As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Matthew 24:3
Be diligently ready; Stay spiritually awake.
False prophets are coming in His namesake.
Remain ever alert! Do not be led astray.
Times will be trying leading up to that day.
Wars and rumors throughout the land,
It’s not the end yet, but it’s close at hand.
Nation against nation, famine, earthquakes.
Satan’s last stand; he knows what’s at stake.
Lawlessness abounding, love growing cold;
It’s not time to cower, It’s time to be bold.
Flee to the mountains, no time to look back.
Intense tribulation, of time, you’ll lose track.
Great signs and wonders false prophets display.
But do not believe it; don’t be led astray.
You’ll know it for sure when the Son of Man comes.
An incredible sight where He hails from.
Immediately after, the sun will go dark.
The heavens shaken; the contrast stark.
From clouds of heaven, the Son of Man appears.
All look upon it, shaking in fear.
Next come the angels with a loud trumpet sound;
all the elect, they gather around.
When it will happen, only the Father knows,
but when you see all these things, you’ll know it is close.
The final admonition: since we don’t know the time,
be always expecting to meet the Divine.
Challenge: Read Jesus’s account of end times from Matthew 24. What surprises you? What are your thoughts?
The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. John 10:3b-4
We are bombarded by messages. How do we hear and listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd over all the others? We NEED to hear the Shepherd’s voice. It is the only voice that leads to truth and life.
It is hard to grow up in this crazy social media world. The voices and messages are everywhere, and they are often louder than the Shepherd’s voice; they are laced with captivating hooks; they are disguised as intelligent voices and quick fixes; they sound smart and savvy and sexy. But they lead to utter destruction. The result is anxiety that is not from God; seeking validation from every voice except the ONE that is light and life.
How can we keep from being buried under Satan’s voices blasting so loud we can’t hear the sweet sound of the Good Shepherd?
Satan’s voice is slowly killing us while we continue to play the game. We are deceived and we in turn deceive. It is madness!
One thing we can do immediately is to begin to recognize whose voice we are hearing and heeding. We can tell by the tone and the impact on us.
God’s voice stills, leads, restores, enlightens, encourages, comforts, uplifts, calms, and convicts.
Satan’s voice rushes, pushes, frightens, confuses, discourages, worries, compares, obsesses, and condemns. Who needs it!
Challenge: Listen to the voices you hear as you go through the day. Are they in the “God’s voice” or “Satan’s voice” category? Any time you hear words not from God, immediately recognize it and turn the “channel”. Tune your ears to the Good Shepherd’s voice.
And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” John 9:2
Whose sin? they ask; who made him blind?
Someone caused this. Blame to find.
I want you to see purpose. You are stuck on cause.
Instead of opportunity, you look for flaws.
Neither sinned. That isn’t the lead story.
Through this man, you’ll see God’s glory.
Watch what my presence in a life can do.
It’s not just for him; it’s also for you.
Mud from saliva on his eyes anointed.
Now wash in the pool, over there He pointed.
A step of faith the blind man takes.
From his eyes, sight awakes.
Who fixed you? Who made you see?
The man called Jesus; He healed me.
He doesn’t understand much. His eyes have been closed.
Only the name of the healer he knows.
That man is not from God they say.
They are focused only on the healing day.
How can this happen? Again, they ask.
More time to ponder who performed such a task.
With each attack, the man’s faith grows.
He is starting to see what before he didn’t know.
Again, they question how it could be.
I only know I was blind, but now I see.
Calling him a sinner, they cast him out for good.
But Jesus finds him; I suspect he knew Jesus would.
Do you believe in the Son of Man?
Who is He that before Him I may stand?
You have seen Him. It is I speaking to you.
Lord, I believe! Worship ensues.
The Messiah He comes to open our eyes.
He wants us to see fully; to change our lives.
Challenge: Read this story in John 9:1-41.
Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come… John 7:6a
You can’t be famous if you hide like this! If you’re so great, prove it to the world, Jesus’s skeptical brothers prod Him to go to Judea to the masses.
