Love and Truth

Matthew 15

January 15

We have used the word love to describe Jesus and his ministry many times in the last few days. And that is certainly true. But we would be creating a grievous error if we thought love was all that mattered to Jesus. Jesus’ ministry was about love and truth. Truth and love.

In Matthew 15 (and throughout the gospels) we don’t see a soft and cuddly pushover full of love and open arms. Indeed, Jesus is still love, but that includes love for the truth and love for those being led astray by deceit and human traditions. And sometimes love looks a little harsh when it is armed with truth.

The teachers of the law in Jerusalem were so curious about this Jesus. A delegation was sent to find him and question him. It would have been an 80-90 mile hike, or a 4-7 day journey from Jerusalem to the Gennesaret valley west of the Sea of Galilee. They were committed to this search for answers. How will they be received by Jesus?

There were a lot of Jewish laws and traditions about what to eat and not eat and what needed to be done surrounding the meal (like ceremonial washing of hands). The disciples and Pharisees were shocked to hear Jesus say that it wasn’t what goes into a mouth that makes you unclean, but what comes out of it. The disciples were also a bit surprised, I think, that Jesus answered the Pharisees the way he did, asking him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” (Matthew 15:12). It is certainly NOT our purpose to try to be as offensive as possible when in religious discussion. And, it is wise to remember we don’t have all the wisdom of the Son of God. But, neither ought we be willing to keep the saving truth from those that might disagree with us, just because it would be more polite – or loving – to be silent.

How will you mix love and truth as Jesus did?

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Jesus warned against following traditions of men that lead you to break the commands of God. What are some examples of how this could happen today? What are the benefits and drawbacks to following the traditions of men? What are the benefits and drawbacks to following the commands of God? Which would you rather follow? What will that look like this week?
  2. When is tradition a good thing? When is it a bad thing? Are there any traditions you are currently following that are not helpful in drawing you closer to what Jesus wants to see in your life?
  3. How can you bring truth and love into the lives of your family and those you are closest to? How can you bring truth and love into the lives of those who may not understand you or may outright oppose you?

Add Love to the Sabbath

Matthew 12

January 12

Jesus is at it again. Back in Matthew 5 we discussed how Jesus didn’t abolish the Old Testament but he breathed new life into the old laws with his teachings. The most important thing wasn’t following the letter of the law but having the heart of Jesus – adding love. Here in Matthew 12 the Pharisees are upset that Jesus’ disciples picked some heads of grain to eat when they were hungry on the Sabbath. Picking some grains is a lot like harvesting and harvesting is work and work is not allowed on the Sabbath. The Pharisees loved nit-picking the law, making it really hard for anyone to succeed in following the law, thus finding fault in everyone else, which they thought made themselves look better. Their microscopic vision into the smallest detail of the law took the focus off of the big picture – how are you doing at being God’s people. The law had been given by God to create a healthy, righteous people devoted to God and kind to others. But this extreme fascination with catching everyone’s slightest mistake was not healthy, righteous, kind, or pleasing to God. Instead of the law being used to make a holy people for God, it was being used to divide and tear down and pull people further from their love for God. The law was good. Their use of it was not. It wasn’t time to throw away the law. It was time to add love.

The purpose of the Sabbath was to put time (a whole day) aside to stop busyness and focus on rest, worship and loving God. It was given as a gift by a gracious and loving God who knew what people would do if they didn’t take time to rest and refocus. He knew all healthy relationships take time and this was the perfect opportunity to add a date day with God on the calendar – every week. A mini-vacation with God and family every 7th day. It’s a great way to create a spiritually, mentally, physically healthy people for God. But the benefits dwindled when the Pharisees turned it into a legalistic checklist of don’t do this and don’t do that.

Jesus wisely gave the Old-Testament-loving Pharisees two examples from the Scriptures of cases where the Sabbath regulations were broken by Godly people doing Godly things, and God didn’t strike them down dead. In fact, He seemed to approve of the exceptions to the rule. Likewise, Jesus is confident God also approved of him healing, doing good and helping others on the Sabbath.

In calling himself the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus wasn’t saying he was the Lord of something that ought to be thrown out because it had outlived its usefulness. No. He recognized the worth of the Sabbath AND the good that could be done during a day devoted to God. It wasn’t about a checklist and Sabbath day spies making sure you aren’t breaking the law. It is about a day to focus on God, your relationship with Him and the good that He wants you to do for Him. It is a day devoted to loving God and loving others to help us refocus and build our spiritual muscles to take us through the next 6 days doing His will in love.

