Tagged: Matthew

Rest in Christ

The secret of resting in Christ — and experiencing the peace He wants to give me in every circumstance — lies in abandoning myself into His control and care.

I am not resting in Him if I am clinging to the illusion that I can manage my life, relegating Him to the role of a mere adviser. He is my loving and gracious Lord who intends to work actively in and through me.

He is not calling me to a life of self-sufficiency, but rather to a life of soul rest and simple obedience: a life of overflowing abundance received only when I surrender my meager alternative.

He does not sit on a distant throne waiting for my arrival in heaven. He lives in me at this very moment and is waiting for me to draw near, releasing my infantile grip on my needs for significance and survival, and falling helplessly into His infinite care and purposes for my life.

Jesus says…

Come to Me,
    all you who labor and are heavy laden,
    and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me,
    for I am gentle and lowly in heart,
    and you will find rest for your souls.
Matthew 11:28-29

The Toxin of Unforgiveness

grumpyWhat would you do if you knew your children were attending a school located over a toxic waste site? For parents of a group of middle school students in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, this question is causing great anxiety and debate. In fact, the school board voted to move the students to other schools within the next two weeks.

Listed as one of the worst sites in the state, the contaminated groundwater under the school migrated there from a manufacturer’s lot across the street. Although no one knows how long ago the groundwater was polluted — perhaps as far back as the 1800s — the current owner of the property usually bears responsibility for managing the cleanup.

Toxic waste released generations ago continues to disrupt lives today. Unforgiveness is a spiritual form of toxic waste that works in a similar manner. Not only does it damage the person who will not forgive, but it will often “migrate” into the lives of others. The results can be catastrophic over multiple generations.

While working this week on a message from Matthew 6:12 (“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”), I listed several devastating impacts of holding on to unforgiveness. There are many more than what I’m sharing below. I’m not using the list in the message, but I thought it was worth capturing and sharing. If you are struggling in this area, please don’t stop until you have completely cancelled the “debts” of the person who hurt you.

Six toxic results when you refuse to forgive someone…

  1. You are ruining your prayer life. If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear. Psalm 66:18
  2. You are wounding the Spirit of God. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Ephesians 4:30
  3. You are exposing yourself to the devil’s influence. Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices. 2 Corinthians 2:10-11
  4. You are damaging your future reward in heaven. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. 1 Corinthians 3:14-15
  5. You are influencing others to adopt your attitude. Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled. Hebrews 12:14-15
  6. You are inviting God’s correction into your life. “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.” Hebrews 12:5-6
  7. You are crippling your usefulness to God. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. 2 Timothy 2:20-21

His forgiveness of those who come to Him is full and complete. Our forgiveness of those who hurt us can be nothing less…

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

Kingdom Praying

429125_82897980Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.Matthew 6:10

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus included prayer as a priority topic for His disciples. Emphasizing that our most intimate interactions with God should be done secretly (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18), Jesus pauses to give shape and form to our personal prayer time. In the space of a few verses historically known as the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus outlines a series of petitions so we would know what we should be asking for. In the second petition, Jesus taught us to pray for the kingdom to come. Why? Because Kingdom Praying

  1. Focuses on a King. Jesus began His ministry preaching this message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The kingdom was the central message of Jesus and the early disciples, mentioned over 85 times in the gospels. The kingdom is not a place where God rules. The kingdom is not the church or a collection of churches. Properly understood, the kingdom refers to the active rule or reign of God—His Majesty in action. A kingdom requires a King! As I pray, I am speaking with a King who rules. I must repent and completely turn away from all other rulers and whole-hearted allegiances in my life—He is my King!
  2.  Longs for the King to Rule. I am asking for something to change on earth so that my circumstances reflect more of heaven, where God’s rule is absolute. In heaven, there is no sin or sickness. There is no corruption. Everything is right and as it should be. When I ask for His will to be done on earth, I am asking for God to enter into my circumstances and exert His power. A kingdom that needs to “come” means it is not automatically here. This world and my circumstances do not reflect the rule of God—I need Him to come!
  3.  Enters into an Ancient War. In verse 13, Jesus teaches us to ask the Father to deliver us from the evil one. A kingdom that is not already “here” implies that there is an opposing kingdom at work. This was the worldview of Jesus. Jesus calls the devil the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30, and 16:11). When a person becomes a Christian through faith in Christ, God rescues that person from the enemy’s rule, and places him or her into the kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13). Asking for God’s rule on earth, we enter into an ancient conflict for souls.
  4.  Understands the Assignment. Jesus teaches us to ask for His kingdom to come and for His will to be done on earth. This means it is not being done now. Here lies an awesome truth: in a world that desperately needs God to come and act, the King has chosen to link His activity to the obedient intercessor. If I do not pray, will the kingdom come? God wants to act, but if I do not ask… will He still act? Will He still come and show Himself strong in the midst of my circumstances?

