children of your own. (I know Abraham does not actually sacrifice Isaac, but scripture tells us that Abraham figuratively did receive Isaac back from the dead (See Hebrews 11.17-19) and as such, can be considered as having sacrificed him.)

Imagine for just a moment what it must have felt like to be Isaac. While we do not have any description of how Abraham treated Isaac, I do not think it is a far stretch to think that he doted on this son, a child he had after giving up on any hope of actually having children in his old age. And here is this loving father, tying his son up and placing him on an alter…

What kind of father willingly, even if it is somewhat begrudgingly, takes his son, his ONLY son, whom he loved, to be sacrificed?

Obviously, the echoes of God our Father, who also gave up his only son, the one he loved, reverberate throughout this story. We can answer our question even more directly, however. Who does this kind of thing? One who is completely and totally confident that God really is Yahweh-Yireh.

Yahweh-Yireh. The God who provides.

You get a sense that Abraham was like those of us who watch a movie where the hero finds himself or herself in a pickle. It would appear that there is no way out. They have gone too far this time, there is nothing that can save them. (In fact, doesn’t the further into the mess they have gone, the better the sense of relief for us when they get out?)

We watch a movie like this and while there are moments of anxiousness, wondering if the hero really will prevail, for most of us there is always a sense of confidence that the hero will indeed find a way out of the inescapable jam. This was Abraham, knowing that even if Isaac was actually killed, God could bring him back to life (again, Hebrews 11.17-19).

The real challenge is for us. We need to move from that movie type of assurance, trusting in a make-believe world on the silver screen, to living and acting on the reality that God will indeed provide for us.

He will rescue us. We have assurance of that. Now, can we act on it?

Questions:

God hears Ishmael crying in the desert, after he and his mother are forced to flee from the house of Abraham. This is actually consistent with God’s nature, hearing the cries of those in need. How have you experienced God hearing your cries or the cries of someone else who was in need?

How comfortable are we with the notion that people can be evaluated by their “fruit?” How comfortable are you with this standard being applied to your own life? How can you be more willing to allow your fruit to speak for your life?

Do you follow God with your full heart? How can we be sure we are not living half-hearted lives?

Reading this section of Proverbs is like watching someone walk toward the noise in a scary movie, all the while the audience is yelling: “Don’t do it!” Why is there such an allure to go toward the noise … or toward evil, represented here in Proverbs by the promiscuous woman? How can we ensure wisdom keeps us on the paths of righteousness?

Blessed Are The… – January 5, 2019

Genesis 11.1-13.4
Matthew 5.1-26
Psalm 5.1-12
Proverbs 1.24-28

In Matthew 5, Jesus gathers his disciples for a time of teaching. While we will discover at the end of this “Sermon on the Mount” as it is called that the crowds were amazed (Mt. 7.28-29), the initial focus is instruction to Jesus’ disciples.

Looking at what he says to them, one wonders: Were these teachings something new or different for these men? Was Jesus reviewing a previous lesson they had received or was Jesus giving them a new direction or understanding? What is the significance of this first teaching of Jesus recorded in Matthew’s gospel?

In the years that have followed Jesus’ speaking this lesson, people have understood his words here as defining what it looks like for people to truly follow Jesus. If you want to know the ethics of the “Kingdom of Heaven” Jesus describes as being near (Mt. 4.17), then look no further than these words spoken to his first followers.

If this is true, and I believe it is, then those of us who continue to strive to follow Jesus and to live our lives as he did need to understand that these people are the people whom God finds valuable and worthy of our love:

The poor

Those who mourn

The humble

Those who hunger and thirst for justice

Those who are merciful

The pure in heart

Those who work for peace

Anyone persecuted for doing right

As you work through your day, how have you focused your efforts on embracing these people, people Jesus tells us God blesses?

Questions:

How wild would it be for God to come tell you to leave everything you know—your family, your customs, your comfort—and simply go to place is his going to tell you? How do you think you would respond? In what ways have you left things comfortable to you to follow Jesus?

List the ways your life is being salt and light to the people around you.

The psalmist describes praying to God then waiting “expectantly” for his response. In what ways does this describe your prayers? How can you wait more expectantly for God to respond?

Have you ever ignored the advice of wisdom, failing to listen to the correction she offered? How’d that work out for you? How can you listen better?