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Does your week generally include a Sabbath day of rest and devotion to God? If so, what does it usually look like? What do you appreciate most about it? Do you do it more for what you gain from it, or to please God? (either answer is legitimate). If you don’t normally include a Sabbath rest on your calendar, do you see value in trying a Sabbath rest? How might it look different from your typical day? What would be challenging about making this change? What benefits might you expect to see?
  2. Re-read Matthew 12:33-37. This week have you been producing good fruit or bad fruit? How so? What about your words? Why do you think your words are so important – at least one of the things you will be judged by? Do you find it easier to say the right thing or do the right thing? Were there any words you said recently that you wouldn’t want Jesus to repeat to you on judgment day? How can we stop careless words which will get us into trouble?
  3. Jesus welcomes us as a part of his family, if we do what? (Matthew 12:50) On a scale of 1-10 how are you doing in this area? What could you do today to boost your score? What benefits are there for those who are in Jesus’ family?

The Law of the Letter or of Life

Thursday, August 5th, 2021

Job 3-4, 2 Corinthians 3

The Olympics are going on in full steam with the final days approaching this week. Though I’ve never been one to follow gymnastics, swimming, track, or fencing, when the Olympics comes around, I’m glued to the screen watching people strain towards earthly glory in the form of a gold, silver, or bronze medal. Today, I was watching the morning news, and Caleb Dressel was doing an interview. When asked about how he took care of his mental health, he said that the first thing he did when he got back home from a big event was to not think about swimming for at least two weeks. When he got home, he wasn’t a medal winning athlete; he was just himself. He said if he didn’t do this, the pressure would be too much. He would start to go after an unattainable goal that would ultimately lead him down a dark path. 

Though we can pursue earthly achievements in our careers, finances, homes, sports, hobbies, etc., we are called to live with eternity in mind as Christians. A gold medal, large retirement account, promotion, or degree is not the pinnacle of our life. The way that we live now is working towards that final goal which will come when the trumpet sounds. As I talked about earlier this week, we can rest in assurance that this goal has already been achieved. The victory is won, and we wait for Jesus to come. 

I can say that… but in my heart of hearts, sometimes it’s hard to live like that is actually true. I like to be in control, and for the things that I’m actually good at (which is not sports), I like to be one of the best. I will go all out. And, so in my Christian walk, I can fluctuate from being distracted and worried about the cares of the world and being so legalistic that I stifle the relationship that I’m trying to work towards. When I make it about me, I can go down a wrong path – just like Caleb Dressel. I can’t do anything to add to the accomplishments of Christ, and so all of my actions where I am trying to be the ‘best’ Christian ultimately burn me out and leave me empty – and they can actually leave me further away from Christ (like the Pharisees). 

In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, Paul writes, “17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

We don’t have to live by the law of the letter anymore. We can live in the freedom that comes from living in the Holy Spirit. We are not changing ourselves on our own power; we are relying on the power of God. And, God can do so much more than any man – Olympic medal winning or not. When we rely on him, we have the victory! Whose power are you living in?

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 3-4 and 2 Corinthians 3 .

Your Reputation

John 3

What’s your reputation? The Bereans were known for checking Paul´s words against Scripture. Thomas was the doubter. Saul had a reputation for persecuting the Christians before he became Paul. The Pharisees were hypocrites.

The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day, and at the time were esteemed by many. But in the eyes of God they were dangerous men who didn’t get it. Matthew 16:12 ¨Then at last they (the disciples) understood that he wasn’t speaking about the yeast in bread, but about the deceptive teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.¨ What a common misconception, right? The Pharisees had all the knowledge of the scriptures and Jewish traditions and laws. They were the teachers and leaders of the Jews. Yet Jesus rebukes them because they were missing a love for God.

This type of thinking reminds me of chapter 5 of Matthew where Jesus keeps on telling the people  that they have all heard what the law says but Jesus comes along and ¨tightens¨ up the law, by changing the outward focus inward- off of the laws and onto the heart. The Pharisees had all the knowledge of the scriptures and Jewish traditions and laws but no matter how much they seemed to do they missed the point- following God, not just the laws.