The parents of Jesus received incredible promises about their son prior to His birth. No doubt they also saw incredible hints of who He was as He was growing up. He had a calling, and He was exceptional. How would parents today respond? Enroll Him immediately in a highly selective & competitive gifted program? Hire private trainers to hone His skills? Contact the best PR firm to craft His image? Reach out to the acclaimed consultant? Ensure the world knows just how special He is.
But this isn’t at all how Jesus lived. His childhood was uneventful. He doesn't rush things. He spends quality time with people. He retreats to be alone and pray. He withdraws from attention and praise. He is patient and purposeful.
We live in a world of immediacy. Instant food. Instant communications. Next-day Amazon delivery. Instant gratification. And we expect the same from God, but that isn’t how He works. God gives us hopes, dreams, and passions, but He rarely gives us a glimpse into His timing. In the waiting, we begin to question and doubt. We begin to look to others instead of God, both for advice and comparison. We start to orchestrate things on our own. And before we know it, we are on a path waaaaay off course.
God’s timing is perfect and purposeful. The waiting tests us. The waiting prepares us. The waiting grows us. The waiting humbles us. We need our wilderness time to fulfill our calling. The wait helps us to face what is coming that only God can now see. The sooner we come to peace with this truth, the sooner we will have peace. We don’t stop dreaming, rather we lean into the places and roles God puts us in, and instead of grumbling, we make sure we learn everything we can in them. We don’t waste one minute of our precious God-ordained waiting time.
Questions: Are there things you have been waiting on for a long time? Do you try to force things to happen? Has it ever backfired? How can you know when something is God’s timing?
And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! Luke 17:1
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” The first human question recorded in the Bible (Genesis 4:9). Sin is solely a personal and individual decision. Or is it?
Eve took the bite of the fruit with Adam standing right next to her. Her partner. Her husband. The one to whom God actually gave the instructions not to eat. Why didn’t he stop her? And not only did he not stop her, he grabbed the fruit from Eve’s extended hand and also took a bite.
While we don’t make another person’s decision for them to sin, our influence is more significant than we may think. And Jesus takes this very seriously. The finality of judgment and eternity are real – Jesus is stern about causing another to stumble.
We live in a fallen world. Yes, temptations to sin will surely come, Jesus acknowledges this. But woe to the one through whom they come.
“Pay attention to yourselves!” Jesus says. Temptations are everywhere; don’t add to it. Don’t make it even harder on others.
Do we encourage those lies? Do we cause another to gossip? Do we drag friends into our sinful endeavors? Do we jump on the comparison and criticizing bandwagon when a friend confides about a disagreement with another? Do we promote books, movies, music that inspire sinful behavior, all tacitly condoning it? Are we a stumbling block to those weaker in certain areas?
Jesus says don’t do it! In fact, He says it would be better to have a huge weight hung around your neck and be cast in the sea (ummm…not fun!) than to be the cause of temptation that leads to a brother or sister in Christ sinning. Our actions impact more than just ourselves!
Questions: Are you typically a source of encouragement for your friends or a cause for their stumbling? Are you aware of your impact on others?
It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your younger brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found. Luke 15:32
The lost son is home. The father rejoices. But unfortunately, that isn’t the end of the story. Back home the older son is the one seething with anger, refusing to go to the celebration for his brother. After all, he stayed home, worked, obeyed, did all the things he was “supposed” to do. He is livid that his wayward brother is getting a party.
We don’t know the joy of being found unless we first know we are lost. The older brother didn’t know how spiritually sick he was. The religious leaders surrounding Jesus thought they were quite healthy as well.
This is a recurring theme from Jesus. He says, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Are the Pharisees righteous because they practically live at the synagogue? Is the older brother righteous because he stayed home and worked for his dad? They certainly think so.
If we think we can earn righteousness, Jesus isn’t for us. Jesus can only save a sinner who knows he is a sinner. This is a big deal.
The older brother at home was just as far from God all along. Staying out of trouble and going through religious motions don’t necessarily draw one to God. Instead, he grew more bitter and further from God as he relied on his own works.
We can’t be saved if we don’t recognize we need saving. Often it is those of us who grow up in a Christian home that has the hardest time seeing it. We have a tendency to be the older brother at home going through the motions, but never realizing the riches and love of our Father.
