The Heart of Christ

Matthew 9

January 9

I believe Matthew 9 gives us an excellent glimpse into the heart of Christ.  Let’s start at the end of the chapter.  Matthew 9:36 tells us, “When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Remember these crowds were filled with tax collectors and sinners – people rejected by polite society – people rejected by the religious leaders of the day.  And yet Jesus’ first instinct was that of compassion.  To understand the significance of this, let’s remember that Jesus was the only sinless person ever to walk the face of the earth.  One would naturally think that whatever sins cause us (sinful people) to cringe, would cause Jesus to be horrified.  And yet Jesus had compassion because the people coming to him were harassed and helpless.

If we now back up to Matthew 9:35, we see what he did because of his compassion, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.”  Jesus was interested in helping these people who were helpless in and of themselves.  He first met their most basic need – their spiritual need – the need to be reconciled with God – by preaching the good news of the kingdom of God.  If all Jesus cared about was people’s salvation, I suspect he would have stopped there.  But in addition to preaching and teaching, he healed every disease and sickness.  This again points out that Jesus was deeply concerned with the people themselves, and cared about what the people cared about – and solved the problems they faced.  The only explanation is that Jesus genuinely loved these “unlovable” people.

Let’s look at some of the other stories in this chapter.  The chapter begins with some men bringing a paralytic to Jesus.  Jesus was so eager to help the man, he didn’t wait for anyone else to even speak, and just jumped in with, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” – almost as if Jesus just couldn’t wait to help the man.  Jesus jumped right to the most important problem – reconciling this man to God.  Then, to prove he had authority to forgive sins, he demonstrated his power again by completely healing the man.  The crowds were in awe, and praised God.

The next section talks about Jesus’ calling Matthew, a tax collector, to follow him.  Jesus didn’t only tolerate those society rejected, he actively sought them out.  It was at Matthew’s house that Jesus’ enemies accused him of eating (coming in close fellowship with) tax collectors and sinners.  Jesus’ response, in Matthew 9:12-13 was, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Mercy.  God desires mercy, and Jesus was demonstrating it.  And I would argue that one cannot really demonstrate mercy without first loving the target of that mercy.

The chapter goes on to detail other miracles, including raising a dead girl back to life, healing a woman who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years, and healing two blind men.  All in addition to the summary at the end, saying that he healed every disease and sickness throughout all their towns and villages.

For me, if I had to define Jesus with a single word, based on this chapter, that word would be Love.  Love we can’t even fully comprehend.  God-like love.  

1 John 4:16 says, “… God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in Him.”

John 5:19 tells us, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees his father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

-Steve Mattison

Questions for reflection & Discussion

  1. Does Jesus care about the things that concern you?  (Hint:  read Matthew 11:28-30)
  2. If Jesus loved the people of his day, how much must he love you?  
  3. How has he demonstrated his love to you?  
  4. What is your response?
  5. If Christians are supposed to “imitate Christ” what would that look like in your life? (Hint: read John 13:34, Philippians 2:3-8, 1 John 2:6)
  6. How are you measuring up?

Jesus vs. Demons

Matthew 8

January 8

Jesus has just finished his impressive Sermon on the Mount and many are following him. They hear something different in his teaching and are drawn to him. Now, it’s time for them to see something different! Jesus is not all talk. He shows them the love and power of God which God gave to His Son to put into action to make believers, to convince the people that the Messiah was in their midst. Jesus is incredible to watch. He conquers disease, isolation, paralysis, suffering, fevers, demon possession, storms and the elements. He teaches a better way (add love) and he demonstrates what that looks like, with a healthy dose of God’s power.

Jesus is not scared of the leper who has been ostracized, feared and shunned because of the painful sores on his body and this contagious disease. Rather, he stops, listens, reaches out his hand, touches him, and heals him with compassion and power.

Likewise, he heals the Roman centurion’s servant (without even touching or seeing him) because of the faith of the centurion. He heals Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever and she responds by serving him. He heals the sick and demon-possessed and in a mighty way he calms the storm and amazes his disciples.

Those are all great accounts of awesome acts, but today I want to look a little deeper at the last events of Matthew 8 – the healing of two demon-possessed men in the region of the Gadarenes. It is certainly not because I have a wealth of information to share with you about demon-possession. It is indeed one of those Bible topics I know is in there, but still have a lot of questions about. It might be easier to try to ignore it and read right over it – but then I would be missing a chunk of Jesus’ life and power and I don’t want to do that. And I can’t help but feel that if I understand this a little more…there could be something useful for me to learn and put into action myself today.