 From what the Bible tells us about the Pharisees we see them continually trying to trick Jesus into messing up, or catch him red handed going against God´s law. They are the ones who plotted and killed Jesus! With the exception of Gamaliel and Nicodemus and Paul, the Pharisees are recorded as hypocrites, blind guides, lovers of  money, and a brood of vipers. (Matthew 23:23-24, Luke 16:14, 12:34) The Pharisees´ hated Jesus and everything he did and said.

In John 3 we see Nicodemus, a Pharisee, come to Jesus at night. Even to come at night had to have taken guts. But when Jesus tells him that one must be born again before they can see the Kingdom of God, he is stuck in his thinking as a Pharisee. But he knows Jesus is different from the rest of the Jewish teachers. Later on in John, Nicodemus makes steps in not following the Pharisees when he convinces his colleagues to allow a trial for Jesus, and when Jesus was laid in the tomb, it was Nicodemus who provided the myrrh and aloes and worked with Joseph of Arimathea to care for the lifeless body of Jesus.

What do you want to be known for? Nicodemus could have been a stereotypical Pharisee but he stepped out to learn from Jesus, the Son of God. He wanted to follow God instead of people. 

-Makayla Railton

Today’s Bible passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here Joshua 23-24 and John 3

What God Sees

Luke 16

Luke 16 15 b

Luke 16 has a few parables on wealth and the value of giving but what stood out to me the most were verses 14 & 15:  “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.” (‭Luke‬ ‭16:14-15‬ ‭NIV‬‬)   The Pharisees felt targeted because they loved money, and valued it highly. They looked at others and put them down to make themselves feel better. We can not look at ourselves like this, if we do compare ourselves it should be to Jesus, in an attempt to see what we can do to better ourselves, not to make ourselves feel better. Jesus tells them, “God knows your heart,” we can act how we like and put on a mask, but God knows the truth. Faith is not about who seems like the best Christian but about truly being a follower of God. Anyone can act good but we are called to be good followers in the depths of our heart. So we must have pure intentions and be doing what we do for God, not to look better.
Blair

Jesus – the Radical One

Luke Chapter Six

Luke 6 27 28 NIV

In chapter six, Jesus is continuing on in his ministry.  We see that twice, Jesus caused the Pharisees, a group of Jews, to get upset.  Both times revolved around Jesus doing work on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees were a sect of Jews that had a high priority and focus on following the letter of the law.  They wanted to make sure they were obeying every letter of the law as well as everyone else.

 

Exodus 35:2 states, “Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD.  Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.”  This was the law that the Jews were to follow, and anyone who did not follow the Sabbath should be put to death.  With that said, I can totally put myself in the Pharisees’ shoes and understand why they would be so upset with Jesus not following the Sabbath rest.  However, throughout Jesus’ ministry, he had quite the radical thoughts and actions.  A superb example of this is found in the Sermon on the Mount when six times Jesus said, “you have heard that it was said… But I say to you.”  Six times Jesus took what was said in the Old Testament and radicalized it.  Jesus flipped the whole world upside down.

 

This trend of Jesus having quite the radical thoughts and actions continues in chapter six.  Jesus goes on to say that we are blessed if we are poor, hungry, weeping, and hated.  He says that in the end times, we will be satisfied, as the kingdom of God will belong to us.  He continues by saying woe to you if you are rich, full, laugh, and people speak well of you.  To the normal person, this would make no sense, but Jesus flips everything upside down.

 

One of the more well-known radical statements of Jesus is found in Luke six as well –  when talking about our enemies.  Jesus makes the bold and radical statement by saying, “love your enemies,” (Luke 6:35).  It’s common for people to disregard their enemies or even act wickedly to them.  However, Jesus tells us to take another approach with our enemies.  He tells us to love our enemies!  This goes totally contrary to how the rest of the world treats their enemies.

 

Jesus was full of radical statements and actions throughout his ministry.  He was constantly turning people’s lives upside down.  We, as Christians, need to follow our radical leader, Jesus.  He showed us the way, and it is our job to follow his lead.  Jesus did not fit in at all in his society because of his radical statements and actions, such as loving your enemies.  With that said, if we follow Jesus’ lead, then we are going to stick out like a sore thumb as well.  Be bold and courageous and live a radical life like that of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

Kyle McClain

Jesus’ Target Audience

Luke Chapter Five – Jesus’ First Disciples

Luke 5 10 11

Soon after Jesus began his earthly ministry, Jesus went out to find some people who would follow him.  One would think that Jesus would choose his followers from among the elite scholars.  After all, shouldn’t the king of kings have an elite group of close followers?  However, Jesus did not go that route.  Instead, we see in Luke chapter five, that Jesus chose the likes of fishermen and tax collectors to be his select, close followers.  Fishermen had very little to no education, and they would have been close to no one’s first choice when starting a revolution.  Tax collectors, on the other hand, had a poor reputation, as they often tried to cheat people out of their money.  Therefore, tax collectors would have been close to no one’s first choice either.  For whatever reason, Jesus chose this group to be his followers and to take over when he was to ascend to heaven.

