Friday, September 28, 2012

Genesis 29, Esther 5, Matthew and Acts 28

We closed out the books of Matthew and Acts, and I feel like it is truly fitting to close these books out together. Throughout Matthew we have read along as Jesus bring the kingdom of Heaven crashing to he shows what true humanity looks he calls people to follow in his footsteps. In the book of Acts, we see the first Christians living out the call of Jesus Christ. Regardless of how the culture around them perceives their allegiance, nothing changes about their dedication. Much of the book centers around Paul who is a living breathing example of the Great Commission throughout the book of Acts. He is constantly going...he is ever in search of new disciples...he is unafraid to teach people about the truth of Jesus Christ...he is a great example of what the discipleship Jesus has called us to looks like lived out. What needs to change in our lives so that we can better reflect true Christian discipleship?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Genesis 28, Esther 4, Matthew and Acts 27

"Bethel" - the house of God. Jacob falls asleep on the way to Laban's land and God reconfirms the ancient Abraham covenant with him. He wakes and calls the place "the house of God" because he knows that God has met him there. Jesus, in Matthew 27, is put through a mock trial, tortured, ridiculed and slaughtered on the cross. This has been the plan since sin first entered into the world. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were told that the nations would be blessed through them...and there on the cross, the ultimate blessing takes place. Jesus makes the sacrifice that was required to offer salvation to the sinful masses of the world. Because of that sacrifice, we can become the "Bethel"...the house of God. Through the righteousness of Jesus, the chasm that sin caused between God and man is removed and God meets us where we are. We become the temple of the living God! Praise Jesus! Do you think about this amazing truth on a daily basis? Do you realize the guidance and strength that you have within you as followers of Christ? Do you live as men and women housing the Spirit of God?

"For such a time as this" - I love that phrase! Why was devout Jewish woman chosen to be the wife of a powerful pagan king (Other than the fact that she was smokin'...)...for such a time as this. Once again the children of Israel re threatened, and once again God has put events into motion that will bring about their deliverance. Esther knows that her life is on the line, but she is willing to step out in faith because she knows that God is faithful. Paul is trapped on a the middle of a storm...with no food...and everyone has given up hope. Yet, he knows that he has been placed there "for such a time as this." Surrounded by hardened criminals and seasoned warriors, Paul alone has the strength to stand up and lead because his strength does not come by human will. He holds a communion service and promises everyone that they will be delivered by the one and only God. Paul was ready to act because he lived every moment with the understanding that God had brought him to that place "for such a time as this." Do you live with the same confidence? Why had God brought you through the experiences of your life...why has He placed you where you are right now? For such a time as this!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Genesis 27, Esther 2, Matthew and Acts 26

The two meals that are depicted in these passages speak a powerful message of God's sovereignty. Esau is the firstborn child of Isaac, but through deception he loses the blessing of his father (Which is fitting since he stupidly lost his birthright over a bowl of soup before that). Jacob uses a shared me to lie to his father and cheat his brother out of a blessing...yet he is the one who becomes the Father of Israel (He actually becomes Israel himself - his name gets changed!) and ancient ancestor of Jesus. Skip forward 2,000 years and Jesus is sitting down at a meal with his disciples...a meal he shares with someone he knows is going to betray him. He breaks bread with the disciples who will abandon him and the traitor who will turn him in to the Jewish authorities. God eventually uses their cowardice to cement their commitment to the way of Jesus when he is resurrected and he gives them a second chance - almost every one of them is violently killed because of their unshakable faith in Jesus. God uses Judas' betrayal as the catalyst that will end with Jesus' death on the cross...a sacrifice that was willingly made to offer salvation to all who believe. We see over and over that God uses the imperfect...the rejects...the cowards...the betrayers to bring about His will. In our weakness, God is strong.

Fast forward another 2,000 years to now. You may have failed in some may have betrayed Jesus...turned your back on may be scared of truly following Jesus because of the cost. Remember that you are in good company! You are a faith descendant of Jacob the trickster and Peter the coward. Use these passages as a reminder that it is true - you aren't good enough to change the aren't smart enough to know what to aren't ready to fight for the faith - but God is. We are made righteous through his sacrifice. We are made wise through His Spirit. We are given the strength to do things we never thought we could. Let God's strength show clearly in light of your your life to Him and see what happens!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Genesis 25/26, Esther 1/2, Matthew and Acts 24/25

Why eight chapters today? I'm trying to catch up for missing yesterday, and had a nice quiet morning at the house to here we are! I would love to hear your thoughts on the texts or help you with any questions you might have...feel free to comment.

I have never read through the Bible like this - going back and forth, throughout scripture - and I really like the perspective it gives. Jesus teachings in Matthew today are focused in on improperly using the gifts God has given. We are called to honor God with every aspect of our lives. We are not supposed to wait around for a miraculous sign about how to expand His kingdom...we are supposed to be living to honor Him every moment. Our words...our thoughts...our actions...the little things...the big things...all of these things have been entrusted to us so that we can make a positive impact on this world and make God's name great. In the readings today we see the fallout from those who refuse to take up God's cause in the world and we see the world-changing influence of the "good and faithful servants."

