Have you ever looked at yourself through the mirrors in a funhouse? Maybe they made your legs appear shorter or your figure much rounder. Of course, just because the mirror makes you look one way doesn’t mean that you actually look like that. Sometimes people seem to see us through funhouse mirrors; they get a distorted image of who we actually are.
Jesus, too, was often seen through funhouse mirrors. Many people perceived him to be a traitor and criminal. Yet, standing in front of the mirror was actually the begotten Son of God, the promised Messiah.
After Jesus’s arrest, he stood before government and religious officers, as was customary. Jesus was beaten by the guards, accused by the leaders, and ridiculed by the crowds. It’s a disgustingly difficult chapter to read because of the undeserved nastiness towards Jesus.
So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied. (Luke 23:3)
Jesus didn’t deny Pilate’s allegations. If I were Jesus, I would probably burst into tears shouting, “It’s not fair!” After all, he had never sinned, nonetheless committed a crime worthy of death on a cross. Yet, he continued to refrain from defending himself.
He (Herod) plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. (Luke 23:9)
Jesus’ goal wasn’t to appease man but to please God. God already saw the real Jesus, the one standing in front of the mirror. Let us learn from Jesus’ example: You don’t have to get the last word. It’s okay to be misunderstood. There’s no need to get even. You have nothing to prove.
Because God sees you—the real you.
I’m an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking. You know when I leave and when I get back; I’m never out of your sight. You know everything I’m going to say before I start the first sentence. I look behind me and you’re there, then up ahead and you’re there, too—your reassuring presence, coming and going. This is too much, too wonderful—I can’t take it all in! (Psalm 139 from The Message)
Yesterday we got to spend our whole devotion thinking about a great party and the thrill of receiving an invitation from God to honor His Son. Today – no such fun. The parties and parables are gone and today, in Matthew 23, we read only of strong warnings, harsh words, and blasting condemnation. This is the last recorded time in the book of Matthew that Jesus addresses the crowds. This is what he is going to leave with them – too important to not say. Anyone who believes Jesus would never condemn because he just loved people no matter what, just full of overflowing forgiveness and love, could benefit from a little sit down with Matthew 23.
It is clear that Jesus was not happy with these Pharisees and teachers of the law. He starts by warning the crowd to not be like the Pharisees as he begins describing them: they don’t practice what they preach, they make it harder for people to be godly, they love being honored by men and they pridefully exalt themselves. And then, speaking directly to the Pharisees and teachers of the law he lets loose on what has become known as the “7 Woes”. Six times he will begin with “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” and once with “Woe to you, blind guides.” Jesus uses some choice language to describe these men: son of hell, blind guides, blind fools, blind men (notice a pattern?), snakes and brood of vipers.
So, what in the world were these people doing that was so bad to receive this 7 part hellfire sermon. After all, we know Jesus often responded to people’s sins with mercy, grace and forgiveness and the all-important chance to start over. He hadn’t called the lying cheating thieving Zacchaeus a son of hell? What was different here?
The Pharisees and teachers of the law were supposed to be the ones to guide people to God. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary suggests there were about 6,000 Pharisees at the time – mostly middle-class businessmen who had devoted themselves to being separate – becoming the religious leaders who would show the Jews how to please God. And, some were indeed authentic in this quest (Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are two named in Scripture). The crowd gathered was likely shocked to hear Jesus speaking of and to the Pharisees in this way because they had been taught (at least by the Pharisees themselves) to revere the position and spiritual leadership held by this Jewish sect.
What started out as a good goal became warped and ungodly. As the Pharisees kept puffing themselves up there was no room left for what really pleases God. They had become blind guides. And it is obviously very dangerous to follow a blind guide. They could lead you straight to somewhere you don’t want to go. And that is exactly the warning Jesus was giving the Pharisees and the crowd. “You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13 NIV).
The Pharisees loved the law and specialized in knowing and enforcing each and every little detail of a long long list of do’s and don’ts. This, they thought, would make God happy. But all the while they neglected the larger heart issues of justice, mercy and faithfulness. They mastered in the dotting of i’s and crossing of t’s, but failed to see that the novel they were writing with their lives was tearing down every attempt others were making to please God. They were quick to point out other’s errors, but saw none of their own. It became most important to them to look good before man. So important that they forgot about how to actually look good before God. They were puffed up and proud, greedy and selfish.
