Sunday, September 24, 2017

Labor negotiations

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 20:1-16

TO CHEW ON: " ' Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?' " Matthew 20:15

Jesus, master storyteller that He was, created the problem in His parable by structuring it the way He did. The all-day workers would probably not have argued about their pay if they'd been paid first. But, alas, they were paid last after they saw the latecomers get the same amount they had agreed to work for. And so they expected more.

The takeaway from this story comes in the last two verses, where the landowner addresses his discontented servants. He makes several points.

- His money is his to do with as he likes. If we take the landowner to be God, we can see this is an affirmation of His sovereignty. He is sovereign over Earth and what happens on it.

- His generosity (goodness) with his late-coming workers brings out the envy/outrage (evil) in his all-day servants: " ' Is your eye evil because I am good?' "

- The "laws" of the kingdom of heaven (those principles by which it operates) are different than the kingdom of this world: " ' So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.' "

Several points rise out of this for our own self-examination:
  • God's sovereignty is great when we understand it. But like these discontented servants, it's easy to question what He's doing when we don't. We grapple with things as small as perceived unfairnesses to the old question: "Why do bad things happen to good people?" This brings us to our own interchanges with God like Job's:
GOD: " 'Would you indeed annul My judgment? 
Would you condemn Me that you may be justified?' " - Job 40:8.
JOB: 'I know that You can do everything,
And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.

You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know
' " - Job 42:2-3
(emphasis added).

  • God's goodness underlies everything He does. When we get that stained deep into the grain of our belief, we'll find fewer occasions to gripe. The fact that we can even expect a reward at all is grace. "The parable affirms that God is absolutely sovereign and gracious in granting rewards. Those who serve Him can trust His grace" - J. Lyle Story, commentary on Matthew, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1327.

  • The kingdom of heaven never ceases to surprise. Let's continue to explore its "laws of gravity" and live according to them, even as we continue to walk this earth.

Dear Jesus, thank You for Your sovereignty and goodness.  Help me to learn and apply these principles of Your kingdom as I continue to live and work on Earth.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Prepare to be surprised

child doing handstand
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 19:16-30

TO CHEW ON: " ' But many who are first will be last, and the last first.' " Matthew 19:30

Again and again Jesus reminds His disciples that the kingdom of heaven is characterized by reversal. That's the word the Thompson Chain Bible uses to head a section that traces the kinds of reversals taught and illustrated in the Bible.

[Reverse: Adjective: having a contrary or opposite direction or character, order etc., turned backward. Noun: that which is directly opposite or contrary; a change to an opposite position, direction, state. Verb: to turn upside down, inside out, to turn in an opposite direction - Funk & Wagnall's Dictionary.]

- God reverses fortunes - Psalm 75:7; 107:41; "…Nothing shall remain the same…" Ezekiel 21:26.

- God hates pride. The proud person is a target for reversal - Psalm 147:6.

- God can remove the life props we make for ourselves - Isaiah 22:25. He can destroy the things we have accomplished and in which we trust: "The lofty city; He lays it low…" - Isaiah 26:5.

- God can bring down rulers - Isaiah 40:23; Luke 1:52. Nebuchadnezzar is an example of this, when he goes from being a proud king to a mentally deranged "beast" - Daniel 4:28-33.

- God sees the poor, neglected by the rich and reverses their state - Luke 6:25; 16:25.

- On the other hand, He also rewards good stewardship with more, that is, gives more to the person who already has while taking away from the one who has little - Matthew 25:29.

- Our expectations will be challenged. Over and over we hear Jesus say: " 'The last shall be first, the first last' " - Matthew 19:30; 20:16; Mark 10:31; Luke 13:30.

Some thoughts we can take from this into our day:

1. God hates pride. When we give ourselves credit for what we have and get puffed over what we've done, we set ourselves up for reversal.

2. The material things in which we put our confidence aren't as trustworthy as we think.

3. The world's rulers, those we love or hate, follow or resist, admire or fear, are targets for God's reversal. Let's remember that as we pray for our nation and the world.

4. We are responsible to be good stewards of what we have, whether it's much or little.

5. Knowing all the above, we'll probably still be surprised when, someday, we stand before God and see things as they really are.

Dear God, please help me to live in the upside down, back-to-front paradigm of the kingdom of heaven while I'm here on earth. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Powerful hands

Detail from "Jesus and the Little Child" by James Tissot

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 19:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray … And He laid His hands on them and departed from there." Matthew 19:13,15

I wonder what became of the little children Jesus laid His hands on that day. Was it a memorable day for them? Did their lives change after that?

The laying on of hands is powerful body language throughout the Bible, used to say a variety of things:

"I bless"
  • That's what the patriarchs did to their children and grandchildren - Genesis 48:14-15.
  • That's what the parents wanted Jesus to do to their children in our reading (expressed explicitly in Mark 10:16: "And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them." emphasis added).

"This animal is my substitute"

  • Laying hands on the animal that was to be sacrificed was part of the Old Testament offering ritual - Leviticus 4:4, 15, 29, 33. It was the way the sinner said, "I transfer my sins to this animal. It dies in my stead."