Do you know you are a sinner in need of a Savior? If we don’t know we need Him, we won’t earnestly seek Him.
Question: Have you truly recognized your need for a Savior? Ask God to open your eyes to how lost you are without Him.
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons…” Luke 15:11
Sheep. Coins. Blank stares. “Still not with me?” Jesus may be thinking. Ok, let’s bring it a bit closer to home. He continues with another parable…
A man’s younger son asked for his share of the inheritance, leaves home, and ultimately squanders it all on sinful living, finding himself starving in a pigpen. He hits rock bottom. He knows he has traded what was best for what only brought sorrow and suffering. The enticing world let him down and he knows it is all his doing. He longs to go home to his father.
As he begins the long shameful walk back home, he rehearses his speech in his head. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” Over and over he practices what he will say. He knows it is a long shot. He has brought disgrace to his family and he imagines his father’s anger when he learns how badly he screwed up his life and wasted all his father had given him.
But instead, His father is waiting. In fact, he has been watching and waiting for this day for a long time. His father recognizes him from afar and runs to him. He wraps him in the best robe, places a family ring on his finger and shoes on his weary feet. The best calf is prepared for a feast. His son was dead and is now alive; he was lost and now is found. Pure joy…time for a party!
THIS is God’s grace. He loves us when we are most unlovable. He waits for us to come home. When we deserve punishment and a lowly position at best, He lavishes His love and riches on us. He celebrates. He makes sure everyone knows WE. ARE. HIS.
Once we know we are utterly lost without Him, we have everything we need.
Questions: Have you ever experienced grace in your life like the lost son in the story? If so, how did it change you?
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-2
The Pharisees and scribes -- doing everything they can to avoid the unclean, sick, sinners -- are up to their usual grumbling about Jesus spending time with just these people. Time for another parable, boys…
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the other ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?”
My first thought? ME! That’s who! Why would you leave 99 all alone in the open field to search for the one who stubbornly wandered off? It’s a numbers game. Stick with the 99. (Thank goodness God is God, and I am not.)
But Jesus continues, “REJOICE with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
Similarly, Jesus tells of a woman that REJOICED after finding her one lost coin.
THIS is who God is. He pursues us. He searches for us. He wants us to come back to Him when we have wandered. And when we do, He doesn’t scold us and condemn us for our wandering lost selves, He rejoices!
If you feel lost or burdened for someone who is lost, keep praying. Know that God loves you; loves them. God is still pursuing. And God stands waiting to rejoice and celebrate in the reunion.
Questions: Do you feel lost? Is someone you love lost? How can you find peace and assurance in God’s pursuit?
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor… Luke 14:7
To the guests at a dinner party of religious elites, Jesus tells them not to sit down at a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited, and you will be left in shame to take the only remaining seat – the lowest place. Instead, go and sit in the lowest place. Then the host may say, “Friend, move up higher,” and you will be honored. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” The host makes the seating arrangements.
The host leans in, likely smirking, thinking to himself, ”Whew, not about me at least.” Until…Jesus turns to the host with a word. And to you, don’t just invite friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. Don’t only associate with people who can advance your personal agenda or give you something in return. Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind…those who can’t repay you. In this, you will be blessed.
Why do we so easily jump on board the worldly train when we know better? Just because “everyone else” is doing something doesn’t make it right or necessary. In fact, we are flat out told that we are going to live lives contrary to the culture around us. But yet, we follow. It’s like we just don’t quite believe that God is enough and that our hands and feet doing the work He calls us to do is enough. We just have to boost it a bit; give God a little hand here and there. Make that connection. Sit in that seat. Elevate our name (all for the sake of Jesus, of course, we tell ourselves).
We are called to share our faith and make disciples, no doubt. God has gifted us with passion, purpose and good work. But I think of the people I admire the most, starting with Jesus, and they never rely on self-promotion, posturing for seats of honor, or limiting their guest list to those who could elevate their personal status. They are completely confident in the power of God and the mission He has given them.
Challenge: Pray for God to give you wisdom and discernment to know the difference between doing your jobs in the places you have been called and self-promotion. Pray for God to show you where you might be trying to elevate your name instead of His.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Luke 14:11
Self-Promotion for Dummies.
Self-Promotion for Introverts.
Self-Promotion for Women.
Self-Promotion for the Creative Person.
Why Self-Promotion is the Key to Success.
How to Master the Delicate Art of Self-Promotion.
The Art of Tactful Self-Promotion.
How to Self-Promote without Being a Jerk.
These are some of my favorite titles from a quick ”self-promotion” Amazon search. The world screams at us to promote ourselves. “If you don’t do it, no one else will.” Or, “Success is 1% perspiration and 99% self-promotion.” And, “You need to build a brand; build a following.”
Writer Leslie Ludy reflects, “It’s easy to justify self-promotion because it often seems so wise and logical. After all, the more noticed and popular we become, the better Christian witnesses we will be, right? But surprisingly, that’s not God’s pattern at all.”
Dining at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, Jesus unassumingly observes the interaction buzzing around him. The vying, the posturing, the subtle and not so subtle strategies. “You see, a great seat can not only reflect social standing but can also create it,” is the unspoken motto they subscribe to.
Jesus has a few things to say about self-promotion. While the room is still humming with whispers, Jesus begins to speak. Almost immediately the room is silent, all eyes on Him.
To be continued…
Questions: Where do you feel pressure to promote yourself? How do you think self-promotion can get us in trouble? What are some of the potential pitfalls?
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come…” Matthew 22:2-3
the wedding day is here.
Call all the guests
from far and near.
No interest in attending,
other things more urgent;
declining the invitation,
even killing the servant.
Go invite others,
as many as you can.
The feast will continue,
I’ve got another plan.
Oh, but look at that man,
the one in the wing.
He’s here at the feast,
but he’s mocking the king.
Out he must go,
no room for him here.
Weeping he’ll do;
an eternity in fear.
You see, all are invited,
but not all say yes.
What about you?
Come, time to get dressed.
Put on humility,
love and submission.
Step into freedom and grace,
you’ve been given permission.
For all are welcome;
all have a choice:
eternally suffer or
Challenge: Read this story in Matthew 22:1-14.
When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us,” then he will answer you, “I do not know where you come from.” Luke 13:25
“Lord, open to us,” those outside the narrow door cry as they knock. “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets,” they plead.
“I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!” Jesus responds.
Oh, they knew who Jesus was. They even ate with Him, listened to Him teach, and likely saw Him heal many. But they didn’t KNOW Jesus. They were part of the “many.” The onlookers. The ones who enjoyed the wide worldly door. The ones who thought they could wait to repent; wait to follow wholeheartedly until it was a bit more convenient.
And while for now, the narrow door is open wide as God eagerly waits for everyone to strive for it, a time will come when the door is shut. Forever. Many will seek to enter and will not be able.
At judgment day, everyone will know the truth. But it will be too late once the door is locked. J.C. Ryle says, “Hell is truth known too late.” We strive and strive for all the wrong things. The narrow gate – Jesus alone – is what our striving should be about.
Strive for the narrow door. Strive for the FREE (to you) gift of entrance through the blood of Jesus; for saying, “Yes, Jesus. You are my Savior. You are the Lord of my life. You are the ONLY way, truth, and life. I don’t want to just know about You, I want to KNOW YOU. I surrender.”
A day will come when the choice will no longer be available. Drop everything that is keeping you from squeezing through the narrow gate, and with a light load of only the work of Jesus, enter.
Question: Where are you striving? Are you or a loved one waiting for true repentance and whole-hearted surrender to be a tad more convenient?
He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Luke 13:22-23
“Will those who are saved be few?” A question from among the following crowd. Assessing the numbers; assessing the odds.
Jesus flips it back on them, essentially saying, “You wonder if there will be few? What about you?” We are often overly concerned with the business of everyone else without looking within.
Jesus doesn’t answer the question directly, but instead gives some advice on how to be saved: “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”
Strive to enter. Strive implies a great deal of agonizing effort. But it is a striving effort toward the narrow door. A door where our good works for show won’t fit; our accomplishments won’t fit; our appearance on the outside won’t fit; our ancestry won’t fit; our possessions won’t fit.