It is easy to read this chapter and shake my head and point my finger and say, “Boy, I’m glad I am not like one of them.” But, in so doing – I become like one of them.
Dear God, help me to do what is right – with a heart that is right. May I see the error of the Pharisee’s ways – and my own – and work to clean up my own insides. Help me be humble and not seek the honor of men. Open my eyes to who you are and what truly pleases you. Open my ears to the teachings of your Son, to not just know it but to live it. Help me guide others to you, not armed with a legalistic checklist, but with a heart of justice, mercy and faithfulness. In your precious Son’s name, I pray.
When Jesus told Peter to ‘Feed my sheep,’ he was commissioning him as a shepherd. And in the book of First Peter, we see a part of the fulfillment of that commission.
There are believers (the Lord’s sheep) scattered throughout Roman provinces in Asia Minor, and Peter is writing a letter to be routed amongst them.
There was a movie out in the 90’s about a pig that herded sheep. When the sheep dogs on the farm did their job, they demeaned and scared the sheep into submission. But sweet little Babe the piglet just asked them nicely and off they marched in lines for him.
Sheep of a different flock, however, didn’t know this sweet pig, and saw no reason to listen to him. That is, until, Babe received word from his pasture back home of the secret words to tell these new sheep that he was on their side. ‘Baa, Ram, Ewe’
We are an individualistic bunch of sheep, I think.
Maybe it’s just me. Reading the book of First Peter with the eyes of a flock, a group, instead of reading it just for me, I see it somewhat differently. There’s a definite theme coming through it all that it seems Peter wanted these sheep in his scattered pasture to remember:
There’s more than this.
Seek the holiness of sincere love for each other, because you’re like perishing blades of grass and God’s ways endure. There’s more than this way of loving.
You might feel rejected, but you are chosen. There’s more than this world’s acceptance.
Live to please God not the society you live in. There’s more than this wisdom.
God cares about how you treat your family. There’s more than your own perspective.
Compassion and humility never go out of style. There’s more to be gained through suffering than we can often see.
Wake up, pay attention, Jesus is coming back and you need to be ready. There’s literally more than this world coming one day.
Peter may not have needed to say ‘Baa, Ram, Ewe’ to unite the scattered sheep of his day, but perhaps we need a reminder that we, too, are a scattered flock.
Friends, there’s more than this.
Do you feel the sincere love of the body of Christ? No? Don’t wait for someone else to ‘do something’ about it. Everyone else is a perishing blade of grass just like you. Authentic love doesn’t start with a social media campaign; and it doesn’t start with the whole church, it starts with a few individuals. Be those few.
There’s more than this way of loving.
Have you felt rejected? Alone? Broken? Empty? Peter’s response to the scattered flock on this issue was to remind them about Jesus, and of this: “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
It seems that acceptance begins with mercy. Mercy comes after repentance. Repentance comes after we own up to our sin. This world tells us to own our sin. Big difference.
There’s more than this world’s acceptance.
Along those lines, if the wisdom of this world affirms all of your choices, you might want to question if God would. Living to please God rarely aligns with the wisdom of this world.
There’s more than this wisdom.
Perspective is a powerful influencer, and seeing our family solely from the lens of our own perspective is not only selfish, but dangerous. We can fall into the trap of living for ourselves even while fooling ourself into thinking we are part of a team. How lonely. How unfulfilling. And definitely not God’s best for us.
There’s more than your own perspective.
Suffering is difficult and hard and it stinks. Anyone who says to say ‘Praise God!’ for suffering is a liar or a robot (or a lying robot, perhaps?). Jesus didn’t even want to suffer, he asked his Father if he could avoid it if possible.
Finding peace in the midst of suffering, finding joy in God’s provision during times of suffering, and praising God during suffering are all very different than praising him FOR the suffering.
There’s more to be gained through suffering than we can often see.