So, what do we learn about these specific demons from this passage?

They are powerful and violent and have control over people even in a physical manner.

They are smart in spiritual matters. They recognize Jesus as the Son of God! They know that there will be a time coming when Jesus will do battle against them and torture them. (Matthew 8:29)

Despite all the power these demons have displayed over people, and the fear they have instilled in others, they are now in Jesus’ presence (since he was bold enough to go where others wouldn’t). And in Jesus’ presence they are begging him. They realize the Son of God, Jesus, has power over them. They have more than met their match.

And then there are the townspeople’s reaction to Jesus! They hear that Jesus has freed these two men from the demons that controlled them and terrorized their roadways. And they learn that Jesus had sent the demons (as per their request) into a herd of pigs which then rushed down the steep bank and drowned in the water. And their response is to plead with Jesus to leave town, leave them alone. They had grown accustomed to the demon possessed men. It might not be pleasant, but it was what they knew. They were used to their violent ways and were practiced at trying to avoid personal injury; maybe some demons weren’t too bad to have around. After all, the townspeople were still able to raise their pigs and have a decent way of life.

Until Jesus came around. He freed the men and sent the demons packing, but the pigs were lost. The people feared what they did not know. And, they were likely a bit upset about their material loss.

Help me to not grow comfortable in the presence of evil. Help me never be more attached to my material goods than to what is right. Help me to see clearly evil for what it is. And help me see clearly the power of God for what it is. Help me to see the power God has given Jesus over spiritual darkness and demons – then, now and in the future. Help me always choose good over evil, whatever the cost.

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1 – What’s the worst storm you have ever been in? How would you react (both that day, and the following month) if Jesus had appeared in the middle of it and calmed the storm with his words? How did the disciples react? Why do you think Jesus calmed this storm but not all storms?

2 – Did reading this chapter make you think of any questions you have for God? Talk to Him about them.

3 – Jesus wasn’t afraid to help the outcasts, touch the lepers, and go where others wouldn’t dare. If Jesus were in your town today where do you think we would find him?

See Clearly

Matthew 7

January 7

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1 – NIV) Its a loaded statement. We don’t like to feel judged and told that we are wrong, so we won’t judge and tell other people they are wrong. And so this single verse is used to justify, and even demand, blind acceptance of others and all their deeds. You are free to be gay – I have no right to judge. You are free to have the right to an abortion – I have no right to judge. You are free to believe you are a woman when God made you a man – I have no right to judge. You are free to hook up with anyone anytime you want – I have no right to judge. And that is what some would have us believe a good Christian should do. Let them be them and accept them for it. Their way is just as good as my way.

Only trouble is – the rest of this passage continues.

“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2 – NIV) If you use a yard stick to measure yourself but a meter stick to measure others, they will always be coming up short. It is not a fair and right judgment or measure. It is skewed in your favor to make others look less than. They just don’t measure up to your greatness.

Here’s a little true story example – I have been known to be put out and upset when someone I am waiting for is running late. How could they inconvenience me by not operating more according to my clock and my time schedule? Only trouble is, yesterday I was caught by a train (it happens here in northern Indiana – the crossroads of America) and I didn’t show up exactly when someone else was expecting me, but of course my tardiness was excusable, because it wasn’t my fault, I didn’t know a train was going to be coming, etc…. It is not my right to condemn, chastise, be upset with others if I am not willing to be measured in the same way. Late is late. And, in actuality, it’s not my clock or their clock that really matters anyway – but what does God’s clock or measuring stick or word say? That is what matters.

The passage continues, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the PLANK in your own eye?…You hypocrite, FIRST take the plank out of your own eye, AND THEN you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3, 5 – NIV). If a brother has a speck in his eye and there was something loving you could do to help him get that irritating, painful thing out, wouldn’t you want to? Wouldn’t God want you to? But, how much help could I be in this delicate operation if my own eye has a beam sticking out of it? I can’t see clearly to help others out of sin when I am swimming in it myself. That sin in my own life is first priority. I must deal with it. Get rid of it. It may hurt like crazy to pull that beam out – but until I do, my usefulness to help guide and correct others is gone. Pull it out. Heal. See Clearly. Then, I can help others, with the same word of God, same guidelines, same measuring stick and same mercy and compassion that saved me.

It is very true I am not the judge and the jury. God is and He will share that job with His Son. But I DO have a responsibility to watch myself closely, to hold myself accountable to the Word of God, and to be very aware of what is happening around me – including the sin that so easily entangles.

