Tuesday, January 29, 2013

God's Little Ones

I really enjoy working with young children.  In fact, up until the last three years I have spent my entire married life working with children at church.  My husband is a children's pastor and prior to going into ministry he worked with children as a music educator.  Aside from the fact that children are so cute and say the best things, I enjoy working with them because of their innocence.  There is something so refreshing when we get a glimpse of what absolute trust looks like.  You see, the more we live life and the more we experience pain and betrayal, the more jaded our world-view can become.  Most young children; however, haven't had the experiences in life that would make them full of cynicism and it is so refreshing to hear their world view.  Yesterday, I looked at some verses where Jesus explained that we need to have the absolute trust that a child displays.  That humility and trust in God is what He considers honorable.

But, even though most children get to keep their innocence throughout their childhood, there are those who experience horrible things that would even be difficult on an adult.  So, while my husband and I have always enjoyed the cute answers and innocence of a child, there are times that we have seen children go through difficult things.  It is so heart-breaking when we see a young child say things that even an adult shouldn't say, but they are only repeating something they heard.  It is very difficult to reconcile how anyone would want to hurt a precious child.  We've struggled having to watch a young child suffer the consequences of a parent's terrible choices.  I had a difficult childhood, so I guess that is why it is so hard when I see a young child suffer at the hands of an adult and lose their innocence.  But I can also testify that God was with me the entire time and He brought me a wholeness and healing that only He can give.  Jesus explains this in the verses I am looking at today.  Please click on the link and read Matthew 18:5-14.

Those are some pretty strong warnings that Jesus issues!  He warns against our own inclination to sin; however, He also warns against causing a young child to sin.  I don't know about you, but doesn't this speak to how it makes God feel when we expose our young, innocent children to sinful things?  But notice further down when Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep.  What love that speaks as well.  You see, God is the shepherd that draws those who are lost back into His flock.  Jesus tells us that God doesn't want anyone of those little children to lose their life.  He will continue to seek them out and draw them in.  I can say from my own experience that God didn't want to lose me and at some very critical times in my life He placed some people and experiences that reminded me of His love.  We can and should cry about the pain of a young child; however, we can also pray the promise of God's love into that child.  There is always hope.

Do you know a young child that is hurting?  Do you believe that God doesn't want to lose them?  How are you praying life into that child?

This post is linked with Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, January 28, 2013

What Is Greatness?

Have you ever wondered if reality TV has changed our values somewhat or if it just magnifies our already existing values?  So many of the reality TV programs demonstrate narcissistic values that provide "entertainment" as we have the opportunity to watch people claw their way to success.  The "do whatever it takes" mantra echos through so many of those shows as we see people trample on each other in order to stay on the show one more week.  There are those rare occasions when we see someone risk losing in order to help someone who is desperately struggling, but such demonstrations are met with mixed reviews.  Some would call that person foolish because they may have destroyed their chance to win and others celebrate their valuing a fellow human.  I honestly don't know if the shows are a reflection of our society because if people behaved that way in real life, they would find themselves with no friends.  But our human nature also places high value on success and we praise those who have made it to the top.  The verses I am reading today tell us what God considers a success.  Please click on the link and read Matthew 18:1-10.

In these verses, we see the disciples trying to sort out the idea of greatness in God's eyes.  The thing that has caught my thoughts is the idea that God is so great that even His name is holy.  So, with that thought in mind, isn't it kind of silly to think that any of us could be considered great by God?  But, we've all had that thought on some level, haven't we?  Jesus answered the disciples in an unexpected way.  He didn't scold them for desiring to be great in God's eyes; He gave them an answer that shows them that greatness isn't what we should be striving for.  Jesus called over a young child and told them that we should become as humble as a little child.

This has caused me to reflect a little bit on my own childhood, and I ask you to think about some of your earliest memories.  As I think on those early days, I thought my parents were the greatest.  I knew I was completely dependent on them - whether I liked it or not didn't matter because I knew that I needed them.  In those very early years of my life, I don't think the idea of being greater than my parents had entered my thoughts and I just trusted that they loved me.  Being great in my family wasn't even a concern at that point in my life because I was just happy to be in my family.  Even though I couldn't have explained it, I understood my dependence on my family.

So, Jesus was telling the disciples that greatness isn't the goal.  We are to be humble and love God. We are to trust in His care and authority and understand that we need Him.  Greatness isn't the goal!  When we can be humble and admit that we are sinners and understand that we need Him in order to live, we will find salvation.  God considers it greatness when we can set aside the human nature and become humble enough to rely on Him.  Humility is great?  That is so opposite of what our human nature tells us.  But humility allows us to see that we need a Savior.

Can you live in humility and remember that life and salvation only comes from God?  How does that change how you interact and view others?

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

But It's My Right!

When my son was in first grade, he was reading a few grade levels higher than the class.  The first grade teacher mentioned that he seemed bored during the time in the class when they were working on phonics.  When I asked her if maybe he should work on something else reading related during that time, her response was, "Oh, no!  Everyone always can use a review in phonics!"  So, I asked her if he needed more phonics instruction and she admitted that his ability to phonetically decode the words was well above grade level.  But she also insisted that he needed to do what the rest of the class was doing.  Keep in mind that I understand classroom dynamics and it truly keeps everyone better behaved when everyone is working on the same thing.  So, I understood what she was saying.  But, I also know that other teachers paired him up with a struggling student so he was still engaged with what the class was doing but being challenged by helping a peer.  Either way, she was the teacher, and my son needed to respect her and do what she wanted him to do.  The verses I am reading show us a time when Jesus really didn't need to do what He was asked to do, but He also decided that it was better to participate and do what He had been asked to do.  Please click on the link and read Matthew 17:22-27.