Jesus was teaching us how to approach and talk to our Father in heaven (Matthew 6:9). I live in a broken universe that is at war with God. Every day I need His presence as I walk in this evil age (Galatians 1:4). Jesus explains that the Father is ready to exit the world I cannot see (Heaven) and come rule in the world that I do see (Earth). Will I ask Him to come?

Day 23: Counting Down to the Christmas Revolution

23When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.Matthew 2:9-11

They fell down and worshiped Him… stunning.

These travelers arrived as much as two years after the birth of Jesus. The young family was living in a house in Bethlehem, not overnighting in a stable. The shepherds had long since come and gone. Jesus was walking by now.

The text does not tell us the wise men were kings, nor that there were three of them. They are the Magi… scientists and religious scholars who combined astronomical observation with astrological speculation. It is likely that they knew some Jews where they came from… and they would have been equally aware of the Jewish hopes for a Messiah. They traveled a great distance, led by a star that had the capacity to be movable, and then motionless. These men who had spent most of their lives peering at the night sky recognized something special about the star and attached great significance to it.

I have so many questions for these guys.

  • what are your names?
  • how many of you were there?
  • where did you go after you saw the baby?
  • what did you do for the remainder of your lives?
  • why did you fall down and worship…a toddler?

The word worship used here finds it’s root in the Greek word proskuneo. Pros means “towards” and kuneo means “to kiss.” It means to lie prostrate, literally leading with the lips towards the object of honor. These men fell down and did that… before a toddler. Somehow these men put it together: this was no ordinary baby.

Yes, they gave the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But long before they gave their gifts, these dear men gave themselves.

Models for you and me, the wise men show us the way to the Christmas Revolution!

Editor’s Note: If you would like to obtain a single PDF file containing all 25 blogs in the “Counting Down to the Christmas Revolution” series, click here to download. May God richly bless your efforts to explore the revolutionary truth underlying the Christmas celebrations around the world.

Day 19: Counting Down to the Christmas Revolution

19Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS. – Matthew 1:24-25

Are you ready for Christmas? In the New Testament, Joseph illustrates the gifts God most desires from you and me. What are they?

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. – Matthew 1:18-19

How would you have reacted? You make the shocking discovery that your fiancé is expecting someone else’s baby! The Jewish engagement in Joseph’s day was arranged by parents on behalf of their children. It lasted for one year and was a legally binding agreement: the couple was already considered man and wife.

So Mary’s apparent indiscretion was an outrage. The shame and the embarrassment must have been overwhelming. Although stoning was no longer the ultimate punishment for this sin (Deuteronomy 22:23), Joseph still possessed the ability to hurt Mary deeply. In his mind he only had two choices:

  1. a very messy, public legal proceeding involving charges of gross immorality; or
  2. a very quiet divorce involving two witnesses.

Joseph pursued justice and mercy. He determined to do what was right; but he would do no harm to Mary. He chose to handle the matter quietly. Joseph displayed a merciful spirit.

Vengeance and retaliation should never be found in our relational toolbox. On one occasion a Samaritan village denied Jesus and his followers customary hospitality because of their race—a true hate crime. The angry disciples asked Jesus whether they should call down fire from heaven to destroy the village. Jesus quietly replied: “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of.” (Luke 9:55)

Joseph possessed a merciful spirit… ready for Christmas!

But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” – Matthew 1:20

As Joseph continues to reflect over his options, an angel from God appeared to him in a dream and explained what was really happening to Mary. In the announcement, the angel said to Joseph “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.”

Joseph was afraid, but of what? Was he afraid of Mary? No. He obviously cared for her very much, genuinely struggling to know how to respond to her condition. Was he afraid others would think he was the guilty father of Mary’s child? Surely not. The humiliation of Mary through public charges would have been sufficient to clear him of being the father.

Joseph was afraid of offending God. The baby was not his. Mary’s baby and Mary’s heart belonged to another man (or so he would have thought). In Leviticus 21:7 the priests who stood before God were forbidden from marrying a woman like Mary—would making Mary his wife now offend God? Joseph was clearly torn between his love for Mary and his desire to honor God in everything he did.