 

A big part of Jesus’ ministry revolved around healing people of their ailments.  In chapter five, Jesus heals both a leper and a paralytic.  One would think that after Jesus got done healing people, he would want them to go tell everybody of the great miracle.  However, the opposite is true.  Often after Jesus would heal somebody, he would tell them to tell no one!  We see this in verse 14, as Jesus told the leper to tell no one.  Now, why would Jesus not want others to share of the great wonders Jesus had done?  The answer is because Jesus’ time to die had not yet come.  Jesus still had much to accomplish before his death.  If word had spread too much, they would have had him killed sooner.

 

After Jesus had called Levi, a tax collector, to be one of his disciples, Jesus went to eat with the tax collectors.  This caused the Pharisees to grumble and ask Jesus why in the world he would eat with the sinful tax collectors. Jesus replies, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance,” (Luke 5:31).  Here Jesus says that his target audience are the sinners rather than the righteous.

 

Too often in church, our focus is on the righteous rather than the sinners.  We design our services, classes, and events for those that are churched and not unchurched.  Perhaps we should consider the words of Jesus in Luke 5:31. Perhaps we should put our focus on the sinners, rather than the righteous.  It is those who are lost and sinners that really need the church!  Our churches should contain people who are not currently saved but are on the road to salvation.  Jesus says it is these kinds of people that he came to call to repentance.  Our target audience should reflect that of Jesus’ target audience.  At the same time, we do need strong Christians within the church to bring up the unchurched.  There is a healthy balance somewhere that we all must find.

 

Kyle McClain

Hungry!

Free Theme – Beatitudes – Matthew 5:6

Matthew 5 6

As I sit here in a coffee shop the day before Thanksgiving I am currently starving. I made an apple pie this morning and this may be the reason the normal ‘breakfast, no lunch, straight into dinner’ game plan has not satisfied my hunger. This is very fitting for our beatitude of the day and tomorrow being Thanksgiving day. So here it is Matthew 5:6 “Blessed are the those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied.” Ok, so a moment of honesty, I love this one too. But let’s be real the beatitudes are like bacon and how can you not love bacon.  

I don’t know about you but Thanksgiving at my house has two hunger conditions. I’m either starving or completely stuffed from all the food that I just ate. I have a small family. Thanksgiving dinner is normally an ordeal to put together and I generally end up in the kitchen for a good part of the day. It’s actually pretty amazing how a person can be around so much food all day in the kitchen and still be starving. I feel like Thanksgiving is one of the few days where people actually look forward to the dinner they are preparing and try to make sure they are really hunger for it. The normal routine of eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner even if we aren’t quite hungry doesn’t apply on thanksgiving. One thing that I can say after all that cooking and putting together a good meal, I am normally pretty satisfied. I am happy with the job that I did cooking and I‘m also happy because I had my fill of good food.

I think that the satisfaction that is promised in this beatitude is deeper than our after Thanksgiving dinner satisfaction. First, we should look at what it means to hunger and thirst for righteousness. I want to challenge the way you view righteousness. I don’t believe that righteousness is abstaining from the things that we need to abstain from and do the things we are supposed to be doing. Jesus wasn’t giving a checklist in the beatitudes but he was giving us attitudes and a way of life that we should adopt.

Jesus had a lot of confrontations with the Pharisees and in Matthew 23 he addresses the righteousness of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were righteous in that they checked the boxes but they lacked the true elements of righteousness like mercy, grace, godliness and love. When I view doing what is right I see it as loving people and God with discernment. The rules that God gives us are obviously important but the attitudes of our hearts he wants us to adopt are just as important  to righteousness. I think that we practice righteousness when we try to live by God’s rules and laws and practice mercy, grace and love.

I said earlier that the satisfaction promised here is deeper than our Thanksgiving dinner satisfaction. I think Isaiah 55.1-3 shows this. Here God is saying come, eat and be full. He is offering food and water to those who don’t have money. In verse 2 he is saying we labor for things that don’t satisfy like being ungodly or looking for fulfillment in things other than him. He then tells us to listen to him and delight in the rich food that he has given us. Verse 3 says “Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” Verse 3 shows us that when we come to God, listen to him and obey his commandments that our souls will live. Besides serving God my goal in life is that my soul would live.