All paths are not created equal. Some – the narrow ones that not many people are willing to stay on – lead to life. Others – the wide, easy, popular ones where the majority are – leads to destruction. It would be foolish of me to not be judging which path I am on at all times. See clearly the two paths.

We are told, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). This will require VERY keen eyesight and insight. We will have to be wise in judging what may at first seem right and true but in fact is cleverly disguised, dangerous, deadly lies which are leading many down the wrong path. Watch out! See clearly those who are deceiving and being deceived. Blind acceptance will take you somewhere you do not want to go.

Make sure you are not sitting in the house of the foolish builder as the wind picks up. Many in that house have heard the word of God. They may profess Christianity and call him Lord and even seek to serve him. But they are not acting any different from the world. They are not doing the will of God. They have grown comfortable with the plank in their eye. They have befriended the wolf in sheep’s clothing. They have failed to put Jesus’ words into practice. They are on the wide path approaching the wide gate that leads to destruction.

Get out and move to the house of the wise builder before the downpour comes! Hear Jesus and listen. Do what he says. Take the plank out of your eye. See clearly. Help your brother take the speck out of his. Don’t make friends with the wolf just because he dressed up like a sheep.

See clearly. All paths are not the same. All houses will not stand. All choices are not okay. All churches will not be saved. Some will lead to life. Some will lead to death. Use the same measuring stick – God’s Word and the teachings of Jesus. And put it into practice! See clearly. Judge roads and gates and houses and wolves wisely. Your life truly depends on this.

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What was the difference between the wise and foolish builder? What fate awaited each? How can you put into practice the words of Jesus from Matthew 7 today?
  2. When we were introduced to John the Baptist and to Jesus we were told what they were preaching – see Matthew 3:2 and 4:17 to remember. Are any lessons from Matthew 7 connected to this preaching theme? If so, how?
  3. Is it easier for you to see your own sins or the sins of others? What advice does Jesus give? Pray to see clearly your own sins first so you can deal with them.
  4. How do you feel when you read Matthew 7:21-23? How does it relate to the rest of the chapter? How can we live now to avoid hearing these words from Jesus?

Add Love

Matthew 5

January 5

It’s only been 5 days, but so far I am enjoying the one chapter a day pace for 2022. It’s allowing us a bit more time to soak in the lessons of each chapter before rushing into the next. However, as we look at Matthew chapter 5 today I can’t help but feel that this chapter would be a good one to cover just one VERSE per day! Jesus knew how to stack a sermon with plenty to mull over on the way home. It is possible that Matthew included some bits and pieces from other sermons to lump them all together into what is now known as The Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5, 6 and 7. Whether it was all said by Jesus in one particular sitting, or spread out, or often repeated for various audiences, these words of Jesus are priceless and worthy of being read over and over again, finding something new and inspiring every time.

We will save a longer discussion on the Beatitudes for another day/week/month. Until then, watch your attitudes. The right ones, as judged by God and not man, will come with great reward.

It’s okay, even preferred, to be persecuted for following Jesus. Follow anyway. The reward is great. And you are not the first to endure such opposition.

Be different from the world. Keep your saltiness (preserving life, adding spiritual savoring, disinfecting worldliness). Keep shining in the darkness. Keep doing good. Represent your Heavenly Father well.

Keep the Old Testament – with a New Testament heart.

Jesus knew people would think that now that the Messiah was here the old laws and scriptures would be done away with. Laws aren’t a lot of fun, let’s just love instead. He saw it back then, we still see it today. But Jesus clearly stated, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Jesus challenged those sitting at his feet and he challenges us today. Think of the BEST people you can think of. Who is known for being righteous? At that time it was the Pharisees and teachers of the law. But Jesus said, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Ouch! Did that say what I think it said? Read it again. But Jesus said, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Something MORE is needed. Following the Old Testament laws one by one to show the world how good you are doesn’t cut it. But that doesn’t mean we throw out the law and the prophets and the Old Testament. Rather than throwing it out, we add to it. We don’t need to add more laws, the Pharisees already tried that, too. Instead, we add to it the heart of Jesus – the New Testament heart. What does that look like? Jesus knew we would ask, so he gives us six examples in Matthew 5.

Don’t pat yourself on the back for not murdering anyone today. Add love. Control your anger toward others. Don’t let that put-down out of your mouth. Work at relationships. Forgive and ask for forgiveness. And still, don’t murder.

Don’t pat yourself on the back for not committing adultery today. Add love. Guard yourself from lust. Take it seriously. There are consequences. Show respect and responsibility. And still, don’t commit adultery.