"Receive your healing"
  • In the New Testament, Jesus laid hands on people when He healed them - Mark 6:5; 7:32,33; 8:23. He commissioned His followers to do the same - Mark 16:18.
  • Ananias laid his hands on Saul/Paul and he recovered his sight - Acts 9:17.
  • Later Paul prayed for healing for the father of Publius with the same gesture - Acts 28:8.

"Receive the fullness"

  • On one of his missionary journeys, when Paul met a group of disciples at Ephesus who did not know about the Holy Spirit, he laid hands on them and "… the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied - Acts 19:6. In other words, it opened the floodgates for all God had for them.

"I ordain you"

Laying on hands in ordination happened in both the Old and New Testaments.
  • Moses was to lay hands on the Levites as part of their initiation to priestly work - Numbers 8:10.
  • He also laid his hands on Joshua when he passed on his mantle of leadership - Deuteronomy 34:9.
  • The New Testament has instances where church leaders laid hands on individuals prior to them being sent out to do ministry - Acts 6:6.
  • For Timothy, that experience confirmed a special gift that equipped him - 1 Timothy 4:14.

We can use our warm, personal, unique hands for so many things—both bad and good. Let's use them to do less hitting, dismissing, and cursing; to do more blessing, equipping, commissioning, and healing.

PRAYER: Dear God, I present my hands to You today as part of myself—a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God. (Romans 12:1). Amen.


Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Unlikely disciple

"St. Matthew" by Pompeo Batoni

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 9:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office and He said to him, 'Follow me.' So he arose and followed Him." Matthew 9:9

I love Matthew's uncomplicated faith, shown when he dropped everything and followed Jesus. Didn't he have to give this career change some thought? Apparently not. Or maybe he had given it thought, had become increasingly discontented with his job, was aware of Jesus, secretly longed to get to know Him better, and here was his opportunity.

Matthew is an interesting choice as a disciple. The Bible tells us he was a tax collector—one of a class of people who worked for the hated Romans. Tax collectors made their living by charging slightly higher fees than the Romans for general, agricultural, census, and traveler taxes. Licensed tax collectors often hired publicans to do the actual collecting. Publicans, who tacked on additional fees, were usually Jews and doubly despised as tax collectors and traitors.

Matthew was one of these publicans whose booth was beside the road outside Capernaum. In addition to collecting the road tax, he may also have collected taxes from fishermen. Imagine how the career fishermen (Andrew, Peter, James and John) must have felt when this loathed publican joined their band!

However, Jesus knew what He was doing when He chose Matthew. He was probably good with numbers and could read and write. He was well educated in the Scriptures, judging by how much of the Old Testament he had at his fingertips to quote in the Gospel of Matthew.

He also had a missionary bent, shown when he shared his new Rabbi with his friends. Though the book of Matthew doesn't name him as the host of the feast described in our reading, he is named that in Luke 5:29 (actually Luke calls him 'Levi'—another name he went by).

That desire to share Jesus eventually led to his writing of the history of the life of Christ we know as The Gospel According to Matthew. What a legacy!

  • It contains the only account of the wise men visit.
  • Its detailed account of the Jesus' teachings (called the Sermon on the Mount) is three chapters long (Matthew 5:1-7:29) versus Luke's twenty-nine verses (Luke 6:20-49).
  • It contains parables of the Day of Judgment found in no other gospel (Matthew 24)
  • It emphasizes Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
  • It stresses that Jesus was Messiah.
  • It depicts Him as King.
What an amazing contribution from someone who came from the most despised category of people, "tax collectors and sinners," whom Jesus Himself characterized as sick: "'Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick'" - Matthew 9:12.

The story of Matthew should give all of us hope. For when Jesus calls us, He sees right through our family and job categories. He is not influenced by the labels others put on us or we put on ourselves. When He says "Follow Me" and we jump up and follow Him, we set out on the road to discover a potential and a destiny we never dreamed possible.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Matthew (Levi), a tax collector who became the writer of a history that has influenced millions. Help me to trust You with my future like he trusted You with his. Amen.

MORE: The Feast of St. Matthew

Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. Matthew. The liturgy for the day begins with the following collect:

"We thank you, heavenly Father, for the witness of your apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of your Son our Savior; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Bible Drive-Thru

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Obedience Training

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Exodus 16:1-16

TO CHEW ON: “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day that I may test them whether they will walk in My law or not.’” Exodus 16:4

Have you ever raised a stubborn child, where the smallest request ended in a battle of wills? “Eat your vegetables.” “No!” “Brush your teeth.” “No!” “Buckle your seat belt.” “No!” “Stop hitting your sister.” POW!

Sometimes such battles can seem silly. Why press a child to tears for victory over a few peas or a bedtime with clean teeth? Yet the responsible parent knows that disobedience in such small things is a symptom of a deeper attitude of rebellion toward authority. When we ignore it in our children, we run the risk of them growing into rebellious adults.