He struggled to maintain a tender, sensitive conscience… ready for Christmas!

But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” – Matthew 1:20-23

The words from the angel were stunning! In a few phrases, Joseph learned the truth about the baby and Mary. The angel calls Joseph a “son of David,” but the baby has no earthly father, for he is “of the Holy Spirit.” His name will be Jesus—meaning “the Lord saves”—because his mission in life will be to rescue the people of God from their own sins. And the most stunning news item of all? Joseph understands that he is being commanded to take Mary as his wife (verse 24).

Up to this moment Joseph has been developing a well-reasoned, biblical course of action. He is going to do what is right, but not at Mary’s expense. He is wondering if there are any other options—the angel appears in a dream “while he thought about these things.” He is open to new information. He is ready to revise his thinking as he contemplates the best course to take. He is teachable.

Joseph was easily re-directed by God because he had a teachable attitude… ready for Christmas!

Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus. – Matthew 1:24-25

Joseph awakened with a set of instructions from God Himself. The dream represented a life-defining encounter with the will of God. Joseph acts immediately, receiving Mary as his wife and giving the name Jesus to the baby born a few short months later.

Joseph does not hesitate. Once he reaches a conclusion regarding God’s will, Joseph decisively and aggressively obeys God… ready for Christmas!

Joseph… a man who demonstrates the right way to get ready for the Christmas Revolution!

Editor’s Note: If you would like to obtain a single PDF file containing all 25 blogs in the “Counting Down to the Christmas Revolution” series, click here to download. May God richly bless your efforts to explore the revolutionary truth underlying the Christmas celebrations around the world.

Day 14: Counting Down to the Christmas Revolution

Candles“A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”Matthew 2:18

[12/14/2012] At Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, twenty children arrived at school this morning who would never leave alive. Eager for Christmas to come, their hopes and dreams were snuffed out by a shooter in a few minutes of indescribable tragedy. Adults died too. And hundreds of lives were shattered along with the bodies of the victims. Tears flowed freely across the land… including my own.

O dear Lord, You arrived here two millennia ago in the midst of this same kind of evil. In You alone, we find comfort in the present and hope for the future. Please capture the hearts that are broken. Don’t permit evil to beget evil. Please draw Your people into these scorched fields of human pain and agony to serve and heal through Your Presence.

Jesus was born for this battle… for days like today. From infancy, He encountered enemies that sought to eradicate His mission by destroying Him! The fight rages on and He calls His followers to join Him. How?

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” – Matthew 2:13-15

In the middle of the night, Joseph received a message from God: Herod is coming to “destroy the child.” Narrowly escaping to Egypt, the baby Jesus escaped the mass murder of all male infants and toddlers in Bethlehem.

Are you shocked? Or is this story a horrific reminder that the world we live in is at war? Evil is not simply an idea or an act. Evil is fueled by an individual consciousness nearly as old as creation itself. Millennia ago, the Bible explains that some of God’s creatures rebelled. The angels sinned. Man sinned. The world as God intended devolved into moral and spiritual chaos. Trapped in a very real spiritual war, we have enemies, and we need a Savior!

Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. – Matthew 2:16

After a lifetime of hatred and power-mongering, Herod is now determined to stamp out a divinely prophesied rival for his throne! Angered when the wise men failed to lead him to the child, he sent his troops to massacre the little ones of Bethlehem. Like so many senseless acts of violence and cruelty in the modern world, Herod raises the question: why would God allow such pain?

Preoccupation with this question can derail individual faith. A better question might be “who is responsible for the pain?” Jesus calls the devil the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11), a liar, and a murderer (John 8:44), who steals truth from the hearts of people who do not know God (Matthew 13:19), and is keeping them blind to the reality of a living God (2 Corinthians 4:4). He animates evil in the world, influencing and empowering those who do not know God to reject God and do everything that is offensive to God (1 John 5:19). According to the Scriptures, human suffering is a consequence of a very deadly warfare raging around every human soul.

The issue is not a question for the head. We need to check our heart.

How does God react to widespread suffering and pain? In Matthew 9:35-36, the Bible says Jesus was “moved with compassion.” He cares and so should we. We should not waste time on philosophical queries in the face of human suffering, but we should care deeply enough to be motivated to action.