Don’t pat yourself on the back for doing a divorce in a legal, friendly manner. Add love. Work at it again. Take it seriously. There are consequences for everyone.

Don’t pat yourself on the back for keeping one oath made to God. Watch your words. Take them seriously. Stop making promises. Realize God is so much greater than you. Realize there is so much beyond your control. Keep it simple. Watch for influence from the evil one.

Don’t pat yourself on the back for getting even. Add love. Add sacrifice. Add service. Add generosity. Even when it’s hard. Even when it’s not deserved.

Don’t pat yourself on the back for taking good care of people who take good care of you. Add love. For all. God knows. He’s got this. Don’t worry if it’s not fair now. You will see sunshine and rain. They (your enemies) will, too. It’s okay. Pray for them, even if they hurt you – or especially if they hurt you. Your actions and your prayers will show that you are God’s child. Work at being like Him.

Keep the commandments and add love.

Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Where is society trying to throw away the laws of God? What would they replace it with? Is this a good idea or a dangerous one? Why?
  2. Do you more often focus on the law or on love? Think of a particular instance where you leaned one way or another. How do we do both? What could you have done in the example you thought of to add in more of the lesser ingredient?
  3. What is the danger in weighing in too heavily in the law, neglecting love? What is the danger in weighing in too heavily in love, neglecting the law?
  4. Have you ever been afraid of the dark? What about spiritual darkness? How important is light? And spiritual light? What dims your light? What helps it shine brighter? Do you feel more like a match or a floodlight? How can we remember to be a light and shine in the darkness?

There’s a War Out There

Matthew 4

January 4

Deserts are dangerous places! Wild animals, extreme temperatures, lack of water, and don’t forget the devil, the tempter or Satan – he goes by many names – even in our short desert passage in Matthew 4 (vs. 1, 3, 10).

But, dangerous deserts aren’t his only hang-out. He was also spotted in an other-wise perfect garden giving a tantalizing advertisement for forbidden fruit. And, oh the trouble he caused there! The spiraling, echoing repercussions of which we can still feel and see and hear today. The darkness. The evil. The distance from God and His will and His way.

Don’t assume that if you don’t see a crafty red fellow with horns and a spiked tail or a wily talking snake that you are free from temptation and the spiritual battle between good and evil. Paul says it well in Ephesians 6:10-18. I encourage you to read the whole passage, but here I will include verses 11-14a

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then…”

Jesus shows us how to Stand Firm against the devil’s schemes. Adam and Eve show us how to crumble, reject God and His truth, listening instead to Satan’s lies and pursuing selfish gain and ultimately paying the consequences – which lasts for generations to come. Let’s not follow in Adam and Eve’s footprints as they take the serpent’s bait and then try to hide from God in their guilt.

Let’s look again at Jesus’ victorious example in Matthew 4:1-11.

It is interesting that Jesus had just completed a 40 day fast in the desert when Satan appears ready to tempt him with food. Certainly a fast of this length would make you hungry, so at first it seems maybe Jesus will be weakened by his current circumstances. However, keep in mind that a fast is NOT just not eating, an extreme diet plan. It is rather giving up typical food, schedules, conveniences, practices, self to instead focus on seeking God and drawing near to Him. 40 days of seeking God, sacrificing self “needs” to focus on His desires. Jesus’ stomach was empty but his spiritual tank was full up and ready for battle. He was armed with all the ingredients necessary for a successful stand against Satan. Truth. Righteousness. The gospel of peace. Faith to extinguish ALL the flaming arrows of the evil one. Salvation. AND interestingly the only offensive piece of equipment in the armor of God – the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. He was prepared to not just protect himself but he was also prepared to do battle with the forces that wanted to tear him from God and His will. He was armed with Scripture. He knew it well and he knew how to use it to rebuke Satan’s attacks.

That, is what I want. I want to stand firm in victory over Satan because armed with God’s armor and using God’s word has power over evil. I want to know and love and be practiced in God’s word so I can use God’s light from His words to scatter the darkness. And, that is what I want for you, too. Let’s suit up with the armor of God and His Word!

