Scripture Reading: Job 19:1-21:34 / Matthew 21:1-17 / Psalm 18:1-6
Did you hear the story about the dollar bill, twenty-dollar bill and the fifty-dollar bill? The twenty-dollar bill shared about the exciting places he had been - the movies, restaurants, and ball games. The fifty-dollar bill interrupted, “I have been at the finest restaurants myself, vacations, country clubs and fashion designer clothing stores.” The dollar bill finally responded with great despondency, “The only place that I go is from offering plate to offering plate.”
This is a humorous story with some truth but thankfully larger bills than $1 make it in the offering plate! I learned a long time ago that God takes care of those who take care of His church (people) and reach His world. We don’t begrudge or criticize successful or blessed ministries; although riches are never to be the motive or measurement for any ministry.
Jesus addressed this issue at the beginning of His ministry (John 2) and at the end of His ministry. He was not meek and mild but authoritative and extreme! “Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers, and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21:12,13)
This was the time of Passover and thousands of people came to Jerusalem to present sacrifices at the Temple as required by the Law. People would come from great distances and some would bring their sacrifices while others would purchase them in Jerusalem. Travelers were required to exchange their foreign coins for the acceptable temple shekels so they could pay their annual tribute. The priests and merchants provided a convenient service by selling sacrifices and exchanging currency at the temple. Except, they set up shop in the Temple.
Outwardly, these services seemed to be beneficial, helpful and innocent; yet inwardly, they were greedy, ungodly and unscrupulous. The poor were allowed to present a dove or pigeon that normally cost 5 or 10 cents, yet were charged $4 to $5 for them at the temple. The moneychangers also required a 25% exchange fee. The priests also got a percentage of the sales that made this even more reprehensible.
Christ’s work and ministry is to be treated with reverence and honor. Ministry is not about riches, gain, success or advancement. It is about Godly character, integrity and lifestyles. Maybe it’s time to overturn some misguided and ungodly attitudes in our hearts. Maybe it’s time to examine our motives and desires. Maybe it’s time to throw off the trappings of our culture and engross ourselves by passionately pursuing God in prayer, fellowship, His Word and by His Spirit. There are no “maybe’s” about it… it is imperative we follow Him faithfully and fully!
Scripture Reading: Job 15:1-18:21 / Matthew 20:20-34 / Psalm 17:13-15
We would hardly imagine a king or a person of great economic, political or social status to humble themselves in acts of lowly service yet Jesus did. He washed the disciples dirty and mangy feet. The one recognized as the Lord and Teacher took the basin, a towel and washed their feet. He told them that as He washed their feet, they should also wash one another’s feet.
Unfortunately, James and John’s mother was not present at that time because she asked Jesus, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:21) She thought the pinnacle of life on earth and in eternity was to reign with Christ over all others. This caused a stir among the other disciples but Jesus puts “greatness” in the shadow of “service”. “…Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (v.26)
There is a desire in man to achieve greatness and gain recognition. Even in the realm of ministry, the disciples thought ministry was done for the benefit of the minster, not for the one who was ministered too. Sadly, some minister for what they can receive (materially, emotionally) from others instead of for what they can give.
We get our word “deacon” from the Greek word for “servant”. We think that the word deacon is a religious word because it is only used in association with a position within a church. In the New Testament, deacon was a secular word that described low menial service. A deacon would be hired to clean the yard, take away trash, serve a meal, etc. It was not a dishonoring term but simply described someone who did a simple menial job. The early church deacons were servants.
In ancient Greek, deacon is derived from the word for dust. It referred to the dust that was stirred up from the servant’s work of hurrying and scurrying. A deacon was a person who stirred up a lot of dust in the service of others. Jesus called this kind of servant hood great…above every exalted and prestigious leadership position.
Jesus also adds, “And whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” (v.27) This position is even lesser in nobility than a deacon as it means a “doulos” or bondslave. A slave’s will was swallowed up in the will of his master and he was bound to his master until death. He did not belong to himself, he had no rights and he lived for the will of the master. Jesus said to achieve the high position of greatness; they must take the position and have the attitude of a slave.
Jesus wanted the disciples to understand the wonderful purpose of obedient service, unconditional surrender and divine ownership. Jesus walked faithfully in obedience to fulfill The Father’s will by laying His own will down. Like Oswald Saunders wrote, “Scars are the authentic marks of faithful discipleship.” Joy is not found in our own “greatness” but joy is found… in the “greatness” of service and surrender!
Scripture Reading: Job 11:1-14:22 / Matthew 20:1-19 / Psalm 17:6-12
The eye is the most protected member of the body. Our eyes close automatically to protect us from perceived dangers and our eye muscles are the most active muscles in our entire body. Our eyes are protected by eyelids, which blink an average of 4,200,000 times a year. Your eye is not only highly protected and has 200 million working parts, it is also the fastest muscle in your body… so when something happens quickly, we say “in the blink of an eye.”
David asks God to, “Keep me as the apple of your eye;” (Psalm 17:8) The “apple of your eye” is referring to the pupil of the eye. The pupil is the black center of the eye. It allows light in through a lens that focuses the image on the retina. Your eye is the most sensitive part of your body and the pupil is the most sensitive part of the eye. Our eyes are sensitive, valuable and protected by eyelids that have the quickest reflexes in our body at 1/10,000th of a second.
God has placed natural protective measures around the eye like eyelids, eyelashes and even eyebrows, which prevent sweat from dripping into our eyes. God even made the muscles in our eyes 100 times stronger than they need to be. All of this to protect the 107 million light sensitive cells in our eyes. There is not another part of our body that is more precious, tender and guarded than our eye.
David desired God to regard him as precious, treat him tenderly and guard him with great care. His prayer was that God would keep him as something that was valuable and fragile. Even the prophet Zechariah says, “…for he that touches you touches the apple of his eye” (2:8) In other words, when people try to hurt us, it’s like they are poking God in the eye. David wanted to be beautiful, valued and protected by God.
David also asks, “…hide me in the shadow of your wings.” (v.8) A mother bird would shield her young chicks from predators and storms by gathering them under her wings. David desires to be hid in the shadow of God’s wings. A shadow itself will not protect us but this shadow represents a near and ever present God. The power and intervention of God was his shield, comfort and protection.
God cares for us and will be our constant provider and protection. He knows the weakness and frailty of our lives. Just as Christ desired to gather Jerusalem under the protection and provision of His promises, he desires to hide us under His wings of safety and protection. A prayer that God longs to hear and is quick to answer… Keep me and hide me!”
Scripture Reading: Job 8:1-10:22 / Matthew 19:16-30 / Proverbs 3:11-20
Someone once said, “Nothing except perhaps the weather so completely occupies mankind’s conversation as the subject of money.” This statement does not just apply to those who actively pursue wealth and prosperity but also to those who simply live from paycheck to paycheck. Our budgets are impacted by higher food, gas, utility, insurance and living expenses. It is becoming more difficult to “survive” and raise a family in our uncertain economic times.
There is a definite reason to be concerned about money yet we need to guard our hearts so we do not become consumed with money. A young man approached Jesus concerned about his life and his eternity. He asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16) Jesus told him to keep the commandments and the young man said he kept all of them but added, “What do I still lack?” (v.20)
The commandments that Jesus gave were all external in nature but this young mans lack was internal. He loved his money and his wealth controlled him. Jesus knew this young man’s riches consumed his heart. In Mark’s gospel, it says that Jesus looked at him and loved him. Jesus had sympathy and compassion for this young man. He did not react in condemnation, bitterness or scolding but with truth. Jesus tells him to sell his possessions, give to the poor and he would have treasure in heaven. (v.21)
The young man “…went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (v.22) Jesus held out the key that would unlock heaven but the young man would not take it because his hands were full of earthly treasure. He was unwilling to surrender his riches because his riches had a death grip on him. The young man determined eternal life failed in value and importance compared to his earthly riches.
We live in a world today filled with treasure seekers. Athletes relentlessly train their bodies and improve their skills in order to gain treasured victories and greatness. Entrepreneurs live for opportunities of advancement and work diligently to generate financial success. These things within themselves are not sinful yet they become costly when they are valued, pursued and ultimately replace the treasure of eternal life.
The rich young man left sad because he was not only rich but he also left the same way he came to Christ…with an emptiness and void in his soul. No matter how many riches we accumulate or treasures we secure, they can never satisfy the longing of our soul. Only Jesus can bring us into right relationship with The Father. He alone is able to forgive us of sin and change us from the inside out. Peace and joy are a result of His continual and infilling presence. The treasures of this world fail in comparison to the treasures of heaven. Don’t let the treasures of this world lay hold of your life; let them go… in order to lay hold of eternal riches!
Scripture Reading: Job 4:1-7:21 / Matthew 19:1-15 / Psalm 17:1-5
On February 15, 1947, a young New Yorker, Glenn Chambers set out for Quito, Equator to begin his long awaited ministry with Voice of the Andes. Before he left the airport he wanted to send his mother one last message. He had no paper and only found a scrap piece of paper that once was a printed advertisement with the single word WHY across the center.