Godliness and living a Christ like life where not only am I sinless but I have adopted God’s heart for him and others is what I think this beatitude is saying we should be hungering and thirsting for. The result of this though is that we would be truly satisfied and have souls that truly live. So as we think about the physical hunger we have to consider what we should really be hungering for and when you are satisfied after that Thanksgiving meal think about the satisfaction that God has promised us when we live righteously.

Have a great Thanksgiving!!!

Daniel Wall

How to Really Honor God

Mark 7

Mark 7 6b

It’s Saturday!
By now we have gone a complete week since Fuel has ended. Some of us maybe have gone back to our old ways, but others may be trying to make their habits (here we go) DIFFERENT!

This week I have been reading through Mark 7! While I was reading, there were two verses that stuck out to me like a sore thumb. Mark 7:6 &7 say, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” Jesus was quoting Isaiah. Jesus said this because the Pharisees saw the disciples of Jesus eating with unclean hands. It was against tradition for the Pharisees and the Jews to eat without clean hands. Jesus challenges the Pharisee’s teachings with what it really means to honor God.

Reading that first part of verse 7 stood out because it really got me thinking of myself. “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” When we all leave FUEL and other church camps we all sometimes go back to our old ways and just forget what camps like FUEL are actually for – bettering our faith and love for God with the fellowship of our COG family.

We can all show our love for God freely around people we know at places like FUEL but when we come back to modern day society some of us feel like we shouldn’t/can’t show it as much. When you come back to your normal life you have to feel conviction in your heart that you’re going to continue to show God’s love even outside of FUEL. Even though some of us don’t do this, back to what Jesus said to the Pharisees, some of us might honor him with what we say but not really in our hearts. Although our hearts may be unclean, God still loves us and gives us many ways to honor him!

There is no one way to honor God. We all have unique ways to show our love. Some of us might be amazing speakers, some might be fantastic writers, and some like myself love to honor him with music. Just because we have different ways of showing our love for him, doesn’t mean we should hide it. It’s gifts from him to show that He loves us no matter what; and that we should embrace it.

God bless,
Isaac Terrones

In the Pool of Siloam

John 9

John 9 35 36.png

In John 9, we see the story of Jesus healing the man born blind.  You know the story… Jesus spat on the ground, made some mud, put the mud on the man’s eyes, and had him go wash in the Pool of Siloam.  After the man washed, he could see.

We’re told the story again as he told his neighbors the story.  Then, we’re told again as he told the Pharisees the story.

The Pharisees are so hung up on the fact that Jesus did this on the Sabbath (and therefore broke the law, so therefore he must be a sinner), that they totally miss the magnitude of the miracle.  They were saying Jesus was a sinner, others were saying, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?”  So they were divided.

The Pharisees didn’t even believe the man had been blind, so they called his parents to testify that he was their son, and he was born blind.  The Pharisees asked him again how he came to see, since Jesus was clearly a sinner, in their mind.  The man had a great response:  25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

The man then scolded the Pharisees for not knowing who Jesus was, since no one had ever opened the eyes of a man born blind.  Clearly Jesus couldn’t do this if he was not from God.  And if they were really God’s representatives, they should know Jesus.

At this, the Pharisees heaped insults on him, and threw him out of the church.

Jesus found the man, and asked him if he believed in the Son of Man?  (This was a favorite title Jesus used of himself.)  I love the exchange that followed:  36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

This man recognized the amazing transformation Jesus made on his life, he believed, and worshiped Jesus.

For those of us who were born and raised in the church, it’s sometimes hard to recognize the amazing transformation Jesus has made (or should have made) in our lives.  We don’t necessarily acknowledge that “I once was blind, but now I see.”  And how often are we overwhelmed and say, “Lord, I believe” and worship him?

The Pharisees, even though they knew what to look for in a Messiah, were blind to who Jesus was, despite amazing miracles.

So who are you most like in this story?  The man born blind, or the Pharisees?

If you haven’t yet received Jesus as your Lord and Savior, ask him today, “tell me so that I may believe.”  And for the rest of us, today is a good day to focus on Jesus, say, “Lord, I believe”, and worship him.

–Steve Mattison

 

%d bloggers like this: