Sunday, May 16, 2021

Bad bread

Matthew 16:5-12 / Mark 8:14-21…

We often make category errors in dealing with God. We are thinking about one thing and Jesus is trying to teach us about another. The physical stuff may seem to be more relevant at the moment, but the spiritual stuff should always be given priority so that both the physical and the spiritual are kept in proper proportion.

We always seem to fret about circumstantial things. We lay all the best plans, but the best laid plans are still in God’s hands. To try and control every situation is to be controlled by every situation. Sometimes it is as if God makes sure we forget something so that He can show up to provide something we didn’t even think of.

Jesus shows us again and again that He will meet our needs. What He wants is for our perception of His provision to be focused on the spiritual. Before we say, “Jesus give me food”, we need to be able to say “Jesus give me faith”. Here is the point: If you put your felt needs first you will be in danger of going after false teaching. What good is it to have all things under control, nice and neat and perfectly suited to our imagined situation, all the while our doctrine is leading us to distraction, deception, and destruction?

It is not right to pit the physical against the spiritual. It is not wrong to be a good steward of our natural things. However, it is not right to allow the physical to obscure our aim for the spiritual. It is not wrong to make sure our proportions and priorities are straight.  

It is better to be hungry and holy than to have a full belly and a hard heart. 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Here’s your sign

Matthew 16:1-4 / Mark 8:11-13…

The Pharisees and the Sadducees hated each other, but they hated Jesus worse than that. Hatred makes for strange companions in the fight against truth.  

They asked him to show them a sign from heaven. God had already given plenty of evidence. They had seen Jesus perform many miracles before, but they wanted more. They wanted a sign outside of Him, “from heaven”, as if this would prove the truth that was already evident.  The truth is that belief is not a matter of evidence; it is a matter of the will.

Jesus tells them that they can read the weather, but they can’t read the signs. He had been fulfilling prophecy right before their eyes, but their eyes were willingly blind. Jesus points to His coming resurrection as proof that they weren’t looking for proof. In essence He says there is no reason to show them some other sign, because they had bad motives, and they couldn’t interpret these things anyway.  They were just looking to test Him; they didn’t want to trust Him.

How about you? The Bible gives us many signs along the way, but will we be so blind and dark that we think we don’t need to follow them? Will we then beg for a new sign to redemption road when we are already down on damnation alley? He’s already pointed the way, to both places. 

Friday, May 14, 2021

Fasting and food

Matthew 15:32-39 / Mark 8:1-10…

Jesus was once again showing that He was the answer to our needs, no matter who we are. When He had fed the 5000, it was a Jewish crowd. Yet He was in Gentile country when He feeds the 4000. The grace of God is available to all who humbly believe in Him (cf. Isaiah 57:15).

We have been seeing an interwoven intercession as we have been following along these passages. Jesus draws us to Himself. We go to Jesus on behalf of people; we have tenacity in our trust, a fighting faith (Matthew 15:21-28 / Mark 7:24-30). We bring others to Him in our prayers, hoping He will give them a personal word (Mark 7:31-37). We follow Jesus, and as we walk along we sit at His feet, coming to know our mission experientially (Matthew 15:29-31).

Another facet of this intercession is fasting. The crowds had come to see the healings, and now Jesus had compassion even while they had not been complaining. The people were fasting, and then they were fed. We feel Jesus’ compassion for certain people that are without the spiritual food they need, even before they may realize it. Jesus makes the first move of compassion in our hearts, and we fast as empathy and enter into intercession on behalf of people.

Apparently, the disciples were just not able to make the connection between one miracle (feeding of the 5000) and another. Still, He uses them to meet the needs of the people. It is intimate intercession. The people knew it was Jesus doing the miraculous, but it is the disciples who distribute. Jesus doesn’t just meet their need, He exceeds it with abundance. He does the same for us spiritually.  If we spend time with Him we will be spiritually fed and there will be spiritual food left over for us to share with others

Come to Jesus, He will not send you away hungry. He will provide and you will be satisfied, in such a way as to be hungry for more of Him. 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

At His feet

Matthew 15:29-31…

Jesus shows us His mission, to embody God’s compassion for the lost and broken as He ministers to their needs. He wants to bless them that they would in turn bless God. This was the pattern. Crowds come, bringing people who need a touch from Jesus. He heals them, the crowd wonders in awe at what they see and experience, and they all glorify God.

This is also our mission. No we don’t have that healing power, but we can bring people to the feet of Jesus in prayer. We can embody the grace and mercy of God through deeds done in the name of Christ. There will be times that we see Jesus heal the broken hearted, where we see Him touch the sick and see them recover, where we can feel His compassion for us and for others. This will bring us to the point of passion for the mission. There will be times where God will use us as His instrument and in turn people will glorify God (Matthew 5:16).

We can always come to Christ at the throne of God by prayer, of course (Hebrews 4:15-16). However, the Spirit of God makes the person of Jesus on the move in the earth as well. Therefore, if we will follow Him in our walk we will know where and in what sense He is moving, we will be at His feet. Then we will be able to know this mission experientially. To be at the feet of Jesus is our mission, and then we can fulfill our commission.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

A personal word

Mark 7:31-37…

People wanted to see this deaf and speech impaired man healed. Jesus agrees to help, but seems to go about things in a rather unusual way. He performs six actions that speak to us before He speaks the word of healing to the man.

It was personal (taking him aside), practical (he put his fingers into his ears… after spitting…touched his tongue), and prayerful (looking up to heaven…he sighed).

When we are bringing someone before God in prayer, we have to be willing to let Him do things His way. It is personal, tailored to meet more than just the needs we see, or think. Jesus wants to work on the whole person. He wants to help them, but He wants more than that. He wants to communicate with them, to let them see just how much He cares. And not just in general, but individually, intimately. He wants to be their God. He wants to speak a word to them.

That is what they need, for Jesus to become real to them, as He is to us. He must touch our spiritually deaf ears to open them up. He must touch our stuttering tongues if we are to be released. He must speak the word if we are to hear and to speak His truth.

Whenever you intercede on behalf of someone, remember, Jesus does all things well. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Scrapping for scraps

Matthew 15:21-28 / Mark 7:24-30…

Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Paul, and all the great people of prayer throughout history have experientially known the truth that sometimes God makes us fight for our blessings. He wants us to prevail in prayer, but He insists we persevere.

This woman was not being insulted by Jesus. He was drawing out her faith. Her answer is wonderful. She had humility with passionate hunger, instead of resentment and anger about her situation. She only knew that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah who came to heal people, and for some reason He was in her town. Christ went into Gentile territory and did this miracle for a Gentile woman who had greater faith than the Jews who were rejecting Jesus.

She had a fighting faith. She had to fight the doubts about why Jesus would want to help her, a Gentile. She had to fight the crowd; it would be very hard to get them to hear her. But imagine having to fight through all that and then to have Jesus act with seeming indifference (But he did not answer her a word). She had to fight the urge to give up, listening to Jesus tell His disciples she wasn’t worth the trouble (I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel), then getting on her knees and Jesus still not seeming to want to help her (It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs).

This woman can teach us a lot about prevailing in prayer. She knew that faith was obediently seeking for the Master, despite a seeming initial rejection of her request. We are not ready to handle every blessing God has for us until we are ready to wrestle and rest at the same time. Jesus wants us to draw near, and it will be worth it, but what it takes is humility, persistence, and worship. We have to be able to say, “I’ll take the scraps if they come from your table!” Just one crumb from the Bread of Life is all we need.

Would you go the distance for someone’s deliverance if Jesus made you fight for it? 

Monday, May 10, 2021

The subtle error of standards

Matthew 15:12-20 / Mark 7:17-23…

The Pharisees added many man-made laws to surround God’s Law. The logic was that if one could keep from violating the added tradition, then one would be kept from violating the Law. But Jesus didn’t validate these traditions, because their laws set up a barrier between God and man. They stopped people from hearing the Word of God and being convicted of their sin.

It was thought that by adding a layer to the Law, it would help people keep it. Instead it kept people from it. By raising the standards, it actually lowered the bar. The traditions were a trap, they kept people thinking that they were able to meet the true standards, and they kept people from feeling the sting of missing the real mark. The Law shows us that no one can actually meet God’s standard, not that we need to add a “higher standard” so that people can rise above it. The Law doesn’t give life, it points to the only one who can.

These higher standards actually set lower standards, and it creates self-righteous people who think all is well with their soul.  Many do not see Him because they meet some other standard. Like church attendance, giving offerings, dress codes, praying, or even pastoring. They believe that people can follow the rules and so therefore they don’t actually follow Christ.

It can also make hard hearted libertines with their smug sincerity; people who think that following their own heart is enough. People will read passages on heart based religion and think it means sincerity, instead of spirituality, which can only be given by God. Sincerity is no substitute for truth, and the truth is that we need new hearts.

The true path to Jesus leads us to be broken by the Law, so that we will humbly come to realize that we cannot possibly meet the standards given by God, and so we must trust in Christ. No, the sting of the Law must be felt or our feelings will lead us away from God and into the religion of standards and sincerity.  When we lower the standard by adding to the Word of God, the precepts we keep are the road to perdition. Profane behavior is a product of the heart.