But between the mailing and delivery of that message, his plane plummeted from the skies killing everyone on board. When the letter did arrive, days after the death of her son, this mother opened and looked at the word WHY. Then below her son had penned these words… “God is too kind to do anything cruel…too wise to make a mistake… too deep to explain Himself.”
Often times in life we ask the question, why. Our concept of God’s plan for us is peace, blessedness and security but doubt rises when the opposite occurs. We question God’s plan, power and love. We long to understand God’s plan. Job experienced great bountiful and prosperous blessings of God. He was a man who was faithful and loyal to God but then his world fell apart with the loss of his children, wealth and health.
The wisdom of this world is unable to explain or understand the mysteries of God.
Four friends sat silently with Job for seven days and then began to share their insights with the thought to be “God forsaken” man. Eliphaz is the first to speak to Job and says that God is correcting and chastening him because of his sin.
Job knew he was innocent before God and in frustration asks God, “If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of men? Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my offenses and forgive my sins? “ (Job 7:20,21)
Job was blameless, a man of integrity, sincerity and consistency. He was upright before God. Job feared God and shunned evil. His moral conduct and spiritual standing was impeccable. The entirety of this book is one man’s search for understanding. Job is filled with words of despair, confusion and he gropes for understanding.
We want simple answers to deep and complicated lives that we do not understand yet alone have answers for. Sometimes God doesn’t show us the whole picture or adequately explain life to us. It’s during those times we bear our souls before God… the good, the bad and the ugly. He doesn’t turn us away but wraps us with arms of compassion. God doesn’t make mistakes and we can trust Him. He will give understanding to our troubled souls and answers to all of our “whys”… in His time.
Scripture Reading: Job 1:1-3:26 / Matthew 18:10-35 / Psalm 16:1-11
Have you ever heard of a 53-hour prayer meeting? Five men were trapped in a deserted zinc mine in Salem, Kentucky by falling rocks. They had nothing to eat, they were in utter darkness and there was no way out. They began to pray and sing and this lasted for 53 hours until they were rescued! One man said, “We laid there from Friday morning till Sunday morning. We prayed without ceasing and when the rescuers reached us we were still praying!”
That’s one way to have a prayer meeting but I think we would rather have a “voluntary” prayer meeting. The sad thing though, very few Christians have attended or regularly attend a prayer meeting. As been said long ago, when the church is more interested in ice cream socials, tea parties and chicken dinners, then their churches will become as cold as the ice cream, as weak as the tea and as dead as the chicken!
How important is praying together? Jesus said, “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:19) All great revivals and great moves of God took place as a result of people seeking God together. Jesus said that “agreement” is a powerful key in prayer. Agree means “to fit with, match with, be in harmony or be of one mind.” Unity and agreement have a dynamic effect on prayer.
Of course the key to agreement is to be united in direction and purpose. A choir isn’t made up of people who all sing individual songs in a variety of keys and styles. A choral arrangement establishes pitch, harmony, tempo and togetherness. When people gather together to pray, it’s not to be a choir of random prayers, but prayer that is orchestrated by God’s Word and Spirit. It is amazing how God’s Spirit begins to fine-tune His will in our hearts and we begin to ask and pray the same thing. There is nothing more powerful than Heavenly Harmony!
Prayer defies the world’s basic mathematic formulas...if 1 can do much, 2 can do twice as much. God’s formula… 1 can put 1,000 to flight, 2 can put 10,000 to flight! The Father responds powerfully to His children when they simply ask for His will to be done in earth! Paul said, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Eph. 3:20)
Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance; it is laying hold of His highest willingness. Jesus said this agreement doesn’t need hundreds but can be activated by just two. We are not heard for our much speaking, many words or numerical strength. God does not count heads…He weighs hearts and faith! Don’t wait to be trapped in a mine before you unite with others in prayer. Find a prayer partner and/or attend a prayer meeting…you will find God to be what you need Him to be and even more!
Scripture Reading: Genesis 49:1-50:26 / Matthew 17:14-18:9 / Psalm 15:1-5
As a young 27 year-old pastor, I was called by a father and asked if I would visit and pray for his 30 year-old son. When I got to their house, the son told me he had a “demon” and wanted me to help him. I talked to him trying to ascertain if he really was demon possessed and concluded that he indeed did have some demonic activity going on inside of him.
The father left the room and I began to pray for his son. I put my hand on his head and began to pray, taking authority over the demonic power by Christ’s blood and in the name of Jesus. Within a few minutes, the son pulled away from me and said it (the prayer) was not working. After several more attempts, seemingly to no avail, I asked him to go to the other room and give me some time alone to pray.
I took 15 minutes and poured out my frustration and desperation to God. I was doing and saying all the right things but it was ineffective. During that time, God told me the exact approach to take so when the son returned we started to pray again. I placed my hand on his head and began to pray in “The Spirit”. Immediately he began to react by pulling away but I held on tighter and after a few minutes, he collapsed on the floor and remained still. Within a minute, he defiantly rose up but as I continued to pray, he collapsed again. This occurred multiple times for about an hour and finally, the demonic spirit was gone and he was free.
That was one of the greatest learning experiences of my life and it came not because I was spiritually powerful, effective or knowledgeable. I had come against the satanic powers of hell, thinking I knew what to do but discovered that I needed God’s power, intervention and direction more than anytime in my life. That night wasn’t about me…it was about a man who needed God to powerfully free him.
A father had a son tortured by a demon and told Jesus, “I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.” (Matthew 17:16) Jesus rebuked the demon and the son was freed and healed. The disciples questioned Jesus later, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” (v.19) Jesus told them it was an issue of faith and the gospel of Mark adds, “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”
The amount of faith is not as important, even the smallest is enough, as much as the direction and depth of our faith. A persistent, childlike, never-give-up faith in a mighty God is the kind that is needed. Desperate times call for desperate measures… there is a devil, he orchestrates great difficulties and we need spiritual power and discipline. There are times in life when we need to dig deeper and cry out longer in order to defeat the enemy. Extended times in prayer and fasting are required…we cannot assume the faith of yesterday is sufficient for today. He is faithful to us and will display His power in our lives. Sometimes it takes a little bit more time, prayer and fasting but…. ”Nothing will be impossible for you.” (v.20)
Scripture Reading: Genesis 47:13-48:22 / Matthew 16:21-17:13 / Proverbs 3:1-10
Clarence Jordan, the author of the “Cotton Patch” a New Testament children’s translation was getting a red-carpet tour of a beautiful church. With pride the minister pointed to the rich, imported pews and luxurious decorations. As they stepped outside into the darkness, a spotlight shone on the huge cross on top of the steeple. “That cross alone cost us $10,000”, the pastor said with a smile. “You got cheated,” said Jordan. “There was a time when Christians could get them for free.”
Our souls are filled with contemplation when we see a cross on a steeple, or on a chain, or on a cathedral wall but when we see a cross on someone’s back, we are impacted by the reality and truth of the cross. Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthey 16:24,25).
The Greek word for “deny”, means to utterly separate or to completely disown from something. Our human nature is prone to indulgence, not denial. Man insists on being first, being noticed and being praised. Some want to identify themselves with Christianity only for what they can get out of it…like God is the dispenser of life’s prizes. Following Christ requires self-denial and understanding that there is no getting without giving, gain without pain or reward without sacrifice.
Self-denial in and of itself is of no virtue. The proud Jewish religious leaders loved to display their “self-denial” and believed it was a means of righteousness. Self-denial does not start on the outside but it begins on the inside. The purpose of denying ourselves is to eliminate all obstacles that would block God’s will and way in our lives. Jesus is asking us to deny ourselves the right to be in charge of our lives and submit our will to His will. Denial drives a stake through our will, ego and need for control but it releases the loving will and compassionate desire of God in our lives.
Jesus says that denial is followed by the death of the cross. Poor condemned souls would march to the place of crucifixion with a cross of death strapped to their backs. Carrying one’s cross meant walking to one’s death. Taking His cross represents a willingness to endure persecution, rejection, reproach, shame, suffering and even martyrdom for Him. Following Him is not about the level of difficulty but the reality of death…. only a cause worth dying for is truly worth living for.
As we deny and die to ourselves by His cross, we will lose our lives but gain an identity that is life giving and everlasting. Instead of the temporary, we gain the eternal. We exchange the corruptible for the incorruptible and instead of being doomed for failure; we’re destined for success. It is said that a religion that gives nothing, costs nothing and suffers nothing is worth nothing. If we want to be a crown wearer in heaven…we must be His cross bearer here on earth!