“For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able,” Jesus continues.
Sin and society put many obstacles and detour signs in front of the narrow gate. If we are following the crowd, we might be running with the “many.” We might be on the wrong path. The crowd may be distracting us from the road that leads through the narrow door.
It takes an intentional striving effort to go against the cultural masses. God doesn’t share His throne. Partial obedience – partial surrender – isn’t obedience or surrender. We are to love God with our WHOLE heart, our WHOLE mind, our WHOLE soul. Half-hearted isn’t striving.
Questions: What do you think the entrance to the narrow gate looks like? Why do you think it is narrow? Why does it require striving for? What does this type of striving look like?
If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light. Luke 11: 36
“Let there be light,” God speaks.
The world is dominated by dark and light.
Time is separated by day and night.
Be careful the filter for what is light and what is a shiny imposter.
The eye is a lamp unto the body.
Be careful little eyes what you see.
Everything bright and attractive and enticing isn’t light.
Don’t mistake darkness for light.
For even Satan masquerades as an angel of light.
When we think we have light, we might be in a dangerous place.
Here is where to find true light:
God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light for our path.
In Christ alone is life; the light of all mankind.
Jesus is the light.
The light came into the world.
But the people loved darkness instead because their deeds were evil.
What do you only do in the dark?
Open your eyes to the light.
The Jewish people were surrounded by light.
But they didn’t see the light; they missed the light.
See the light.
Receive the light.
Actively and intentionally live in the light.
Then bravely, boldly, unashamedly shine the light.
Don’t hide it, and don’t hide from it.
Lift it high for all to see.
Questions: Are you chasing after the light? How can God’s light be your guide? How can you shine your light – sourced from God’s power – to those you come in contact with?
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none…” Matthew 12:43
Jesus tells a story about an unclean spirit that leaves a person. Good news, right?
Unable to find rest, the spirit returns to find it empty, swept, and put in order. Still good, right?
It brings with it seven other spirits even more evil than itself to dwell there, leaving the state of the person even worse than the first. Wait, what?
Jesus goes on to say so also it will be with this evil generation.
Isn’t it a good thing to get rid of evil? Isn’t it good to have a clean “house”…empty, swept, and put in order? We spent a lot of time breaking these habits and cleaning up our mistakes, after all. Shouldn’t that count for something? Or at least NOT be an invitation for more evil?
The truth is, when we leave something empty it becomes ripe territory to be filled. And if we don’t fill it with Jesus, the devil is happily waiting to find some temporary things to take His place.
Do we do as much filling as emptying? Deep abiding in God. Prayer. Meditation on His Word.
Jesus spent His days emptying Himself, always teaching, healing, mentoring. But He also constantly fills Himself. Jesus -- God in the flesh -- regularly gets quiet time alone to pray and talk to His Father. No mission could be more important than His, and He always found time to get filled.
Lord, empty me of me…both in the worldly things I cling to and in lovingly serving others…but don’t leave me empty. Fill me with Your power, Your peace, Your wisdom, Your discernment, Your love. Fill me with YOU.
Questions: What needs to be emptied in your life? How can you make sure it is filled with the goodness of God?
And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. Luke 10:39-40a
Jesus enters the house. I can’t believe He is here. Will He notice those leak stains on our ceiling? Look at all the people who came with Him…it is going to be so hot in here. I should have made tea instead of coffee.
I’m anxious. My mind wanders, pondering my deficiencies as a hostess.
Meanwhile, everyone else is enthralled by Jesus. I wonder what He is even talking about. I try to focus; to clear my mind and just listen. That lasts about 2.5 seconds. My mind goes to the trash bag left at the back door. If I sneak out quickly, I can remove it before anyone notices.
What have I missed? They are all listening and even laughing together. They are filled with joy and peace while I am a mess. This isn’t right. I’M THE ONE WHO INVITED HIM. I should be the one filled with joy and peace.
Two hours pass I have not really heard Jesus at all. I’ve been eagerly waiting to meet with Jesus, and I missed it all. My heart breaks. And now He is getting up to leave. What is wrong with me?
I lean against the doorframe as they exit one by one. Tired. Unfulfilled.