In a way the Israelites were like children. They were untrained in the ways of freedom. They had recently broken free from the grip of generations of slavery in Egypt. Whether their new attitude of complaining and insolence was a pendulum swing as far from slavery as they could get (now we can do as we please!), or just the natural response of human nature to tough conditions, we don’t know. But God sensed their need for training and He started small, with basic, easy-to-follow directions about gathering food (Exodus 16:4,5).

God’s explanation to Moses of why He made such rules: “‘That I may test them.'”

[Test - nasah - To put to the test, to try, to prove, tempt. The basic idea is to put someone to the test to see how he will respond. - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 747.]

Predictably, perhaps, some failed this test by trying to keep manna overnight (Exodus 16:20), and failing to gather extra on the day before Sabbath, then finding no supply on Sabbath morning (Exodus 16:27).

On the flip side of this matter, Jesus taught that those obedient and faithful in small things would be rewarded with greater responsibility (Matthew 25:21,23).

Where do we sit in this continuum of rebellion to obedience (and qualification for promotion)? What tests are we facing? Are we passing those tests? Are we aware of what our acts of insolence and disobedience to the things of God say about our maturity and fitness for the responsibilities we have now, let alone greater responsibility?

PRAYER: Dear Father, please give me insight into how the mundane activities and attitudes of life are spiritual tests. Help me to grow in obedience. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Three thirsty days is a long time

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 15:6-27

"And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. … And the people complained against Moses, saying, 'What shall we drink?'" Exodus 15:22,24

The Israelites had just experienced their most stunning victory—not through their own skill but through miracles straight from God. Even uptight Moses burst into song and matriarch Miriam led the women in a victory dance. But now, only three days later, there is complaining again.

For us, reading these stories, the Israelites' mood changes seem mercurial. They go from rejoicing to grumbling in four verses! Before we're too hard on them, though let's consider their situation.

They are in unfamiliar territory, walking in desert heat, sleeping in desert cold. And they're rapidly running out of the one essential that will keep them alive—water. Three days is a long time to be thirsty. Then, when they do find water, it's bitter. And so they grumble.

I ask myself, if I were in their shoes, would I act any differently?

The Israelites' desert experience demanded that the people mature in trusting God. It stretched them to look past how things appeared in the moment and see the situation with the eyes of faith. They were constantly challenged to remember how God had helped them in the past. Then they needed to apply that memory to current conditions.

"God knows exactly when to withhold or to grant us any visible sign of encouragement. How wonderful it is when we will trust Him in either case! Yet it is better when all visible evidence that He is remembering us is withheld. He wants us to realize that His word—His promise of remembering us—is more real and dependable than any evidence our sense may reveal. It is good when He sends the visible evidence, but we appreciate it even more after we have trusted Him without it" - Charles Gallaudet Trumbull, quoted in Streams in the Desert by L. B. Cowman - January 24th reading.

I too can go from high to low in a matter of days—hours! And so I too have lots of room for stretching and growth in the living-by-faith department. What about you?

PRAYER:  Dear God, I see myself reflected in these Israelites. Help me to get my eyes off circumstances and keep them on You and Your history and promises. Amen.

Streams in the Desert - 366 Daily Devotional Readings by Cowman

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 18, 2017


Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Exodus 14:19-15:5

“… and the pillar of cloud went before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one and it gave light by night to the other so that the one did not come near the other all that night.” Exodus 14:19,20

When there was absolutely no human escape from the fast-approaching Egyptian army, God showed His hand. The cloud that had gone before the Israelites to guide them now parked itself between them and the Egyptians. In this way God bought hours and hours of time for the great multitude to cross the dried sea bed - Exodus 14:21,22.

There are other times in the Bible when God interposed Himself between His people and trouble. Some means He used:

  • Paralysing fear
Back in Genesis at the beginning of the nation, God put fear in the people that had dealings with the sons of Jacob so that they didn’t get hassled - Genesis 35:5.

Again when Israel was poised on the brink of Canaan, spies who hid in Rahab’s house heard from her how terrified the peple living on the west of the Jordan River were of the Israelites - Joshua 2:11.

  • A heavenly army
Elisha prayed for his servant to see a heavenly guard protecting them from the Syrian army - 2 Kings 6:17.

  • Blindness
During the same incident above, God struck the Syrian soldiers with blindness so they were at Elisha’s mercy - 2 Kings 6:18.

  • Protection
God protected the returning exiles during their long trek from Babylon to Israel - Ezra 8:31. Perhaps you’ve prayed for a “hedge of protection.” Are you aware that when you ask that you are using an expression coined by Satan (Job 1:10)?

  • Closed lion mouths
When Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, God’s angel closed their mouths - Daniel 6:22.

We get the picture, don’t we? God overcame the most daunting foes in whatever way suited the situation. And the result was two-fold: God’s people were spared and God was worshiped and lifted up: Exodus 15:1-5; Joshua 2:11b, Ezra 8:35; Daniel 6:26,27.

Let’s similarly keep trusting God for His care and protection. When we get it, let’s not attribute it to luck or coincidence but give Him glory.

Dear Father, I’m sure I don’t realize the extent to which You protect me daily. Thank You! Help me to be ever mindful of Your protecting and keeping hand in my circumstances, and to give You the credit. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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