Scripture Reading: Genesis 45:1-47:12 / Matthew 16:1-20 / Psalm 14:1-7
Missionary Bonnie Penner Witherall was working at the prenatal clinic in Lebanon that offered Muslim women medical services at a nearby refugee camp. A gunman walked into the clinic and brutally shot her 3 times in the head, killing her instantly. Her husband Gary was devastated but the next day he publicly forgave his wife’s killer and said, “God led us to Lebanon and we knew that we might die. It’s a costly forgiveness. It cost my wife.” After returning home he added, “God said there’s a seed that’s been planted in your heart. You either hate and be angry or you forgive. I said I have to forgive.”
Whenever tragedy strikes we usually ask, “Why did this happen?” or “Where is God in all of this?” Joseph suffered through the injustices and cruelties of life. He stood before his brothers who hated him, attempted to kill him and sold him into slavery. He did not justifiably punish them but said, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Gen. 45:7,8)
Joseph believed God had a divine promise, plan and purpose for everything that he experienced in life. Joseph reasoned that his brothers left him in a pit to die but God’s plan was to send the Midian traders. Potiphar’s wife planned to entice him but God’s plan was to imprison Joseph to get him away from her! The cupbearer’s plan was to use Joseph but God’s plan was to use the cupbearer. Pharaoh’s plan was to use Joseph to save his nation but God’s plan was to use Joseph to save his people.
God promised to bless Joseph with favor and honor that was far greater than his father or brothers could ever imagine. God’s plan was not always pleasant yet Joseph praised God through every ugly twist and turn. Joseph was 17 years old when his brothers sold him into slavery; he spent 14 years in captivity and was completing his 9th year as prime minister of Egypt.
No one in their wildest dreams would ever imagine Joseph to be in this place of power and influence. Joseph never lost faith in God’s promise, plan or purpose and rested in God’s sovereignty. This was evident when he named his sons Manasseh “God has made me forget all my trouble” and Ephraim “God has made me fruitful”. Joseph knew God was always in charge of his life so forgiveness was not an issue.
His brothers drove him away but he calls them to come near. They were willing to let him die of starvation and thirst in a pit, but he gave them bountiful provisions. They ripped his coat of many colors off his back, but he gives them expensive Egyptian garments. They sold him for silver but Joseph blesses them with silver. God is faithful to watch over everything we give Him, our lives included! The world looks a lot different when we see it through His eyes. Our lives are not left to chance but are directed by His promise, plan, purpose and…His divine sovereignty!
Scripture Reading: Genesis 43:1-44:34 / Matthew 15:10-39 / Psalm 13:1-6
Faith is one of the most powerful things that we can ever possess and use. Faith unlocks the windows of heaven, opens our hearts for redemption and ushers us before His throne of grace. As it has been said, “Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible and receives the impossible.” Faith of all kinds; childlike, unfeigned, obedient, steadfast, bold and great faith are rewarded by God.
Jesus only describes two people of having great faith and one of them is the Canaanite woman here in Matthew 15, “Woman, you have great faith!”(v.28) Christ made this declaration after she came to Him and cried out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” (v.22)
This woman, from Tyre and Sidon, had a pagan background and her daughter was completely controlled by demonic and evil spirits. She believed in the delivering power of Christ and went to Him for a miracle. We find that Jesus, the gracious, compassionate and merciful healer, ignored her by turning His back and He gave her the silent treatment. She desperately needed Christ to respond to her but she did not lose hope or faith as she waited in the silence.
After World War II, an inscription was found scratched inside a German house. It said, “I believe in the sun even when it does not shine. I believe in love, even when it is not shown. I believe in God, even when He does not speak.” This Canaanite woman, like so many throughout history, had her faith tried in silence. Faith blossoms when the fires of trials blow the fiercest. Her faith was being tested and was also about to face hostility and rejection.
The disciples told Jesus, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” They viewed her as a pagan without any hope, promise or God. She was an emotional wreck, spastic, dramatic and was interrupting Christ’s schedule. Sometimes those who are supposed to be encouraging, uplifting and loving, respond with rejection and discouragement. They were supposed to welcome her, not push her away.
Christ’s mission was to reach the Israelites yet she pleaded with Him to help her. She fell before Him in humility and brokenness yet Jesus mused, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (v.26) The Jews were considered the chosen children of Abraham and the gentiles were compared to dogs. She was a heathen and had no claim to the Messiah but she began to argue her case with Jesus.
She knew she wasn’t allowed to feast at the table but all she wanted was the crumbs that fell from the table. She knew the crumbs of Christ’s power were sufficient and able to heal, deliver and save. Jesus rewarded her faith and healed her daughter that very hour. Our faith will be tested by the silence of heaven and the hostility of man. Don’t Give Up but Hang On, Cry Out, Bear Down and Dig In… It Is A Test Of Faith!