Jesus walks up to me and stops for what feels like an eternity. He gazes deep into my eyes and says, “You are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.” It isn’t judgmental or cruel; quite the contrary…it is compassionate and calm. The opposite of my countenance.
His words cycle on repeat in my mind. Yes, I did everything but the ONE THING that was necessary; the one thing that needed to be done. To sit at the feet of my Savior and just be present; just listen; just soak in His glory. Never again, I vow.
Questions: Are you often so distracted with minor things that you miss the big things; miss Jesus’s presence and work in your life? How can you make an effort to be more focused on and present with others?
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. Luke 10:38
Do you ever picture yourself in the story of Jesus’s visit with Mary and Martha? Sadly, I can envision my “Martha-ness” too well…
“Sam, kids, Jesus is coming to our house. Can you believe it?! Hurry, we have so much to do. The house is a mess. WE ARE A MESS!” I’m so excited, but a little anxious at the same time.
“Maddie, clean your room. Jake, I told you a million times to put your dirty soccer socks in the washing machine.” My stress level starts to rise.
“What in the world will we eat? Of course, we have nothing but cereal and leftover pizza. Maybe I can whip something up.” My heart is beating faster. I’m starting to panic a bit.
“Sam, we should have done that yard work last weekend. It is a disaster.” Irritation begins to brew.
“Maddie, why haven’t you cleaned the bathroom… and your room is full of clothes. Too late to clean now…just shove it all in your closet…if you can find room in there.” My tone is full of bitterness and sarcasm.
“Jake, are you going to wear that? When was the last time you brushed your hair?” I am yelling now.
“Oh my gosh, he is heeeeere! This is great! But wait… we aren’t ready. Quick, get the door and distract him while I try to finish up. Someone help me in the kitchen. We can at least make some coffee. Kids, remember your manners.” I’m all over the place and freaking out. I don’t even go to the door as I scan the room examining all that is left undone.
To be continued…
Questions: How do you prepare for and welcome guests? Is it a scramble to impress or calm anticipation of sweet fellowship and community?
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22
Jesus teaches us what to do when we are wronged by a Christian brother or sister. Repentance and restoration are always the heart of Jesus. Not bitterness, gossiping about it, or trying to ignore it.
Forgiveness isn’t based on others’ actions, but instead on our attitude. It doesn’t always mean reconciliation has to occur. Where reconciliation takes two, forgiveness only takes one. It doesn’t mean approval or acceptance of the wrong done to us. It doesn’t mean we forget. It doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for the offender. It simply means we free ourselves of the burden of it.
Jesus ends these instructions of addressing wrongs with statements on the power of unified agreement in prayer. Things like, “if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” And, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Friends, if you are struggling with forgiveness, invite your friends to join you in prayer. Jesus will join you too.
Peter is feeling especially generous when he suggests we forgive someone who sins against us seven times, certainly much more than the traditional norms.
“I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times,” Jesus responds. Not a literal seventy-seven times, of course, but a lot. And then a lot more than that.
How can we be expected to forgive so freely and so often? Because we have been so extravagantly forgiven. Over and over and over again.
We can forgive much because we have been forgiven much.
Questions: Why is forgiveness SO HARD? How does reflecting on all Jesus has forgiven us for help us to forgive others?
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Matthew 18:1
How do you define great? The disciples are still hoping for an earthly political kingdom, more powerful than that of their beloved David. Not only are they looking forward to this kingdom, as friends of Jesus – the king – they want a high-ranking position. They want to be great in Jesus’s kingdom. So they pose a question about who is the greatest in this kingdom.
As is often the case, Jesus’s response is not the one they wanted to hear. He calls a child to himself and sets the child up as the example of the greatest, saying, “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Humility is what makes one great in this kingdom. Jesus modeled this by leaving His holy position on the throne in Heaven and being born as a child, humbly living, teaching, serving, healing, and ultimately dying to save us. THIS is greatness in this kingdom.
Humility is the foundation and backdrop for the ministry of Jesus in the Kingdom of God. Humility to strip ourselves of anything that causes us to sin and separate us from God. Humility to suppress our pride and pain and offer forgiveness when we have been deeply wronged. Humility to surrender control to the only One who really is in control. THIS is greatness in His kingdom.