No law can make men free from themselves. Only the gospel has that power.  

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Outside religion

Matthew 15:10-11 / Mark 7:14-16…

Is Jesus saying that those things that we think are bad are not actually bad, and that it doesn’t matter what we put into our bodies and our minds? No, what He is saying is that it is the heart that makes us want bad things in the first place. It is moral uncleanness that defiles a person, not ceremonial uncleanness. The traditions of the Pharisees had no effect on removing the stains of the heart. Some of the stuff that we want is indeed bad and bad for us, but wanting that stuff only shows what is on the inside already.

Jesus is talking about our spiritual health, not our physical wellness. He is saying not to worry so much about the customs and traditions and all that but to be concerned instead about what is going on inside you. Food and drink are not what spiritually defiles you (Romans 14:17). Yes bad food can defile your health but that isn’t what Jesus is talking about here. Washing the outside won’t clean the inside. Jesus is telling them that a lot of people with “good clean religion” are not as pious as they may believe.

Now Jesus isn’t telling you that you can play with fire and not be burned (Proverbs 6:27-28 / 1 Corinthians 15:33). It matters very much what we put into our bodies, and into our spirits (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Watch what you eat, physically and most important, spiritually (Galatians 6:8). What He is telling you is to work on your inside first (Matthew 23:26).   

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Wasted worship

Matthew 15:1-9 / Mark 7:1-13…

The religion of the Pharisees makes people hypocritical. A hypocrite is one who pretends to be something that he is not. Many times hypocrites are self-deceived as to this. The Pharisees gave the appearance of holiness, but it was actually haughtiness. It wasn’t humility before God it was simply ritual before man.

The real question with all religious ritual, practice and doctrine is, “Is it of God or of man?” The answer is if it conforms to God’s Word. Jesus said that they were going through motions but their hearts were far removed from God. They compounded the error by teaching these man-made precepts as divine doctrine. These problems were serious enough to render their worship vain. We must remember that to obey is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22).

Worship must be in spirit; internally real and not outwardly by ritual alone (cf. Philippians 3:3). Worship must be in truth; not just a projection of our sincerity, or a reflection of culture, but firmly based on the truth of God revealed in the Bible (cf. 1 John 4:5-6).

Many today, as a pretense of honoring God, add to God’s Word. They insist on certain ceremonies and practices that are supposed to give us a deeper devotion, yet Paul says otherwise (Colossians 2:16-23). We can look like good Christians on the outside. We can have a church relationship, follow the church rules, and use the right church words. We can say we love Jesus, but our hearts may be far from Him. God wants us to be real. A humble heart will lead to true holiness, which will work but not pretend that it is something it is not. 

Friday, May 07, 2021

The crossroads

John 6:60-71…

Do you take offense at this? Jesus wasn’t watered down, simply trying to please the people; He was pleasing His Father and proving He was the Messiah. He knew that some would not believe, and that is why He was telling them that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. Many people start out in the Christian life just fine for a season, but then they drop out of sight and nobody seems to know what happened to them. Oh yes, we know where they live and work and play, but they don’t seem to be following Jesus, and are making excuses when we press them on the issue. They won’t submit to the fact that the Triumphal Procession (2 Corinthians 2:14-16) might include physical, mental, financial problems on account of Christ, and they walk the other way. They couldn’t handle difficult doctrine and they have stopped hearing Jesus. Oh sure, they might come and see Him at times, but it is on their own agenda, in their comfort zone, at their own convenience. Following Him came with a price that they were unwilling to pay.

Do you want to go away as well? Who are we listening to? We see here that for most it is the false teaching of the world (Mark 4:18-19 / 1 John 2:16), the flesh (Mark 4:16-17 / 1 Peter 2:11), and the devil (Mark 4:15 / 1 Peter 5:8) that are doing the talking and being listened to. The world feeds it, the devil enflames it, the flesh indulges it. People follow their feelings, away from Jesus.

We have believed…And yet one of you is a devil. In the walk with Jesus, you can’t really know that “we will follow”, it must be that you say “I” will follow, because you can only account for yourself. Many who are following now and who may even seem to be closer to Jesus than you, many of these may not be there at the end. The loss of loved ones, the knowledge that personal relationships may and will suffer is the one place where most “disciples” put down their cross and walk away from Jesus. Will personal relationships cause you to walk away from the one personal relationship that matters above all others (Matthew 10:37 / Luke 14:26)?