Questions for reflection and discussion

  1. On a scale of 1-10 how aware are you of the spiritual battle being waged right now? In Scott Deane’s class on Daniel and Revelation for Atlanta Bible College, he often said, “What happens in the spiritual world affects what happens in the physical world.” Do you see evidence of this in Scripture? Do you see evidence of this in our world today?
  2. When do you feel weak against evil and Satan’s attempts to pull you from God and His will? When do you feel spiritually strong? How can you make changes to increase the amount of time you feel more spiritually prepared to face the devil’s schemes?
  3. What was Jesus’ message when he began preaching (Matt 4:17)? Where did we hear this before? (Matt 3:2) Do you think we will hear it again in Matthew? Is it a message we still need to hear today?
  4. Who did Jesus call to follow him and fish for men in Matthew 4? What did they give up to follow Jesus? What are you willing to give up in order to have more time and resources to follow Jesus and fish for men? How are your fishing for men skills? How can you develop them more? Who do you know who is currently in darkness and in need of being caught for Jesus? What can you do this week to share Jesus with them?

The Opening Act

Matthew 3

January 3

The prophecies foretold in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament continue in chapter 3, but this time in regards to a man known as John the Baptist. Isaiah prophesied that there would be, “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him'” (Matthew 3:3, and original thought in Isaiah 40:3). This John is a relative of Jesus, born to Zechariah the priest and his wife Elizabeth. See Luke 1 for more on his family and the events surrounding his own miraculous birth about 6 months before the birth of Jesus. Even as a pre-born baby in his mother’s previously barren and aging womb John reacted with joy at Mary’s greeting when she came to tell Elizabeth about her encounter with the angel Gabriel and the child she would carry. These young men, Jesus and John, have quite a connection. They go way back – not just to their days in utero, but going back 700 years to Isaiah’s prophecy.

John had a job to do. A job that had been waiting for him for 700 years – prepare the way for the Lord. He was the opening act. His job was to prepare the audience. Pump them up. Get the crowd ready to listen to and appreciate and adore the one who would come after him, the one who is greater than he is, the one who is the main act, the show stopper. He got to introduce the crowd to the one who could be their Savior.

John definitely had a way of getting people’s attention. But not in a flashy way at all. I don’t think he would be found in the mega church today. He was the preacher out in the desert. The one wearing weird, worn and outdated clothing and also known for his curious all-natural diet. He wasn’t about gaining popularity points or fitting in. He knew it wasn’t about him. It was about Jesus. And he had a job to do.

His message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2). With Jesus’ earthly ministry now ready to start, it was time to make changes. They were closer to God’s kingdom now than they ever had been before. A kingdom needs a king and they were about to get their first look at the king chosen by God to rule His kingdom. But were they ready? No.

Repent of your sins, turn your life around. Stop using your religion as a show to look better than others. Stop relying on your impressive family tree for salvation. Repent of your sins, turn your life around. Start producing good fruit that shows you have changed. Start preparations for the coming judgment day. It’s closer than you think. Repent of your sins, turn your life around. For the Kingdom of heaven and the judgment day that comes with it is closer than you think. Let me introduce you to God’s chosen king – His Son Jesus!

-Marcia Railton

Questions for reflection and discussion

  1. Repentance is not just feeling sorry or regret for doing wrong, but also a commitment and action for change, turning from your sins to do right. In what ways have you sinned and need to repent? What will it look like to turn in the opposite direction and do right? What good fruit is God wanting to see in your life?
  2. Jesus, even though sinless, was baptized by John to set an example for believers. Baptism is a physical act to show your need for repentance and your acceptance of a Savior. Have you been baptized? If so, what does it mean to you? If not, do you have questions about baptism you would like to discuss with a spiritual mentor or pastor?
  3. What was seen and heard at the end of Jesus’ baptism? What do you think Jesus was feeling or thinking at this moment? What do you think God was feeling or thinking at this moment? How do you feel, what do you think, as you envision this scene?
  4. Who has been a John the Baptist for you – someone who helped point the way and introduce you to Jesus? If you know Jesus now, who will you introduce to Jesus?

Devotion

Matthew 1

January 1

de·vo·tion | \ di-ˈvō-shən (noun) – 1. a feeling of strong love or loyalty; 2. the use of time, money, energy, etc., for a particular purpose 3. prayer, worship, or other religious activities that are done in private.

So it begins.  A new year, a new beginning! (but in reality, pretty much the same as yesterday, just with a couple minutes more or less daylight than the surrounding days depending on which hemisphere you live in.) As anticipated, we are beginning a new set of readings for this year! Yay! Today it begins with Matthew 1, which goes through the family tree of Jesus through the line of his father, Joseph., and the DM from God about Jesus.  It is a showcase of how God has been devoted to his people, Israel, faithfully moving generation-to-generation, literally or metaphorically, to begin the path of Jesus Christ and the redemption of us who follow Him.  In so doing, God displays his devotion to us; His love, His use of time, and the pouring out of His holy blessing.  Because of this, we should do nothing less than be devoted to Him in the same manner (John 4:19). What does it mean to be devoted to God?  Today, we look at the three definitions for the word devotion to gain a clearer picture of how we can remain faithful, not only to reading God’s word this year, but drawing closer to Him through this daily activity.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. – Matthew 1:24-25