There are two sections of scriptures that seem unrelated.  First we read that Jesus predicts His death and resurrection and we read that the disciples were grieved by that news.  The next verses show us that Jesus was asked to pay the temple tax.  I just want to consider a little bigger picture of how both of these sections of verses may have a bigger relationship.  First, I want to point out that the collectors didn't actually ask Jesus to pay, they approached Peter and asked him if Jesus was going to pay the tax.  The interesting thing about this tax is that it was a modest tax taken for the temple according to Exodus 30:12, where God told them to take a "ransom for the soul" every time a census was taken.  Jesus pointed out to Peter that He really didn't need to pay a "ransom for the soul" but paid it any way because it wasn't worth the offense it could cause.  He then gave Peter a little fun in finding a coin to pay the tax for both Jesus and Peter.

Are you beginning to see a little bit of relationship between the two sections of verses?  The disciples are reminded by Jesus of His death and resurrection which we now understand was a sacrifice and victory He shared with us.  Jesus was perfect and didn't require to pay a ransom for Himself - He had no sin.  Yet, even with His perfection He allowed Himself to be abused and killed in order to pay our ransom and then rise from death three days later in order share His victory over death!  The One who didn't need to pay a ransom was soon going to pay the ransom for all of us, yet He was asked to pay the temple tax - the "ransom for the soul."  The irony is amazing, yet it also shows us His humility.  Instead of declaring the irony of the situation and claiming that He didn't need to pay this tax, He humbly said that it was better to not cause an offense.  But notice how He was also the One who provided for Peter's ransom as well.  How beautiful is that?

Jesus gave us such an incredible example of humility in these verses.  He knew that people wouldn't understand that it was ridiculous for Him to pay this tax.  In fact, by this point in time, I wonder if the tax collectors understood the point behind the tax.  Jesus set aside what was His "right" to not have to pay the tax and just paid the tax.  We often pride ourselves on our human rights, so sometimes we miss out on the reality that humility means being willing to sacrifice what we feel is our rights at time.  Sometimes it is much better just to set aside what we feel is our right and show respect to another human being.  Even if we know that it is silly, sometimes it just isn't worth causing offense to someone else.  It is through Christ working in our hearts that we are able to do this.

What "right" do you need to set aside in order to show respect to someone else?

This post is linked with Thought Provoking Thursday.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

At the Foot of the Mountain

When my mom was visiting our family this summer, we took her with us on a waterfall hunt.  I had learned that the area around Hamilton, Ontario was full of waterfalls and that there were some nice hiking trails leading to some of them.  So, off to Hamilton we went and spent several hours hiking and looking at a few waterfalls.  One of the trails in particular was a beautiful hike and led us to two waterfalls; however at the end we found ourselves feeling quite tired.  After a lot of hiking on a warm day, we were very thirsty and getting hungry.  The kids were starting to get grumpy as a result - this was not exactly the way I wanted to end a nice day.  But, sometimes life is like that isn't it?  We can have a wonderful moment but eventually it is time to return to real life and face all our responsibilities.  The scene we are looking at today is similar.  Peter, James, and John just had an unforgettable moment with Jesus at the top of the mountain.  But they eventually had to come back down and face all the pressures and problems that life can bring.  Let's take a look at what happened.  Please read Matthew 17:14-20.

In these verses, we see that a large crowd was waiting for them to come down from the mountain.  Have you ever been there?  Maybe you are coming back from a vacation only to find life's many demands crowding your door waiting for you.  That is not a great feeling, is it?  At the foot of the mountain, we find a father with a demon-possessed boy waiting for Jesus to heal him.  He explains that the disciples were unable to cast out the demon.  Jesus' response was to rebuke the faithlessness of the people.  That is an interesting response, isn't it?  In a sense they appear to be showing faith by waiting for Jesus to come and take of things, but Jesus saw things beyond the outward appearance.  He was pointing out what the true issue was.

We can believe that God can heal us and do anything; however, do we live like He can do anything?  Do we believe that God wants what is best for us?  Going through the motions isn't enough - Jesus wants us to believe!  So, in these verses, we see that there are disciples who had the opportunity to cast out demons and were excited a few chapters back (Matthew 10), but now they are unable to do it.  Jesus explained to them that they had to have more faith.  Even though Jesus was on the mountain with others, they needed to believe that they still had the authority to do it.

We are not always going to be at the top of the mountain with Jesus and often we are faced with challenges when we come down from the mountain.  But, no matter where we are we have the power and authority that Jesus promised us in His Name.  He just wants us to believe in His authority over all things.  So even when we feel like someone else is with Jesus at the top of the mountain, we can believe that He knows what is going on at the foot of the mountain.

Are you feeling like you are at the foot of the mountain right now?  Do you believe that Jesus has still given you His authority?

This post is linked with Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Wonderful To Be Here

This morning, there is a beautiful blanket of snow surrounding my house with big, thick snowflakes continuing to fall.  All the trees that had been stripped bare of their leaves are now covered with a pure white cloak that reveals even the most obscure twigs.  On a day like this, my natural response is to brew a nice hot cup of cocoa, snuggle under a warm blanket and read a book while in view of a window so I can take a peek whenever I desire.  On the days that I can do that I really do think how wonderful it is to be there.  Unfortunately, it is Monday which means that I need to go in to work and sit at my desk without a view.  The reality is that even though it is picturesque outside, I usually still have life knocking on my door demanding my attention.  But that is okay because God made us to participate in life!  We see this in the verses I am looking at today.  Please click on the link and read Matthew 17:1-13.