Greatness is not found in social status, wealth, accomplishments, possessions, or earthly power. It is found in humbly submitting to and serving the One who is the greatest.
Questions: How does your idea of “great” differ from what Jesus is teaching? How can we make a mindset shift about what true greatness looks like?
For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20b
The foursome – Peter, James, John & Jesus – come down the mountain following the transfiguration and meet up with the crowd below. A man greets them whose son the disciples were unable to heal. The disciples had been given authority and power to heal by Jesus and they healed many, but this was a stubborn one. Jesus criticizes their lack of faith and instantly heals the boy.
“Why could we not cast it out?” the disciples ask. Jesus tells them they must have faith. It is tempting to read this and think we just need to muster up more faith. But Jesus is quick to point out that faith even as small as a mustard seed can move mountains. It isn't more faith...it is faith in the right thing. Faith in Jesus and His power alone. Faith in His purpose and plan and will. With this faith, nothing is impossible.
Sometimes we can get in a rut, going through the motions of what worked before. We can easily slip into putting our faith in a formula and lose sight of the true source of power. We need to come to Jesus. We need to put our faith in Him and His power.
We choose where to put our faith. If we are honest, we often put our faith in other things…things we think are within our “control.” Our sinful nature gravitates toward faith in ourselves. Big faith in our strength or wisdom or resources or past successes may produce little things at best, but even tiny faith in a big God can move mountains.
Question: What do you put your faith in? Really think about it. It is so natural to try to put our faith in ourselves instead of God.
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. Mark 9:2-3
A pause on the stifling, constrictive, skin-wrapped humanity, the glory of God peeks through Jesus up on a mountain. It isn’t a reflection of light from another source, but a light within Jesus bursting forth, finally uncontained.
Moses – the recipient of the law -- is there. Elijah – the great prophet – is there. Jesus – the fulfillment of the law and the prophets – is there. A beautiful, holy encounter.
Remember roughly 1,400 years earlier Moses died on a mountain overlooking the earthly promised land God didn’t permit him to enter? Now all these years later, Moses is again on a mountaintop, this time with Elijah and Jesus. It doesn’t say what they are talking about, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the world-changing events that are about to take place. Events that according to worldly standards would be considered an utter failure, but according to God’s plan are the gateway to redemption; to the true and eternal promised land. Only a short time to go and the glory of Jesus would no longer be squeezed in human flesh; the sacrificial system no longer necessary; the sins of the people washed clean once and for all time; the pathway to righteousness before God in place. Perspective and God’s truth changes everything.
How often do we find ourselves in the mundane, unsettled, tedious wilderness surrounded by grumbling and feeling like a failure because we don't measure up to the world’s definition of success? Perhaps we too need a perspective change. There is so much more than what we see. There is so much God wants to give us and show us; a longer, eternal view. Success is obedience to God. Success is nearness to Him in the middle of the journey. Success is shepherding others to truth. Success is going where and when God tells us to. Success is constant communion with God until the glorious day we see Him face to face.
Question: Where might you need a perspective change today?
But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Matthew 16:23
High off of correctly calling Jesus the Messiah, Peter must have been feeling pretty special. He nailed it! Until… Jesus begins to tell Peter and the others what will happen to Him…suffering, being killed, rising three days later. Peter steps in. He just can’t help himself. This is the Christ. His friend. Peter wants to take charge and do things the way he thinks they should be done, which doesn’t include suffering and dying, that’s for sure.
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” Jesus responds. Ouch! Jesus’s response to Peter seems pretty harsh at first glance, but this was serious business to Jesus. This is what He came for, and no friend or foe is going to thwart it.
The devil is tricky, and no one knows this more than Jesus. Peter’s intentions weren’t evil. He loved Jesus. He didn’t want Jesus to suffer, or be rejected, or killed. Who can blame him? But this wasn’t God’s plan, and Jesus knew it. He recognizes the devil’s tricks, encouraging us to seek comfort, control, security. Avoid pain at all costs. Jesus couldn’t let this one slide. He had to call Satan out.