1. A Strong Love or Loyalty – On our very best days, we seek God in every aspect of our day.  We plan alongside Him; we move with Him; and it is because we love Him and desire to do His will.  But then there are other days where we are faithful and devoted to Him, and our flighty human nature begins to tug.  Those days, usually Mondays, we are in a place of love, but not necessarily acting on a response.  We still must find the will to be faithful, true, and loyal, because God is still in these moments forgiving, restoring, healing, and moving us.  Devote yourself to reading the Word of God throughout this year. Hopefully, in this blog. Follow, share, and do His will in this manner and your relationship with Him will grow stronger. 

Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah. – Matthew 1:17

2. The Use of Time for a Particular Purpose – It is obvious from reading the genealogy in Matthew 1 that God uses time precisely. This may be used as evidence that God had created a family tree from Adam to Second Adam, Jesus, before the creation of the world. He set them apart.  There is no doubt that setting aside time for a particular purpose has its perks.  Christians have been doing it for centuries, coming together at the same time and location to worship God.  In doing this, the weekly life of the family or individual is governed by their meeting as a body of believers, “Sorry, we can’t do that because we have church.”  In the same manner, your individual time of worship and devotion with God should govern each of your days, not simply be the remaining portions.  Set aside time that doesn’t have distractions, doctor’s appointments, or drudgery. This is time only for you and God.

Because Joseph, her husband, was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. – Matthew 1:19-20

3. Religious Activities Done in Private – Joseph wanted to “put away” Mary privately instead of humiliating her in public because he was faithful.  WHAT?!  He was faithful to the law and the customs of His people, which many of us often confuse with the Will of God.  It is also in private that Joseph receives a direct message – God’s will is moving in a much different direction and will change the foundation and fulfillment of the Law.  Being devoted to God is not solely in the public display, although the symbols of baptism and communion are important public, visible representations that acknowledge our walk with Christ.  Before giving us the model prayer in Matthew 6, Jesus discourages us from making our prayer, devotion, and fasting times something that we draw attention to because when we do, we draw attention to ourselves.  It is welcome, and highly encouraged, that you read these devotions alongside someone you know, but it’s not to showcase your devoutness, or to shout in the streets your sufferings for Christ, or to display your streaks.  There will be time to declare your faith and testimony in public, but it is guided by what is done behind the closed doors of those who are devoted.

-Aaron Winnner

QUESTIONS TO PONDER/DISCUSS

you may pick and choose your favorites

  • In this chapter we see several names for the baby born. What names do you find in verses 1, 16, 21, 23, 25 (some are repeated) and what is the significance and meaning of each? Footnotes may be helpful. What will help us remember the importance of these names?
  • Which definition of devotion do you feel you are doing the best with right now? Which one could use a little work? What would your family, friends, neighbors say you are devoted to? Better yet – what would God say you are devoted to?
  • The angel told Joseph in a dream, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife…” (Matthew 1:20). Think about what God may be wanting you to do today, this week, this month, this year. It might go against your natural tendencies or the customs of the land. It may be something that causes you fear and some anxiety. Pray for the direction and follow-through to step out in devotion to God and be an active part of His plans for redemption.
  • Many people find great benefit from the practice of journaling – often writing down thoughts, questions, feelings, quotes helps them stick a little better. You may enjoy daily writing out a verse from each chapter. You can either write out the verse pictured with each devotion, or when reading through the day’s chapter look for a special verse that you want to write down to take with you through the day.

The link to read today’s chapter, Matthew 1, on BibleGateway.com is now at the top, directly below the title and picture.

And here’s the reading plan for the year to print and mark your progress. Looking forward to Seeking Growing and Loving together with you in 2022! God has good things in store for those who seek Him!

Resolution 5: Make Healthy Choices

Malachi 1-2 and Revelation 21

I think we all have flirted with the “best by” dates on food products.  Some of us have done it out of necessity, others maybe more out of laziness, but there is no doubt that some are more sensitive to these subjective guidelines .  I personally give it a sniff and stir test.  Looking for foul odors or curious textures before giving it a taste.   The level of craving or hunger often determines how much flexibility I will give.  At work, I still haven’t lived down a tub full of moldy hummus I ate because I didn’t want to waste it.  I should have just kept my mouth shut (well open really, I was eating), but alas, here I am telling another audience. Surely, the carrots, celery, and apple I was enjoying with the hummus offset any of the negative consequences.  I am willing to eat leftovers, perform sniff tests, down some soft grapes, because when I do this, I give my family an opportunity to buy healthy fresh foods, and treat them to a pleasing sit-down meal from time to time.  This Outback Dinner was brought to you by the goat cheese that sat on the bottom of the meat drawer for weeks and the awful cauliflower-something dish that no one else would eat. Nevertheless, it would seem a bit more detestable if I only treated myself alone and made my family eat the stuff growing hair in the back of the fridge.

 When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty. – Malachi 1:8

Now to frame these choices into a different context.  Is this the way we are treating our relationship with God?  Are we giving him the leftovers, the surplus of our pantry, or the rejects of our storehouse?  Is there an allotted time that you are giving God each day for prayer?  Or do you pray when you have time.  Or if you get up early.  Or when you’re in the car alone.  Are you only tithing what you have left after you pay your bills?  And that is only if there is anything left.  Or maybe not this month because things are tight.  Are you filling the church with single-ply toilet paper when you have triple-ply at your house?  Or bringing your recipe-gone-wrong to the potluck?  Or going to church only when it’s convenient to your and your kids schedule?  Or donating things because you didn’t like the style anyways? If you answered yes to any of these, what you are giving God is going to require a sniff and stir test; your offering may be lame. Your discipleship is growing mold and diseased.  When we are talking about God, we give him the firstfruits.  The unblemished.  Simply the best we have (which still is the equivalent to nothing) but it is fragrant to God and His desires.  He acknowledges the sacrifice when we bring it with a merciful heart. He sees the effort we are making to have a relationship with Him. Our offering is not animals or crops, it is our time, our effort, or energy, our money, and our stuff.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? – Romans 8:32

God didn’t skimp on salvation.  He didn’t provide someone who was expendable.  He didn’t choose someone who was already terminally ill. He didn’t choose a criminal.  He picked the firstfruits, or as Colossians 1 says the firstborn of all creation, meaning before it all, God had already set aside the sacrifice of His son for our sins.  He picked the best.  The only man unblemished by the disease of sin.  This is our example of what sacrifice should look like.  Even though we don’t live in the age of sacrifice, giving first, going without, but most importantly showcasing with our very best effort our desire for God is still a beautiful way to show our love for Him and our request to receive the magnificence of his mercies.  He doesn’t require our sacrifice, but he desires our worship.

“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.  Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”

On a final note, the best of God’s plan is yet to come.  The richness in store for us is beyond anything we would do without now.  Again and again, as you read the blueprints of the Kingdom in Revelation 21, you will be blown away by the preparations God has made.  The God outside of time has taken all of His time to make something beyond all fathom, wealth, and existence.  Wow!  Consequently, when your sacrifice is from the healthiest choice, you are going to miss some fun.  You will have to wake up early or stay up late.  You will have to do without some luxuries, or even believed necessities.  There is still a greater inherent blessing from knowing, serving, and honoring God in the reheated stuff that this life is made of in a corrupt, sinful world.  But God…Oh, how God! He is pouring His very best into what is to come.

-Aaron Winner

Read or listen to the Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Malachi 1-2 and Revelation 21

Resolution 4: Pump Some Iron

Zechariah 12-14

Sheep are notorious for two things. Being stupid and being easily spooked.  It is no wonder the scriptures use the comparison of sheep to the followers of Christ.  As a group, we have faith and access to God, yet it is often our last resort instead of our first instinct.  Additionally, when things start getting tough and someone flexes in our direction, we often are reduced to a cower. We may make the excuse that we are acting in a spirit of gentleness or turning the other cheek, but the truth is most of the time we are wonted weenies.  How many people stood against Goliath?  How many men stood in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace? How many apostles were at the crucifixion of Jesus?  If you’re keeping count, all the answers fit on to a single hand.  We may have faith that triumphs over personal hardships, we may be able to pray for tough changes, or we may be able to move towards a difficult calling, but when a real, visible enemy comes, we often let out a bleat, tuck tail, and run with the flock.