In these verses, we read how Peter, James, and John saw Jesus changed right before their eyes.  In fact, not only was Jesus changed to reveal His glory, but Moses and Elijah entered the scene and began having a conversation with Jesus.  I cannot imagine how overwhelming this must have been, but Peter does give us glimpse of how great it was to be there.  Peter says, "It is wonderful for us to be here!"  How true those words were...it really was wonderful to be there.  However, Peter decided that it was so wonderful that they just needed to stay there.  That may seem like a ridiculous statement to make; however, keep in mind that Peter was intoxicated by Jesus' glory.  Every single one of us would probably feel the same way!  In fact that is one of the things I look forward to - sitting at Jesus' feet all day.

But God snaps Peter back to reality and speaks to them.  Peter goes from making his famous speech to falling on his face in fear.  But Jesus comes over to them and tells them that they do not need to be afraid, but they also do not need to share what happened until He has risen from the dead.  Time to get back to life.  But Peter, also uses this as an opportunity to ask a question that he had been wondering about...why do the religious leaders believe that Elijah will come before the Messiah?  (The prophecy is found in Malachi 4:5-6).  Because of Jesus' response Peter, James, and John realize that John the Baptist was Elijah.

The thing that I am noticing this morning is that while it was amazing and wonderful to be at the top of the mountain with Jesus, it was when they came back to life that they were able to learn.  While God revealed to the disciples who Jesus is, it was when they were focused back to their surrounding that they were able to sort through what they had experienced.  God designed us to live life.  Yes, we are to have those restful times - it is even a command.  But it is when we walk through life that we learn more and understand more.  We learn to apply the things that God reveals to us as we live life.  So, yes it is good to have those amazing moments with God!  But it is also good to apply those beautiful moments to our every day lives.

Have you spent the necessary time with God?  Are you taking what you have learned and applying it to your every day life?

This posted is linked with Monday Musings and Sharing His Beauty.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

River in the Wasteland

This year has already had a start that was better than last year.  Last year started with some "bitter water" that lasted the rest of the year.  We finally saw resolution to the situation at the very end of the year which gave the beginning of this year a literal fresh start.  The sigh of relief that my husband and I felt when we saw the end to a long, drawn out situation (about three and a half years) was amazing.  But even during this last year that seemed to throw continuous disappointment in our situation we felt and saw God's hand on our lives.  If anything, I know I felt His presence throughout and He spoke reassuring truths to my heart.  With that said, this verse came to my attention at the end of December through the Bible Gateway verse of the day (you see it on the right side of the screen).  It spoke such a wonderful reminder of hope that I have felt God speaking to my heart that I had to use this as one of my memory verses.  It is rare that I have my verses picked out so far in advance, but I knew that this was one that I needed to memorize.  So, here goes:

"I am the LORD , who opened a way through the waters, making a dry path through the sea...But forget all that - it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.  For I am about to do something new.  See, I have already begun!  Do you not see it?  I will make a pathway through the wilderness.  I will create rivers in the dry wasteland."  Isaiah 43:16,18-19

Isn't that beautiful.  I know that was a promise spoken to Israel, but it is such a reminder of the fact that God does create pathways in the wilderness and He does create rivers in dry wastelands.  Whatever we experience, God can use it to make something wonderful in our lives.

This post is linked with Spiritual Sundays.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Coming Up

Due to a poor sleeping night, I will not be writing a normal post this morning.  However, I would like you to know what is coming up in a few weeks.  I will set aside reading through Matthew in order to follow along with my church's all church journey.  This will have me reading through the New Testament in 8 weeks.  I will pick a snippet out of the day's reading to reflect on for my post.  I hope you join me for it!  I will start that journey on February 4.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Roller Coaster Ride

When walking through this life, we find out that it is unpredictable.  It is so full of ups and downs that (without wanting to sound cliche) it really can feel like a roller coaster.  How is it that we can have a period that is absolutely amazing and we feel like everything is going right and then things begin to take a bad turn and we find ourselves speeding down a hill seemingly out of control?  We have all experienced it.  Sometimes we make choices that bring the ups and downs, and a lot of times we just get hit by circumstances completely out of our control.  A death of a loved one, a bad turn in the economy, the loss of a job, the list can go on and on with what can bring us reeling under the pressure.  For me, the unpredictable ups and downs reminds me of how important it is to have the stability a relationship with God can give.  Yesterday, I looked at Peter's confession that Jesus is the Messiah and how Jesus showed us that ultimately we learn from God.  Jesus told Peter he was blessed to learn that from God, and I can just imagine what an emotional high that Peter had to be experiencing.  But, today we see a different turn in Peter's story.  Please click on the link and read Matthew 16:21-28.

Jesus began to talk about His death, which was making everyone uncomfortable.  Peter pulled Jesus aside to have a heart to heart talk about all this negativity.  Peter told Him that He shouldn't say such things because such things would never happen to Him.  After all, He is the Messiah!  But Jesus' response wasn't, "Oh, that's right - you hear from God!  I shouldn't say such things.  Sorry!"  It was the complete and total opposite response that I'm sure Peter was expecting.  Instead, Jesus rebuked Satan for speaking such tempting things through Peter.  He then told Peter that he was only seeing things from a human's perspective and not from God's.  Ouch!  Could you just imagine Peter feeling like he was on the downward turn?  But this also serves as a warning to all of us.

Our walk with Jesus can have these ups and downs.  In the verses we looked at yesterday, we see how Peter's heart was tuned in to God and he understood who Jesus truly is.  But in the verses today, we see that Peter's heart was tuned in to his own personal desires.  Jesus uses this moment as a teaching tool and begins to explain to all His disciples in verse 24 (NLT), "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me."  You see, Jesus used this as an opportunity to remind them that our own selfish desires do not match up with God's and in order to follow Jesus we have to get away from those desires.  Following Jesus didn't mean that everything in life would go smooth and great and we have to be willing to accept that.  But, following Jesus does mean that throughout life's ups and downs we have someone so much greater than us that will help us through.  Following Jesus will be difficult at times, but He is always with us.  In these verses Jesus also reminds all of us that it is far more important to gain life than to gain the whole world while losing your life.  It is far better to let go of what we hold dear in order to hold on to Jesus' hand.