Our instinct is to try to fix things, and all too often we lean on our own solutions instead of God. In our fix-it mode, we could be preventing a mighty work of God on the other side. We think we are making things easier, but God isn’t about easy. God is about holy.
Have you ever been fired up for God about something and felt attacked out of nowhere…family, health, relationships, work? When we are earnestly seeking and doing the things of God, the devil works overtime to try to trip us up. We too can utter the words, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Challenge: Follow Jesus’s lead and cry out, “Get behind me, Satan!” when you feel attacked. Just saying these words can change your mindset, allowing you to see these kinds of attacks for what they are and to get back to the things God is calling you to do.
He [Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:15-16
Jesus asks His friends – his disciples – who people say He is. They chime in with things like John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the prophets. Not a bad list! All respectable and beloved men, but far short of the fullness of the One who is asking the question.
Jesus follows up with a more direct question, ”But who do YOU say that I am?”
This is the most important question they will answer. It is the most important question WE will answer. Our answer to this question shapes our response to everything. It shapes how we live and how we love. It shapes where we will spend eternity. Jesus wants to know who those seemingly closest to Him say that He is.
Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
The true fullness of who Jesus is was revealed to Peter by God the Father. Peter’s eyes and heart were opened to who Jesus is.
Nearly everyone today will agree that a historical man named Jesus lived. A good man. A good teacher. A good rabbi. Not a bad list…but far short of the fullness who Jesus is. And anything less than the fullness of who He is misses the mark completely.
Who do you say Jesus is? Prepare your heart for the full revelation of who Jesus is. Abide in Him. Read His Word. Fix your eyes on Him.
Question: So, what about you….who do you say Jesus is?
And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Mark 8:15
“Watch out; beware of the leaven of the PHARISEES…” Jesus says. Hypocrisy, pride, love of honor and social status. Ruling with heavy legalistic burdens no one can adhere to. Missing the Messiah among religious activity.
“…and the leaven of HEROD,” Jesus continues. Herod, the political leader, representing an utter lack of belief; no religious conviction; ruling with a heavy hand and violence. Rejecting the One true King of kings.
Jesus uses leaven as a picture of what sin can look like and the damage it can inflict. Leaven is a yeast-like substance added to the dough to make it ferment and rise. Only a small amount is needed for a big impact.
Beware of the metaphorical leaven, Jesus warns. It can come from many roots. The Pharisees, though religious on the outside, were at as much risk as Herod and the non-religious people who had disdain for any religion. Like leaven, a little sin goes an exponentially long way. Just a small amount let in unhindered can change the entire composition. Slowly, but wholly.
We all have it. Those things that we let in. They seem insignificant and harmless, but they have the ability to grow and spread and change us, without us knowing or even seeing it happen.
A small mustard seed size faith in God can move mountains. Likewise, a small leaven of sin can corrupt our entire being.
Questions: What seemingly small, but unhealthy, things do you let impact your life? What seemingly small sin areas might easily grow out of hand if not addressed?
So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:67-69
Speaking for the group, Peter responds to Jesus asking if they too want to walk away from Him. “Lord, to whom shall we go?”
“You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God,” Peter continues.
Life is hard. Some things in the Bible are hard to understand. Some of the words feel uncomfortable, demanding, convicting, confusing. Many want what Jesus offers, but not on His terms. The idea of taking up our cross and following Him is not what they had in mind. The idea of surrendering to Him rubs their ego the wrong way. The idea of Him as the only way to eternal life goes against their reason.
But to whom else would we go? We might think we want to have some control over saving ourselves…but do we really? It is impossible!
We might think we want a God who never punishes or expects hard things from us…but do we really? We crave a just God who can make all wrongs right.
We might think we want a God who looks the other way on sin – after all, the world tells us it is a personal decision; no one else’s business….but do we really? That only leads to suffering and bondage, not freedom.
We might wonder if God really exists; if it is all just a big cosmic accident…but do we really? Our souls desire purpose and order.
On this side of heaven, we will never have all the answers or understand the fullness of a big God, but to whom else would we go? Truth is truth, and truth is life. Where else would we go?
Question: How do you generally react when things don’t make sense to you and God doesn’t seem to do things the way you think He should?