Ishmael, though blessed by God by becoming a father of his own nation, can never move beyond the hurt that Abraham/Sarah caused him and leaves behind a legacy of chaos in his dealing with Isaac's descendants. The fallout from his choice to maintain bitterness instead of fighting for peace is sill felt around the world to this day (i.e. the craziness in the Middle East).

Esther uses her forced marriage as a launching pad for saving both the King's like (Though Mordecai's waning) and the Jewish nation as a whole (later).

Paul is bounced around from prison to prison...from trial to trial...from false accusation to false accusation...and never strays from his commitment to The Way. In fact, it is through these terrible circumstances that Paul is able to make a case for the Gospel in front of the most powerful people in the world.

I want to be that "good and faithful servant." I want to take advantage of every opportunity that is put before me by God...I want to be ready to impact His kingdom...make His name great...introduce people to the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Faithful followers do that every the interactions with their their conversations at the way they view the the good times and especially in the hard times (where it seems that God often works the most powerfully!). May you see every day as a new opportunity to expand the kingdom of our awesome Lord (Because that is exactly what it is).

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Genesis 24, Nehemiah 13, Matthew and Acts 23

There is one word that comes into my mind after reading through these passages today - legacy. This reading has got me thinking about the legacy that we all leave behind. Abraham was nearing the end of his life and he wanted the legacy of his faithfulness to continue on through the generations...he wanted to make sure his son had a God-fearing wife and made his servant promise to bring such a woman to Isaac. Jesus confronts the Pharisees about the negative legacy that they are leaving behind them. They burden people with rules they cannot even follow themselves...they live in hypocrisy...they care more about how other people view their actions, then they do about honoring God with their lives. Throughout the final chapter of Nehemiah, the author wants to make sure that the good he did and the way he honored God with his life are know to all by repeating the phrase, "Remember me, O my God, for good." It is vital to him that he is remembered by his life of faithfulness. Finally, we see Paul once again defending his commitment to upholding the Jewish faith while standing firm in his knowledge that Jesus is the promised Messiah. No amount of torture, jail time, arguing, and harassment can shift Paul away from what he knows is true. That is a legacy!

Think about your own life...what kind of legacy are you leaving behind? What would your spouse say? Your kids? Your friends? Your co-workers? What is your legacy?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Genesis 23, Nehemiah 12, Matthew and Acts 22

After reading about Sarah's tomb in Genesis 23, I decided to do a little research (meaning I looked it up on Wikipedia). Here is the link to the site is an interesting read. The heartbreaking thing about this tomb is that it has become a place of violence and murder as the Jews and Muslims have fought over the site for centuries. They are completely missing the point!!! What should be a celebrated site - where people rejoice in the faithfulness of the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel, and people praise God for His faithfulness to bless through world through His chosen people - has become a place of petty human struggle, selfishness, pride and violence. It is a sad situation.

Jesus himself also teaches on our human ability to entirely miss the point of what God is doing in the world in the book of Matthew. In his parable about the wedding feast for the son, the master of the house has prepared an incredible party...amazing food...he is wanting to celebrate and connect with the people he has invited; yet, they are just too busy to care....they have other things to do...some of them even react violently against the host and his servants. It seems that we spend a great deal of time missing the point don't we? We spend our lives ignoring the invitations God has given us to connect with celebrate with honor His son by accepting the invitation to join in with the party...and we are missing the point. We were made to be with God. We were made to walk in step with be connected to Him...and the only way that is ever going to happen is if we have accepted the invitation to put on the wedding clothes and attend the party (i.e. to put on the righteousness that can only come through Jesus Christ and live for him/with him). We don't have anything better to do! There is nothing more important! Don't miss the point.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Genesis 22, Nehemiah 11, Matthew and Acts 21

Unshakable faithfulness stands out to me today. Abraham is told by God to sacrifice his one and only son...the son who is the heir to the huge nation that God has promised will come from Abraham's line...and what does Abe do? Does he scream and argue and beg God to do something else? Does he weep and stall hoping God will change His mind? No. He gets up the next day and he leaves so that he can sacrifice his son. He acts when called on by God. He moves. He trusts that God knows what He is doing. Whether Abraham believes that God will provide another sacrifice, or that God will resurrect his sacrificed son...he believes. He allows his life and actions to be completely shaped by his faith in God!

In the book of Acts we see the same from Paul. Everywhere he goes, prophets and wise church leaders are telling him not to go to Jerusalem. They know that the Jews there have been stirred up against Paul. They know that the Romans are becoming less and less inclined to allow these "trouble making" Christians to cause problems in their empire. They beg Paul to go somewhere else...apparently they start weeping in front of Paul because they feel so strongly that he will be imprisoned or killed. And how does Paul respond? He says, "I will face any imprisonment, pain, suffering and even death for the sake of the Gospel." That is faith!!! That is the answer of a man who trusts God...a man who absolutely believes that God's Will will be done and that there is true life after our deaths in this half-life world. Nothing can stop Paul from living for Christ and preaching to good news, because he knows int he very core of his being that it is all true.

Do you?

Does your life look like the life lived by a person who utterly trusts God?

Are you driven by unshakable faithfulness?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Genesis 21, Nehemiah 10, Matthew and Acts 20

I was really intrigued by the community covenant that the Israelites make in Nehemiah as they work at getting back on track with their relationship with God. They very clearly set out for themselves exactly who they are going to be. They talk about what they will and will not do to honor God with their lives. They talk about the expectations that they have as a community for generosity towards God and others. They lay out a specific plan for what it looks like to be a member of the nation of Israel...what it looks like to live as God's chosen people.

I find this interesting, because I wonder if this is something that members of current day churches in the US are often missing. Sure, there are plenty of lists in the New and Old Testaments that lay out for us what the lives of followers of God should look like, but it seems like we don't ever really hold ourselves to those expectations. We don't really expect much of each other. I work on a church staff...I know what goes on behind the scenes...I am a part of the seems like we spend more and more time each year trying to figure out how to make church attending as easy as possible for people. Finding the perfect service times. Attractive programming. Great childcare. Convenient parking. It all fits perfectly in with a consumer culture, but it doesn't fit so well with real discipleship. It seems like we are making Christianity so easy. Pray this prayer. Go to this class. Attend church. Throw a couple of bucks in the offering plate. And you're a Christian - YAY! That was easy.

Yet every time somebody talks to Jesus about following him, he hits them right between the eyes. Remember Matthew chapter 20? The sons of Zebedee want to be big shots in Jesus' kingdom. What does he say to them, "I really think you can drink from this cup?" He is telling them...this is hard...this requires have to be serious about this...following me is not convenient. I wonder if we need to stop making Christianity so easy for everyone and work on making it a little tougher. I'm not saying we should not be welcoming...that we should not let sinners in the door (Nobody could come in then, right?)...I am saying that we should expect more of ourselves and those we are in community with when it comes to following Jesus. I'm saying that we should start entering into covenant relationships with one another like the Israelites did...hold each other accountable...push each other...EXPECT MORE.

What would a covenant for Christians today look like? What would it require? Thoughts? 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Genesis 20, Nehemiah 9, Matthew and Acts 19

Sorry I have been slacking!!!

Genesis 20 - Do we trust God regardless of the situations that we find ourselves in? (Abraham decided that since he was surrounded by godless heathens, he could lie and hide who he was - do you do that?)

Matthew 19 - Is everything on the table for us? Am I willing to offer anything...leave everything for the sake of God's Kingdom? Are you? (Jesus says, it is worth the sacrifice - do you believe that?)

Nehemiah 9 - Nehemiah sums up the OT very well in this chapter. Major point? God is righteous and deals faithfully with His people, even when His people have rejected Him...even when they have done wicked things. The same God is still God of I believe in that truth? Do I live like it?

Acts 19 - Even the demons in the chapter recognize Paul and understand the power he has received because of his faith in God. Interesting question - are we known to demons...are we feared by the forces of evil because of our utter reliance on God and committment to the Way of Jesus? Or are we left alone because of hypocrisy and spiritual apathy?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Genesis 19, Nehemiah 8, Matthew and Acts 18

There are so many intriguing portions of these texts, that it was really hard to focus in on one thing that really jumped out at me. Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot's wife. His daughters desperate actions - EWWW! Jesus' teaching on temptation and forgiveness. Nehemiah's creative teaching style. So much good stuff!!!

Yet the passage that really stood out in my mind had to do with Jesus' teaching on the humility and innocence of children. His teaching is just as crucial today as it was 2,000 years ago. Human beings, myself included, constantly fight and scratch to prove their worth...better their opponents...achieve their goals regardless of the cost...most of us are on an unending quest to be The Greatest. Yet, Jesus teaching here flies in the face of everything this world teaches us about greatness and power. Jesus says, "You wanna no what true greatness looks like - look at a little child." Innocent. Trusting. Faithful. Pure. Filled with a sense of wonder and imagination. Believing nothing is impossible. These are the incredible traits of children. I see them all the time in my own kids, and it breaks my heart when I see them start to fade away as my kids get older. Dane has transitioned from saying that God has healed his boo-boos, to understanding the regenerative properties of the human body through kid's anatomy books (don't ask). He is starting to transition from playing for fun to competing to win. The innocence is fading...the human pride is growing...and this happens because he has seen it modeled in me. I want that child-like faith. I want to look around each day in wonder at the miracle of creation. I want to think the best of people. I want to unconditionally trust God. Time to get to work at being my Father's child.