Are you looking at things through God's eyes or human eyes?  What do you need to let go of in order to hang on to Jesus through the ups and downs?

This post is linked with Thought Provoking Thursday.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How Do You Learn?

When I was still practicing music therapy, I went to a class on the brain.  Keep in mind this was several years ago and there is even more up to date information about the brain now, but while I took the class the idea of different learning styles was just taking off.  Instead of having teachers say they noticed that students learned differently from each other, there was actual evidence through research on the brain that showed that people responded differently to stimuli.  This gave rise to the idea that those different responses affected learning.  This research still plays a role in how teachers are trained to teach to a wide variety of students.  Teachers are taught how each learning style can be approached in the classroom and on occasion I can see how my children's school uses some of those techniques.  But how do we learn about God?  Jesus this to us; please click on the link and read Matthew 16:13-20.

This scene shows one of those private moments that the disciples had with Jesus.  Here we see Jesus getting a feel for what was being said about Him, but then He turns it back to His disciples and ask them who they believed He is.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the son of the living God."  But Jesus response was interesting because He told Peter that he didn't learn that from any person, God revealed that truth to him.  Don't you find that interesting?  We often place so much value on what we need to learn at church, but the reality is that God will reveal to us what we need to know.  No amount of classes and research will make us understand, it is God working on our hearts that will give us the understanding we need.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not bashing classes and doing things to help you understand the Bible better.  In fact, I believe that God uses people and classes to help us learn at times.  But I think we often place too much value on knowledge and learning than on our relationship with God.  Often the learning comes through the time we spend with God and seeking Him.  As we need to understand something, He will reveal it to us.  It may be through a whisper in our hearts or an experience we face.  He may use someone else to speak a truth to us or a pastor's sermon.  But the one thing we have to remember that any truth we learn about Him comes to us from Him.  And as we read what Jesus says about the truth that He is the Messiah and His church that is built on that truth - there is nothing that will destroy it!  We need to spend time with God every day in prayer and in the Bible and ask Him to reveal to us what we need to know today.

Do you believe that God will give you the understanding you need today?  Do you believe that you know the truth about Jesus because God has revealed it to you?

This post is linked with Word Filled Wednesday.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

To Understand

My college days are filled with such great memories because of the good friends that I was surrounded with.  Throughout my four years at college, I had many friends, but there were three that were closest to me.  We all roomed together at one point, and my best friend and I were roommates for three of our four years at school.  She was even willing to stay on campus with me when my finances made it more cost-effective to stay on campus rather than go off campus in an apartment.  We didn't really know each other until college; we met because of a mutual friend and found comfort in sort of knowing someone in the competitive world of music.  We lived near each other in the suburbs of Detroit which meant that in the summer we could hang out with each other when we weren't working (although one summer we even had a job together planting flowers which gave us plenty of time to talk while we worked).  She knew me inside and out, and I knew her.  There were times when she would say something that only I seemed to understand and there were things I expressed that only she would understand.  It really was a beautiful friendship.  My husband of almost 20 years knows me in the same way (in fact, he had to put up with me and my friends all through college).

I say all that to lay down a foundation of the type of relationship God wants us to have with Him.  Jesus expresses this to both the religious teachers and to His disciples.  Please use the link and read Matthew 16:1-12.  In the first scene, we find the Pharisees and Sadducees demanding that Jesus show them a sign that He was truly from heaven.  Now, the interesting thing about this demand was that they had already seen so many signs from Him.  But Jesus wouldn't show them a sign and instead pointed out to them that they were able to recognize signs of the weather better than they were able to interpret the signs of the times.  He mentioned that the only sign they would receive was the sign of Jonah (He was referring to Jonah being in the whale for three days and then being spit out - He would die and be gone for three days and rise again).

Later, He found Himself with the disciples who were concerned that they didn't have any bread with them.  Jesus' only response was to warn them of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  The disciples not understanding Jesus began to fight about the bread.  Only after they were rebuked by Jesus did they understand that He was referring to the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees and not the bread.  The thing I find interesting is that it was Jesus pointing out their lack of faith after they had been with Him while He fed 5,000 and then 4,000 that helped them understand what He was talking about.

I mentioned in an earlier post that the theme that Jesus seemed to be pounding into His disciples was faith.  Faith.  Jesus didn't rebuke them for a lack of knowledge, He rebuked them for a lack of faith.  You see, their worries and concerns over the bread blinded them from what Jesus wanted them to learn.  He wanted them to set those worries aside and have faith.  Notice that once they were reminded that they were with the one who would provide for them, they were able to learn what Jesus wanted to teach them.  It makes me think that when we have faith struggles, we have learning struggles.  Our ability to understand what God is telling us is directly linked to our faith in Him.  That must be why Jesus kept stressing the importance of faith with His disciples.

Do you believe God?  How is your faith helping you to understand?

This post is linked with Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Compassion For the Crowd

How are you at balancing many details all at once?  Do you like to have many details going on, or do you prefer to have someone else handling the details?  I have always had jobs that required multi-tasking.  Jobs ranging from being a waitress to a music therapist to an elementary school secretary.  When necessary, I can balance several tasks and facts at the same time.  But even with the ability to multi-task, I still find myself getting into a groove and having tunnel vision.  If I have a task that requires a lot of focus and work, I will zone in so tight that I will not notice other things going on around me.  This can be both good and bad.  The focus will allow me to pound through something to completion; however, it can also render me blind to something that also requires my attention.  I could miss a bigger picture because I am so focused on the task that I have right in front of me.  The reality is that no matter how much I multi-task, I am far from perfect and there will always be a detail that didn't get enough attention or that I missed all together.  But God is one who can zone in and multi-task and never misses a detail.  Not one detail!  The verses I am looking at show us Jesus' incredible attention to the entire picture of needs all around Him.  Please use the link and read Matthew 15:29-39.

The first three verses show us that Jesus healed everyone that came to Him.  Everyone!  It didn't matter what type of healing the person needed, Jesus healed them.  But the thing that amazes me is what happened next; He said that He felt sorry for the people because they had been with Him for three days and have no more food to eat.  They were with Jesus for three days, which also means that He had been healing people in the crowd for three days.  But Jesus, knew that He couldn't just send them away because they were hungry.  He didn't stop at healing, He looked at their entire needs and provided for them.  There are other things going on in these verses, but Jesus' ability to look at the big picture while handling the details is what I want to focus on today.

Jesus modeled the big picture for us.  It wouldn't have done a lot of good to heal them and then they couldn't make the trip home because they were too weak from hunger.  Isn't that a powerful thought?  The world-wide church has a big job and God uses each local church to meet many different needs.  What is happening around your local church right now?  What needs are out there that are going unmet?  What are we forgetting to consider?  Our world and communities are ever changing and there will always be a new need that is being unmet.  What has God opened your eyes to see?  If you don't see anything, pray and ask God to show you a need in your community that is crying for compassion.

What need is God showing you today?

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Believe God

Reading through Matthew, I've noticed a theme that seems to keep coming back and one that Jesus seemed to emphasize in His interactions with people.  Faith.  He didn't emphasize knowledge, in fact, He seemed to accept that not everyone was going to have an extensive religious education.  But the theme that seemed to be recurring was His emphasis on faith.  Faith.  It's a pretty basic idea, isn't it?  You see, He just wants people to believe Him.  Believe Him.  So far what I've noticed in Matthew is that He either rebuked people for a lack of faith or did amazing things in response to great faith.  The verses I am looking at continue on with this theme; please click on the link and read Matthew 15:21-28.

Isn't this an interesting interaction?  Jesus declared what His mission was and why He was sent to earth, yet this woman continued to ask for help.  Why did she continue?  Because she believed that Jesus could heal her daughter.  Notice that she didn't even flinch when Jesus referred to anyone who was not a Jew (Gentile) a dog.  Instead she took it back to Him and reminded Him that even dogs get scraps from the table.  But noticed that she called Him Lord - she recognized His authority to make things happen.  She recognized His spiritual authority and knew that He could heal her daughter.  Then Jesus acknowledge her faith and He healed her daughter because her faith was great.

So much happens when we believe God.  I'm not saying believe in God - although that is a first step in faith - I'm saying believe God.  Believe what He says; believe who He is; believe He will do what He says.  Faith.  I'm not saying that learning more about God and what that means in our lives isn't important, because when we have faith adding to our understanding is one thing that increases our faith.  But, faith is the thing that lasts.

Do you believe God?

This post is linked with Faith Filled Friday.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

What Filter Are You Using?

In August, I had the privilege to go to the Willow Creek Leadership Summit where Patrick Lencioni spoke about his most recent book, The Advantage.  One of the things he spoke about that really stuck with me was the fact that successful organizations have no more than three main focuses or filters that helps them make decisions.  He said when these are clear and concise, anyone at any level within the organization is enabled to make decisions because they are able to use that filter.  As followers of Jesus, we have a similar filter that helps us to make choices from day to day.  In fact, the entire law was summed up by two filters: love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, strength; love your neighbor as yourself.  With those filters, we have been given the ability to make decisions about what pleases God.  With that in mind, read Matthew 15:1-20 to see what Jesus taught His disciples.

The Pharisees approached Jesus about why the disciples didn't follow the traditions of ceremonial hand washing.  One thing I want to point out is that the Pharisees are not pointing their fingers so much at the disciples than they are at Jesus.  The main responsibility of the disciple was to do whatever their Rabbi was doing.  So, if the disciples were not washing their hands, then Jesus wasn't washing His hands.  It was a round-about way of telling Jesus that He wasn't teaching His disciples correctly.  But Jesus' answer pointed back to the difference between man-made traditions and the law that reflected God's heart.  He pointed out that they ignored the filters that the law gives in order to make decisions based on their own traditional filters.

In these verses Jesus pointed out that God is looking at the heart and what it produces.  What causes us to be defiled has nothing to do with how much we cleanse ourselves and following tradition; it has everything to do with what we do and say.  Before we say or do anything we should be examining them through the filter of: am I loving God by doing this, am I loving others by doing this?  Jesus pointed out that if following a tradition causes us to not love God and not love others than we are sinning.  God's filter is best and it is the only one we need to use.

What traditions do you follow because it is something you've always done?  Does it contradict God's law?

This post is linked with Thought Provoking Thursday.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

To Walk On Water

There is a scene in the animated movie, The Incredibles, that has one of the members of a superhero family run so fast that he can skim the top of water.  It is a funny scene because he is running away from the enemy and he sees the water coming up and he closes his eyes bracing for the impact with the water.  Instead of falling into the water, when he opens his eyes he realizes that his speed allows him to stay on the surface.  Our laws of physics make us understand that we are not made to walk on water; rather, we walk in the water.  So, the verses I am looking at today requires faith to believe because it is impossible for us to do.  Once again, I would ask that before you click on the link prepare yourself with the thought that the God who created this world can do whatever He wants - even if it breaks all the laws of physics.  That is why we call it a miracle!  When we can accept that we cannot explain how He did it, we can begin to ask why He did it.  Please click on the link and read Matthew 14:22-36.