Rest Well – January 4, 2019

Genesis 8.1-10.32
Matthew 4.12-25
Psalm 4.1-8
Proverbs 1.20-23

“How long will you people ruin my reputation?” Psalm 4.2

Is there any worse feeling than the one you get when you discover people are talking bad about you, perhaps even ruining your reputation? How do you react? What do you do to correct the wrong committed by this slanderer?

Truth be told, I … and I think most of us … tend to be ready for a good fight when people speak ill of me. If we can prevent people from speaking poorly of us, then perhaps we will look better to others. Achieving this is worth whatever fight needed to accomplish it, isn’t it?

On the other end of the spectrum, we might want to work extra hard to prove by our actions that others are wrong. We see this in the stories of individuals who in unhealthy ways obsess with doing the very thing someone said they could not do. A small, offhanded comment about being overweight, lazy, or good-for-nothing changes the entire trajectory of someone’s life, and not for the better.

The author of Psalm 4 gives us another option, which I would outline as follows:

First, he appeals to God, asking God to declare him innocent.

Second, he admits that his trust and confidence is in the Lord. The Lord is the one who will provide the proof of the writer’s innocence. (Perhaps we need to be less about our Father’s business and more about letting God do what he does best.)

Third, he pauses. How much better would our reaction to the “wrongs” against us be if we regularly made “think about it overnight and remain silent” our go-to response for people who bring accusations against us? It’s hard to do, no doubt, but it also shows our full commitment to the second point: we trust that God will prove us innocent and therefore we do not have to do so.

Last, the writer recognizes the joy that comes from God, joy that far exceeds what others have, even when they have it in abundance.

So, the final result for this writer: he lies down in peace. He knows the Lord will keep him safe and so has no need to worry or fret. Anyone who has tossed and turned throughout the night recognizes the significance and blessing of being able to lie down and actually sleep.

When people bring false accusation against you, how do you sleep?

Praying that you find rest and sleep in the middle of the accusations.

Questions:

When something good happens in your life, you come through some sort of trial or challenge, what is your first response? A pat on your own back? Praise to God for what he has done? How can we remind ourselves to praise God for bringing us through the trials of our life?

If you were asked by someone to “tell them something good,” what would you tell them? Make a list of ways God has been good news for you.

Here’s a challenge for you this week: When someone says something about you or in such a way that your first response is to fire back a harsh response, say nothing and think about it overnight. If necessary, respond to their comment at that point, but not before then.

How do we ignore the wise counsel that if often right in front of us? How can we be sure to listen to this counsel?

All Seek No Hide – January 2, 2019

Genesis 3.1-4.26
Matthew 2.13-3.6
Psalm 2.1-12
Proverbs 1.7-8

Where are you?

It’s the first question we have recorded in the book of Genesis that God asks Adam. And there is a whole lot of irony in the question. Where is Adam? Well, he and Eve are hiding in the bushes … covered by the bushes … because of their shame once they found out they were naked. Don’t think for a moment that God did not know where the pair were or that he had no idea what had transpired just prior to his inquiry. No, he was waiting to see what Adam had to say about his new-found circumstances.

But the question is still put out there. Where are you?

I can remember playing hide-n-seek around the house as a child. You would yell out the numbers as you leaned against the tree that was base, anxious to go find your fellow game-players. But on occasion, the hiding spots would be too creative and after a few moments, the seeker would just give up. One time, the one hiding was left for a considerable amount of time (5 minutes if you had a clock, 2 hours if you were the hider…) because the one seeking simply went inside to play a different game.

Here’s the thing. For the rest of our reading through Scripture, we are going to hear God ask and see him demonstrate this question over and over again. Even to this day he continues to ask: Where are you.

It isn’t because he doesn’t know about you.

It is because he longs for you to know him.

Where are you?

 

Questions:

Someone has said that all sin is basically the result of our idolatry: we want to put ourselves in the position that only God has a right to occupy. How do we see that in the life of Eve? What examples can you give that support this idea in your own world?

What do you make of John the Baptist in Matthew’s gospel? Is he crazy and seemingly out of his mind? Or, is he simply fulfilling the role (in both words, actions, and dress) of the prophet seeking to bring people back to the Kingdom of God? Why is understanding John the Baptist important?

The kings of the nations are said to be angry and against God in Psalm 2, seeking to throw off his rule. The suggestion they are given, however, is to “act wisely!” How can we equip and encourage our civic leaders to act wisely, even when they may not be followers of God?

Do you despise wisdom? How can be sure we are not doing so and as a result, becoming fools?