But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” – Matthew 2:19-20

In this story we observe evil in motion, making repeated attempts to snuff out the life of the young Jesus. We also see almighty God anticipating and thwarting the enemy. Through the wise men, He provided financial support for a move to and from Egypt. In his sleep, Joseph received clear direction about when to move, when to stay, when to return, and where to settle—each decision countering the destructive forces in the unseen world.

However, we should never allow ourselves to slip into a cheap form of triumphalism, believing God is going to rescue all Christians from the deadly conflicts in this world. That would be an affront to the martyrs through the ages and an insult to the little ones who did not escape Herod’s soldiers then… or the gunman’s bullets this morning. Nevertheless, in every war there are casualties and atrocities.

But for those who know Him, our losses are real, but only temporal, and not eternal! God has a plan for His people. He is accomplishing His purpose, no matter what our seen and unseen enemies may do. Every action of our enemies will always play into His plan for our lives. Jesus came to rescue us from the enemies of our soul, both in this world and the world we cannot see.

Is this your God? Do you reject the notion that God is the author of evil? Do you embrace the truth that God will ultimately triumph over all? He truly is the Lord of Lords. He is the King.

Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” – Matthew 2:21-23

Joseph’s obedience was instrumental at every step in this story, wasn’t it? With every direction, he responds with obedience. Apart from his sensitive, passionate pursuit of God’s purpose for his life, Joseph could have been a casualty in the conflict surrounding the birth of Jesus. He had a very significant role to play.

And so do you, especially on a day like today. So listen carefully and obey immediately!

We will shed tears along the way, commingled with His own, but the time for weeping will fade as the Victor puts down every evil and every darkness in the universe… and in our hearts. We will dance in eternity before the One born in Bethlehem—the One who was born for battle and ushered in the Christmas Revolution!

Editor’s Note: If you would like to obtain a single PDF file containing all 25 blogs in the “Counting Down to the Christmas Revolution” series, click here to download. May God richly bless your efforts to explore the revolutionary truth underlying the Christmas celebrations around the world.

Day 5: Counting Down to the Christmas Revolution

day 5When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”. . . Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” . . . Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down…”Matthew 3:16-17; 4:3-6

The essence of lostness is to do life apart from God. Whether the lifestyle is evil or benevolent, a life lived independently of God is broken and subhuman, falling short of the filial joy that is our creaturely birthright. Yesterday, we saw how Jesus chose to live with human ordinariness, completely dependent on the Father for direction in His choices, words, and actions.

Today, we explore why.

At His baptism, Jesus heard His Father’s heart and experienced His pleasure. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, Jesus enjoyed an intimate, childlike relationship with a Father whose love was like a blanket that enveloped Him. His response was simple: love Him back! Asked to pick the single greatest commandment of all, Jesus would later teach, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.‘ (Matthew 22:37). Is that “obedience”? Yes. Is it an expression of “dependence”? Yes. But if it is anything, love is seeking the pleasure of the One who is loved.

Immediately following His baptism, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into an encounter with Satan. The Garden scenario was being replayed. Armed with the favor of God, the Son had a single task… love the Father. Like Adam and Eve, everything Jesus was tempted to do involved acting independently of the Father. “You’re the Son of God,” the devil said. “You can do whatever you like. Turn stones to bread. Show off a little. Take over the world.”  But what was the price of this “freedom”? It was too much.

Near the end of His earthly journey, one of the disciples asked how Jesus would “manifest” or appear to His followers after His physical departure. Jesus replied,

“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” – John 14:23

The people who will know Him are the ones who love Him. The obedient, dependent Christ-follower is not a mentally weak individual who has been deluded into a slavish relationship with an imaginary deity… but rather, he or she is a lover caught up in an intoxicating affair with a God who lives within.

The baby in Bethlehem not only inverted this world’s value system, He also turned the world of religion on its head. Religion is about what we do to obtain what we want or need from a god,  or it’s a mechanism for becoming a god of our own. But through the baby-in-the-manger event, we discover that God is pursuing an all-consuming relationship with us — and in that relationship we find a delirious, unspeakable joy (1 Peter 1:8).

In the end of this story, temptation is not overcome through the will, but through a heart overwhelmed by the favor of God.

It’s another delightful facet of the Christmas Revolution!

Editor’s Note: If you would like to obtain a single PDF file containing all 25 blogs in the “Counting Down to the Christmas Revolution” series, click here to download. May God richly bless your efforts to explore the revolutionary truth underlying the Christmas celebrations around the world.