Okay, it is a pretty amazing scene to try and picture in our minds, isn't it?  Jesus walked toward his disciples on water.  You can kind of understand why He scared the disciples; that is something that is unheard of.  In fact, notice that He doesn't rebuke the disciples for their fears and instead He makes sure they understand it is Him.  Peter told Him to call him out of the boat and walk on water to Him if it really was Jesus.  Don't you find that an interesting request?  But it also shows us that Peter already had enough faith in Jesus to know that if it was Him, that He could allow Peter to walk on water.  Keep in mind that it was still dangerously windy and the waves were still heavy.  But Jesus called to Peter and Peter began to walk on water toward Jesus.  Once Peter took his focus away from Jesus and remembered the waves, he began to sink and that is when Jesus rebuked him for little faith.

Peter knew that Jesus could make him walk on water, yet he still had little faith?  Hmm.  What do you think of that?  I think that it is one thing to believe, and it is another thing to live it out.  I really do believe that if Jesus tells me to do something, then He will give me the ability to do it.  I absolutely believe that.  With that faith, I may even start out on the journey; however, no journey is ever without some kind of resistance.  As soon as something gets difficult or takes my eyes off of God, I may find myself sinking.  My faith takes me just far enough to get started, but not quite far enough to finish.  Can you relate to that?  But there is hope because later in his life, Peter became bold in difficult situations and did things through faith in Jesus that he would have never imagined doing.  This is because his faith was strengthened by his time with Jesus and he experience what it was like to walk on water.  We can strengthen our faith in Jesus, too.  We do this by spending time reading the Bible and praying every day.  The more time we spend with God, the more our faith grows.

Do you believe that Jesus can give you the ability to do what He has called you to do?  What are you doing to increase your faith in God?

This post is linked with Word Filled Wednesday.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How'd He Do That?

The other day, I was flipping through the channels on the TV and landed on a documentary about soccer and it showed some amazing footwork and skill on the soccer field.  There were a few times where I found myself saying, "How'd he do that?"  Even when they slowed down the tape, it still seemed like an impossible thing to accomplish; I guess it seemed impossible because there was no way I could do it.  While I may have really good fine motor coordination (typing, playing flute...), my gross motor coordination (sports, dance, etc...) isn't good.  I was always one of the last people picked for a team in gym because playing sports was something I just couldn't seem to get a handle on.  So when I watched these exceptional athletes play the game like no one else, it just seemed impossible to me.  In yesterday's post, I mentioned that sometimes we relate with what we are familiar, so it can cause us to be near-sighted in our vision.  Just like the soccer skills seen on the field seem impossible because I can't do it, doesn't mean that it is impossible.  Jesus did a lot of things that we read in the Bible seem impossible, but I would ask you to read it with the filter of "just because I can't do it doesn't mean it is impossible."  With that in mind, please read Matthew 14:13-21.

Can you imagine the faces on the disciples when Jesus told them that they were going to feed the 5,000 people?  Especially when He wanted to go on with the idea when they only had five loaves of bread and two fish.  That's just crazy!  It seemed like an impossible thing to do - in fact, it still seems impossible.  Yet, after Jesus blessed the food they fed all 5,000 people and had left overs!  They didn't just have left overs, they had 12 baskets of left-overs.  It was almost as if Jesus made sure that each one of the 12 disciples would have to pick up and carry the basket of left-overs back to Jesus.  Could you imagine bringing a basket of left-overs back to Jesus after telling Him that they would not be able to feed the people?

I cannot explain how Jesus did that, but I believe He did it.  This is because faith requires me to set aside what I've experienced and what I can do and accept that God can do whatever He wants.  I believe that He created the world so that means that I have to believe that if He wants to do something new that we've never seen, He can.  In fact, Jesus addressed this issue with someone who was wondering if Jesus could do something that would require a miracle.  Mark 10:27 gives us Jesus' reply, "Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.'"  All things are possible with God!

What seems impossible for you?  Do you believe that all things are possible with God?

This post is linked with Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Focus

I have been wearing glasses since I was four because I am near-sighted and I have astigmatism.  Astigmatism means that the eye struggles to make a focused image and causes blurring or crooked lines.  And my near-sighted vision means that I see things better close up.  Either way, in order for me to see clearly, I need to have my vision corrected just like so many other people in the world.  It really is amazing how different the world looks when I put on my glasses!  What was once a blurry image suddenly has shape and meaning.  The verses I am looking at today show how an incorrect focus can cause problems with our belief; please read Matthew 14:1-12.

We learn a lot about Herod's relationship with John the Baptist in these verses.  Some of what we learn is that Herod arrested John because of his wife and not so much because John had done anything wrong.  It almost seems as though Herod kind of liked having John close by because he regretted having to fulfill his step-daughter's request to kill John.  It almost seems as if Herod understood that John was a prophet because of how he reacted to the news of Jesus.  Notice what we read in Matthew 14:2, "...he said to his advisers, 'This must be John the Baptist raised from the dead! That is why he can do such miracles.'"

Herod was relating to Jesus by what he saw in John.  He seemed to understand what he saw in John and decided that Jesus was John coming back to life.  It is unfortunate that is how he related to Jesus because he missed out on a much greater truth that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.  His focus was on the wrong thing.  If you look at the picture above, I was taking a picture with a new camera and was learning how to change the focal point of the camera.  In this picture that I was taking of the scenery outside my house, I was taking it from my dining room window.  The camera focused on the screen a few inches from the lens rather than the greater scenery outside.  I think that is what was happening with Herod.  He was focusing on the more familiar or what was closer to him rather than focusing on the greater things happening outside his palace.  

It makes me wonder how much I miss some of the greater views of God because I focus on the more familiar things near by.  We can all have that near-sighted and blurry vision because it really is easier to look at what is closer to our hearts.  Just like it was hard for Herod to relate to anything that was happening outside his palace, we can have difficulty relating to something that is outside our realm of experience.  We need to put on the corrective lens that we receive by reading the Bible in order to gain a new focus.  Our time in the Bible and in prayer changes our focus so that we see the things of God over our experience.