Are you following Him? Will problems, persecution, pain, poverty, prison, or personal relationships cause you to go away? Will you stay with Jesus or be like Judas? What happens at the crossroad proves if you’re real.  

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Soul food

John 6:41-59…

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. They didn’t understand what Jesus was really saying because their hearts weren’t open. These things are not perceptible by reason, it takes revelation.

And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. Jesus reiterates that He is indeed the bread of life. He contrasts this with the manna of Moses’ day, and how all those who ate of it were now deceased. He confounds the resisters once again by telling them that He is to be eaten, and that eating and drinking Him leads to eternal life.   

How can this man give us his flesh to eat? He is speaking in both physical and spiritual terms. In the physical sense, Jesus is referring to His life and work. The eating and drinking refer to the spiritual aspect of our acceptance of Him and His work. He had referred to Himself before as living water (John 4:10). The point is that whoever believes has eternal life.

For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. The flesh is His sinless life, which makes His blood, in other words His death, the atonement for our sin. If you do not receive His sinless life and believe in His atoning death you will not experience the eternal life He is speaking of. But for those who do believe, who do eat and drink of Jesus, who make Him the substance and sustenance of their lives, they will know that whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.

Jesus, the bread of life, is the only true food for the soul.

The only other alternative is devil’s food cake.

What’s on your menu for today?

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

More than manna

John 6:22-40…

You have seen me and yet do not believe. These people were chasing Jesus because they wanted results. Yet Jesus knew they were aiming at the wrong targets. They were looking for Him to give them bread; He wanted them to look at Him as bread.

It is the same with us. We look for Jesus to provide our needs, but Jesus wants us to look at Him as our need. He will provide for us, but He wants us to have the right mindset about it all. We have to ask the right questions, but we must also have the right applications.

It takes a miraculous perception: everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life. This means more than an escape from hell (John 17:3).

It comes by a miraculous presentation: All that the Father gives me will come to me. The Father gives us to Jesus as a treasure. Most people are trying to do everything for God, instead of letting God be everything to them.

It brings a miraculous presence: whoever comes to me I will never cast out. Jesus never lets go of us. We are supposed to work, not to get accepted, but because we are accepted. 

It ensures a miraculous protection: I should lose nothing of all that he has given me. Jesus will not lose any of His treasure; He even protects us from ourselves. 

It is part of a miraculous plan: this is the will of him who sent me… the will of my Father. People that follow their own will are missing the real prize (Philippians 3:8-14).

It culminates in a miraculous promotion: I will raise him up on the last day. Jesus will bring us with Him into eternity. In Christ we are significant, sufficient, and secure (cf. Ephesians 1:3-9).

Jesus means more than manna. He is trying to get us to live for today by having an eye for tomorrow. His is the voice of vision. The question is how are you seeing Him?

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Touching the Master

Matthew 14:34-36 / Mark 6:53-56…

These people recognized who Jesus was. They knew He was powerful, and they knew He was compassionate. They also recognized that they had needs, needs only He could meet.

So they ran to Jesus and for Jesus. They ran to tell others and they ran to catch Him wherever He went to. They finally had something worth chasing.

Then they reached out for Him. Some of these people knew who He was, but many still needed a personal encounter. You can know who Jesus is, but you must have a personal encounter to actually know Him as He is.

Having taken all these steps, they received – Jesus never failed any miracle that He attempted. There were no incurable diseases, cases, or problems that Jesus couldn’t and didn’t deal with (Acts 10:38). In the presence of Jesus is where change happens. But if they did not recognize, run to, and reach out for Him, it was because they did not believe, and so they were not healed. You have to follow along.

Now Jesus isn’t trying to get you to be busy. He isn’t commanding us to follow Him just so that we will lose all our energy. Jesus is not looking to drain you; He is looking to develop you (John 12:26). You lose your life, you stop chasing things that don’t matter, and start reorienting your life to be moving with Him. Then you will have His energy (1 Corinthians 15:10 / Galatians 2:20 / Philippians 2:12-13 / Colossians 1:27-29).

He can be touched; the question is, will we reach out and try (Hebrews 4:14-16)?

Monday, May 03, 2021

Focus on Jesus, not on Peter

Matthew 14:22-33 / Mark 6:45-52 / John 6:16-21…

Don’t take this passage and focus on what Peter could have done, or what you think we can do, focus on Jesus and what He is doing and has done. Moses (Exodus 14), Joshua (Joshua 3:14-17), Elijah (2 Kings 2:8), and Elisha (2 Kings 2:13-14) were able to part the waters, but Jesus could walk right on top of them, a testimony to His divinity (Job 9:8). This is not about our faith giving us water walking ability but our faith in a water walking God.