Awake, sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the Lord Almighty. Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land,” declares the Lord, two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. This third I will put into the fire;  I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people, and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’”  Zech 13:7-9

Zecheriah, Matthew, and John all allude that the tribulation will be a tough time to be on this planet, but even more so for those who call themselves a follower of Christ. There will not only be an uptick in geological and astronomical superevents, but Christian all over the world will be truly persecuted – no, not the butt of some late night TV joke – meaning it will be challenging to keep both your faith and your life at the same time.  It is too easy to say that we will not fall away or forsake our beliefs in this ever-coming-closer moment in history. Peter said he never-ever would fall away; Jesus tells him he won’t even make it 24 hours from speaking these words (Matt 26:33-34).  Fortunately, for Peter and for us, there is an opportunity to amend our mistakes, our denials, and our flight.  According to church tradition, and alluded to in the prophecy of Jesus (John 21:18-19), Peter is crucified for sharing the Good News.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” – Matt 24:9

Like Peter, and so many others, we may have had weak moments and scattered the flock.  We may have diminished our faith in front of others, so we could be more accepted or avoid a consequence.  We are weak.  We need to pump some iron with the Word of God.  Let his Holy Spirit spot you (or really do the heavy lifting).  We need to train harder because standing up for our faith WILL NOT get easier.  We want to be like David, Esther, Stephen, Joseph, Mary, and so many more whose faith were purified with persecution.  Our time to be refined in the fire is coming, whether or not we live long enough to see the Great Tribulation.  How do we make sure we are prepared for this moment? Here is a small list of verses that can speak to us, to help us plant our feet and hold firm, today or any other, so when the fire comes and the dross is removed, there remains the precious things that we cling to with our faith: Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.

No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,”declares the Lord. – Isaiah 54:17

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.Hebrew 11:7-10

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” – Esther 4:14

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. – 2 Timothy 1:6-8

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? – Psalms 56:3-4

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:25-26

-Aaron Winner

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Zechariah 12-14 and Revelation 20

Resolution 3: Save Less

As someone in their mid 30’s who still lives the vast majority of their life like their 13, it’s kind of weird to think my wife and I have assets and savings. Banking. Bonds. Portfolios. Pensions. That’s all stuff for adults. I can’t even match my socks. Yet, here I am, meeting with a retirement counselor and occasionally checking in on the stock market.  As much as both my wife and I love our work, we realize that we don’t want to do it forever.  Each month, a chunk of pay goes into a couple different accounts meant for use a quarter century from now. Lord willing, if we both make it.  Check with us in 25 years.

We are reminded in Proverbs that it is a fool who doesn’t think about the future (Prov: 6:6-8).  Yay. Point for me. But should I, as a Christian, have money in my savings account when I could be giving it charitably?  Do I really need to put aside money for the future if God is going to take care of me? Hmm. God gives all, and tells you to save for rainy days, so He will give you something to save for a rainy day. Honestly, I’m not sure. What I do know is saving is an important discipline, especially with the consideration of tithing, but we are reminded by Jesus that we can get carried away with accumulating things, hoarding our wealth, our assets, and collections (Matt 6:19-24; Mark 10:17-27) and be led down not only a distracting path, but a divisive contrast to the life that pursues God that leads to destruction. If you must err on a side as you pursue God’s answer for this, it would be to give more, and save less.  See the sparrows and the rich young ruler.

Unfortunately, or honestly, more fortunately, you will not receive any long term financial advice from me because I can’t even be counted on to keep cash in my pocket without losing it.  The virtuous woman in my house is responsible for all of our rainy day savings. Although still not fully qualified, I would like to take a moment to focus on the savings that occur in today’s reading.  As we all know, weddings can be very expensive affairs and often are the culmination of many years worth of saving.  Keep this in mind when you begin to read about the marriage supper of the Lamb.  God has been “saving” for the wedding of Jesus and the Church since the foundations of the world.  Imagine how elaborate this celebration will be, when God begins to tap into his reserves for sons and daughters. This is a nest egg far beyond our imagination.

“Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:  Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns! Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. – Revelation 19:6b-7

Investing in a single company, bond, or stock is a foolish idea, that’s Finance 101 and some wisdom for earthly investments. However, for treasures that await in heaven to become sight on earth, you can’t diversify.  You must be sold out in your devotion to the Savior (Matt 16:24-26).  That means you must begin reducing and selling off your other investments of your time, your mind, your energy, and your heart.  If you must bank, first, bank of the hope of Jesus Christ. If you must save, first, let it be for others in the telling of the Gospel message.  If you retire, first, let it be in the peace that comes from this saving knowledge.  The pension that comes from a lifetime of devotion to God is far greater than we could ever imagine and earned through our faith in a single truth: Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God and Father, given as propitiation for our sin, and He is coming again to establish God’s kingdom.  Wholly invest in this.

The Lord their God will save his people on that day as a shepherd saves his flock.  They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown. – Zechariah 9:16

-Aaron Winner

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Zechariah 9-11 and Revelation 19

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