Where is your focus?  What are you doing to correct your vision?

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Eternity In Our Hearts

"Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end."  Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)

That is the verse I am currently working on to memorize.  Have you ever thought of the fact that everything has beauty for its time.  For example, this picture is of my backyard this week:


Or, here is a picture of a butterfly I took this summer:


Snow has a way of making a dull landscape look beautiful, and it is hard to imagine that delicate butterfly was once a caterpillar.

Can you believe this truth for yourself?  Have you thought that God put you here to add beauty to this time and place?  I think that is an awesome thought!

But there is one more thing in this verse that really sticks out at me:  "...He has planted eternity in the human heart..."  How cool is that!?  Earlier in the week I looked at some parables Jesus told and one of them had to do with a farmer scattering seed.  How the seed produced in the end depended on the soil.  God has planted eternity in the human heart; however, we need to accept His truth. But this verse tells us that even with eternity planted in our heart, we still cannot see the big picture that God sees.  I'm sure when He looks at the part of the picture you are in, He sees something beautiful - His beloved creation.

This post is linked with Spiritual Sundays.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Honor

There are some people that my husband and I know that were just children when we met them and they are now married and have their own children.  It certainly is strange when someone that you used to see running around has their own little ones running around.  I think the thing that is stranger is the fact that it is hard to let go of the last image I had of them as a teenager who was acting like a teenager!  Since that is my last image for some of them, you can see why it is hard for me to think of them as a responsible adult raising their own family and managing a career.  But, it really doesn't matter if I can't picture it, it is happening!  I'm sure you can relate to that as well.  For me it comes from many angles - someone I used to babysit, a class I taught, relatives, and so on.

Jesus encountered people in His hometown that had similar struggles seeing Him grown up and teaching them.  Matthew wrote about it in Matthew 13:53-58; please click on the link that will take you to those verses.  Everywhere Jesus traveled and taught, that is the first encounter people had with Him so they could look at Him with authority.  But, when He visited His hometown, people couldn't set aside the fact that He was the carpenter's son.  How could the carpenter's son be an authority on scripture, and how could He possibly be the Messiah?  These are the people who watched Him grow up and go through school and most of them couldn't set aside those images of Him.  Unfortunately, we read how this also meant that they missed out on many blessings because of their lack of faith.

You have to admit that you have probably had a similar struggle with someone who maybe was in your Sunday School class and now they are teaching adult classes or leading a small group at your church.  Think about this; we can know of someone who is a renown author or pastor who shares their struggles in their teenage or young adult lives.  We can set that aside because our first image of them is of a well respected pastor.  But, what about the people who were on the other side of their lives and saw them make those mistakes?  It may not be as easy for them to set aside those images and think of them as a pastor.  We all know someone who is doing something great that we would have never pictured doing great things.  But God uses anyone who is willing to be used by Him.  Just as the people in Nazareth couldn't set aside their childhood images as Jesus, we are susceptible to overlook people we've known for years.  While the people in our lives are not the Messiah, they are people that God can use.  We need to be careful to set aside our first impressions and give honor to those who are answering God's call and stepping in obedience.

Who do you know that God wants you to respect?  Who is God using that you never would have imagined?  Do you trust in God's mercy and grace enough to believe that He can and will use anyone who is willing to be used by Him?

This post is linked with Faith Filled Friday.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Of Great Value

copyright: Depositphotos - darknula
When it comes to musical instruments, you usually get what you pay for although every now and then you find a wonderful instrument in an unlikely place.  When I was in high school, I was already practicing and planning to major in music therapy, auditioning on the flute.  I had the opportunity to learn what college auditions were like because a friend who was one year older auditioned during my junior year in high school.  Her flute teacher owned several very expensive flutes and let her use one of them during one of her auditions.  She brought it to school and let me play on it.  That was when I learned the value of a great instrument.  While I had a pretty tone on my instrument; I had to work to make it sound nice.  On the other flute, I was amazed at how that instrument made it easy to have a full, beautiful sound.  With that said, the other day a new beginner flute student showed me her instrument and asked me to play on it.  This was just a student model; however, the sound it produced amazed me!  It was an unknown maker to me and only cost them a little over $100 dollars, but it produced a full, rich sound.  This was most definitely an unlikely gem.

Jesus compared finding the Kingdom of Heaven with finding something of great value; please use this link and read Matthew 13:44-52.  The first two comparisons that Jesus made about the Kingdom of Heaven were about treasure.  The first was a man who found a hidden treasure in a field.  He hid it and sold everything he had to buy the field and regain the treasure.  The other example was a man who knew the value of pearls and when he found the best pearl he sold everything he owned to buy the pearl.  The last example was most definitely an example that Jesus' disciples could easily relate to because they were fishermen.  Jesus said that just as a fisherman sort the bad from the good fish, God will sort the wicked from the righteous.

Yesterday, I mentioned that the Jewish leaders taught that the kingdom that God promised to establish would save them from the Roman rule.  But Jesus was showing them that God had a much greater kingdom He was establishing - the Kingdom of Heaven.  God was establishing the kingdom through Jesus.  Jesus established the kingdom by humbling Himself and coming to earth as a man.  He lived a faultless life and chose to take all our sins on His shoulders and pay the price for us.  He died on the cross, but He also had victory over death three days later and the thing that amazes me the most is that He shares the victory with us!  Jesus was showing us that God had a plan and a gem of great value that would come in a way that was unexpected.  The only price we have to pay for this great gem is our pride - pride because we have to accept that we sin and need a Savior.  We just need to believe!