Jesus isn’t calling us to walk on the water; He is calling us to Himself. Sometimes we can seem to do the impossible, but our faith, our trust must finally be in Him alone, for only He cannot fail. I’m not saying don’t attempt great things, I’m saying DO attempt great things, but even if we fail to walk on water, Jesus won’t. Yes, use what God has given you, yes, develop whatever skills you can and use them for the glory of God. Enjoy the good graces that have been bestowed upon you. But walking on water is not our role, and it is not some matter of stirring up our faith so that we can. It is about calling on Jesus who did and who can.

Peter called out to Jesus twice. Like him, we start out by saying, “God help me to rise above my stormy circumstances”, but then sometimes we need to cry out “Lord, save me from the storm, I can’t do it”. Peter cried out, and the Lord saved him. It is not the strength of our faith, but the power of God that saves us.

You don’t have to walk on water, you just walk by faith, and if you do, the waves may get high and the wind might get strong but you will never sink without being able to call on Christ, who will never leave us nor forsake us.  We walk by faith, not by sight, and we walk by the Spirit, not by the flesh. It is not that Jesus gives us the power to save ourselves; it is that Jesus is the power to save us, and He does save us. That is the essence of the gospel message.   

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Grasping for God

Matthew 14:13-21 / Mark 6:30-44 / Luke 9:10-17 / John 6:1-15…

The setting to this passage is important. John the Baptist was beheaded, and so things were getting tough. Jesus had been speaking in parables, healing and delivering people. Now He was going to widen the scope in displaying His power. He was not just the King of the Jews, but Lord over all creation (Colossians 1:16-17 / Hebrews 1:2-3). Jesus was extending His reach, in public. Yes, His reach was infinite, but His current grasp was focused on individuals. Now He would extend that public reach to grasp out groups for the display of His glory. 

The disciples were part of the grasp, and the hand that would reach out. Jesus had given them a measure of power and sent them out. They came back wore out. He tells them to find rest, yet suddenly He asks them to go beyond the power He had given before and to reach out for more than they had previously known. 

He does the same with us. He calls on us to reach out further than we have. Often, like the disciples, we come with the same report; we don’t have the power, or the provision. But it is because we don’t have the proper person in mind. We think of ourselves or the size of the situation, but Jesus calls us to think of Him, and to bring the thing His way.

We feel like we have no provision, but the provision is always Jesus Himself. He is what we are to feed others on, whether or not we have physical bread. He is the True Bread, and if people eat of Him, they will be satisfied. He will always bring enough to the table, no matter how large the crowd or how little the means.

Jesus gives to us so that we might give to the people. He wants to amaze us, not for us to amaze others. Jesus wants us to be portraits of His grace, not trophies of our own greatness. Knowing that, will you extend the hand and grasp what God is reaching for? 

Saturday, May 01, 2021

A supper of sin

Matthew 14:3-12 / Mark 6:17-29…

Like Herod, those with a hardened heart might be temporarily kept in check by their fascination with faithful people and by fearing what might happen. However, it will only be a matter of time before the idol factory of their soul invents some justification for what it wants. Some try and maintain some sense of dignity about it all, but underneath are the same dirty deeds. They add sin upon sin, and yet are deceived into thinking that they are morally right for adhering to some other principle when it suits their seared conscience. You know the type; “I may do this, but I would never do that.”  

Herod’s idol was lust. It is the reason he had taken his brother’s wife unlawfully, and the reason he had John imprisoned, because the man of God called him out on account of it. The object of lust can change in a moment, because lust is “I want it now”. Now, the idol in his heart reared up and we see him succumb to the ministrations of his own wife’s daughter. Herod’s wife was herself a wicked soul, allowing her daughter to be shamed, and using the opportunity to manipulate Herod for her own will.

Sin multiplies faster than anything on earth. It will trick you into new temptations all your life long if you let it. And it will hurt others, not just you. Allowing one sin is permission for all to enter in. Sin will always take you further than you want to go, for longer than you want to stay, and it will cost you more than you can pay. You wind up on the not-so-merry-go-round of misery and manipulation. It is a progression, from enticed, to entrapped, to enslaved (James 1:14-15). Sin will make you sin more, and you’ll think you have to sin just to stop from hurting the ones you didn’t mean to. At some point, you are just going to have to confess and repent, because you can’t do wrong to get a chance to do right.

You can hide away for now, but be sure your sin will find you out (Numbers 32:23). It may just be that something or someone else will put you in the position where the poison in your soul is served up on a platter.