Do you choose to believe in this unlikely treasure?  Are you willing to humble yourself and believe that Jesus is your Savior?

This post is linked with Thought Provoking Thursday.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Multiplying Good

I own a bread machine, and it never ceases to amaze me how much dough comes out when all the processing is done.  For example, two weeks ago my son and I made some bread pretzels.  We put in all the ingredients with a few cups of flour and only a teaspoon and a half of yeast.  In comparison it seems like that would be an insignificant amount of yeast, but if you have ever baked with yeast you know that is plenty of yeast.  That little bit of yeast took the dough that was made and more than doubled it.  So, what originally looked like we would get about six pretzels became about twelve pretzels.  And then during the baking, the dough rose even more.  Something I have learned about using yeast is that there are certain types of flour that works better than others.  Whole wheat flour has a lower amount of gluten in it which creates a denser and less elastic dough while bread flour has more gluten and creates a very light elastic dough.  That is why you add some bread flour to the whole wheat flour when making bread.

Jesus used many different examples in His parables to explain what He called the "Kingdom of Heaven."  Jewish prophecy said that the Messiah would establish a new kingdom and many of the Jewish scholars thought this meant that He would rescue them from the Roman rule.  But Jesus was showing them that God had a different kingdom in mind - the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus used  parables to explain what the Kingdom of Heaven was.  Please read Matthew 13:24-43 to see three different examples Jesus used to explain the Kingdom of Heaven.

The three examples Jesus uses is a wheat field, a mustard seed, and yeast.  They don't seem to be related, however consider the idea that Jesus was trying to give us different ideas about the Kingdom of Heaven.  First, when reading those verses we see that Jesus explains the wheat field.  The farmer is Jesus who plants the good seed in the world.  But He explains that the evil one planted weeds in His good field which will be sorted out when it is time to harvest the field (the end of this world).  We do not get an explanation for the others, but consider what I think He was saying.  Jesus is the one who plants the seed, and the result of the seed is so much greater than the original seed.  This is the same with the yeast; Jesus is the baker who puts the yeast in the dough and work it in so that it multiplies the end result.

Jesus ultimately is the one who planted the original seeds of His followers.  He is the one who started the movement of believers - keep in mind that it started with His handful of disciples.  But it has spread throughout the world and over time has multiplied beyond what any human could have ever expected.  But it doesn't mean that it is all perfect - there are still problems.  We still have the evil one planting seeds to try to choke out the original seeds of hope Jesus planted.  Jesus assures us that in the end, He will sort out everything and we can continue to focus on Him.  So, we can easily recognize the evil in this world because it causes so much pain; however, remember that God multiplies His good and we get to be a part of it!

Do you choose to focus on the hope we have through Jesus?  Do you choose to follow Jesus and be a part of multiplying the hope?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Grandpa's Garden

Growing up in a modest middle class neighborhood, I knew all my neighbors.  This was in part because we lived on a street that was only one block long and also because there were a lot of children on our street.  The environment allowed all the neighbors to get to know one another.  But something that made my street even more special was the fact that my grandparents lived a few houses down from ours.  I was very young when they moved in, and we were all very excited to have them so close by.  All the backyards in our neighborhood were small (except the corner lots) and each owner had to decide if a pool or a swing set would take up the majority of space in the yard.  My grandpa had grown up on a farm in Iowa, so he had farming in his blood.  He took that small plot of land and turned his entire backyard into a garden.  But this garden was his pride and rightfully so!  To this day, his garden was probably the most impressive vegetable garden I've ever seen filled with many varieties of vegetables ordered in such wonderfully neat rows.  The prized and favorite crop in his garden were the string beans.  I don't know how he did it, but he always produced a great crop of beans from the garden and would call me to come down and help snap them and in return, he would give me a great amount to take home.  Grandpa definitely had a magic touch and seemed to know how to prepare the soil to grow a wonderful crop from year to year.  Ironically, even though he spent so much time in his garden, he planted plastic flowers in the front yard flower beds!

Jesus used parables to show how God wanted to plant good things in our hearts, but He also showed that we need to have the right soil in our hearts as well.  In Matthew 13, Jesus told a series a parables to show how God's truth works in our hearts.  I would like to read the first parable and Jesus' explanation today; please read Matthew 13:1-23.  Jesus explains that there are different conditions in the soil of our hearts that causes us to accept His truth in different ways.  First is the person who hears the truth but does not understand it, so it is taken away.  This is the person who never really accepts God's truth and forgiveness.  The next is the person who does hear and accept, but because they never develop a deep faith in God, they fall away as soon as something difficult happens.  The third example is the person who accepts, but the lure of other things in life chokes out their ability to grow and bear fruit.  The fourth is the person who hears, accepts and believes God and grows in their faith.  They produce fruit in their life and produce a crop much larger than the seed that was planted.  I would even go so far as to say that this is the person who shares the truth with others because they are producing a great crop.

I will say this - no matter what type of soil is in your heart right now I believe it can change.  We can have a rocky soil or weedy garden; however, God can till and plow the soil in our hearts so we can grow deep roots and produce good fruit.  It takes work no matter what kind of soil is in our hearts.  We have to constantly weed and take out the rocks that surface in order to continue growing.  I think that is why I like this parable so much; I understand that the best gardens produce so well because of the work that is constantly being done.  We invite God in our hearts to work on the soil by reading the Bible and spending time in prayer daily.  This doesn't happen by attending church once a week or twice a month or by going to small group (all of which are things that God uses to grow us and are necessary) - this is a daily and private exercise that keeps the soil in our hearts rich and fresh.

What kind of soil is in your heart?

What are you doing each day to improve the conditions of the soil in your heart?

Are you asking the Master Gardener (God) to do His work in your heart?

This post is linked with On Your Heart Tuesday and Soli Deo Gloria.