Peter quotes a Psalm and tells these scattered sheep that “they must seek peace and pursue it.” Compassion, humility, gentleness, sympathy, blessing… these are all active. A person who is actively pursuing peace, especially when suffering abounds, will stand out. Maybe that’s why Peter suggests it?
People loving differently, repenting of sin, showing mercy, treating their families differently, being the most kind, compassionate, gentle, humble, easy to get along with group of people anyone ever met…yet not compromising God’s standards, not backing down, standing strong against the roar of evil around them, refusing to be devoured — Those people would garner attention.
There’s literally more than this world coming one day.
Wake up, pay attention, Jesus is coming back and we need to be ready.
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Peter
Tomorrow we begin the book of Hebrews (chapters 1-6)
Do you know who I would love to see debate in a globally televised event? Jesus and the Pharisees. Sure, Jesus could take on the whole crew of them. For people who had so much in common, they sure were polar opposites.
What did Jesus and the Pharisees have in common? They were from the same family. They could trace their ancestry back to Abraham. They were Jews born at the same time in history. Both Jesus and the Pharisees knew well and deeply appreciated the Old Testament scriptures. They both knew the importance of the coming Messiah the Jews anticipated. They both spoke of how to please God and urged people to follow the way they laid out in order to be saved in the life to come. They had so much in common. Imagine what they could have done together for God’s work – if only the Pharisees hadn’t been so pharisaical.
The Pharisees loved the law of Moses so much (as well as the additions they added to the Law to make themselves look even more saintly) that they were blinded to the true Messiah in front of them. In the end they were much more interested in making themselves look good (and pointing out others’ shortcomings) than in doing what God actually desired – and that is a dangerous place to be.
In today’s reading we come across a few topics that would surely come up in our much anticipated debate between the Pharisees and Jesus.
The Pharisees felt threatened by Jesus’ growing popularity and his displays of God’s power. But, rather than accepting him for who he was showing himself to be – they preferred creating lies and rumors for something they didn’t fully understand. So, when the crowd was amazed at Jesus’ healing of a demon possessed man, the Pharisees tried to explain it away by saying Jesus must be working with Beelzebub, the prince of demons (Matthew 12:24 & Luke 11:15). I don’t think I would take that very well, but Jesus calmly rebuttals that if indeed Satan were working at driving out Satan, his house wouldn’t be standing for long. He goes on to say that from evil you can expect evil, but from good you can expect good – for what is stored up in a man overflows for all to see and hear. And, he reminds them that there is a day coming when all will be judged for “every careless word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12:36)
But, they fail to realize the wisdom and truth and warnings Jesus spoke. So, the debate topics continue. They notice Jesus didn’t wash his hands before he ate (this definitely sounds like a debate topic that could be used today against a political opponent – times never change). Jesus counters with a truth stinger – the Pharisees spend so much time making sure they look good on the outside, but they neglect the more important work of cleaning up their own greed and wickedness on the inside. They are so busy harping on the itty-bitty showing-off, do-good outside acts (like tithing on the produce from their herb garden) and expecting praise for their goodness – but they completely overlook the weighty matters of justice and God’s love. In trying to make themselves look holy, they have neglected to care for others. And Jesus was telling them that is a dangerous place to be. Judgment will also be coming for today’s Pharisees.
Thankfully, there is another option. Jesus laid it out. Be his family – accept who Jesus is – do the will and work of his Father in heaven – not your own selfish agenda, or what will make you look good in the eyes of today’s twisted Pharisees who try to tell us how to be godly but have totally missed the boat themselves. Draw closer to Jesus than you ever have been before so you can tell the difference between the truth that he offers and the lies of the Pharisees. Your life depends on it – as well as the lives of those who are watching you.
There will be a time coming when the whole world will see and know who is the clear winner of this debate.
Today is another comparison between the righteous and the wicked. This time most of the comparisons are about outcomes. Although it may already be clear, there is a relationship between wisdom and righteousness. There is also a relationship between fools and the wicked. Because of temptation always trying to lead us astray, fools turn towards wickedness, but it takes seeking wisdom to be righteous.
Verse 3 through 6 say:
3 The integrity of the upright will guide them,
But the crookedness of the treacherous will destroy them. 4 Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,
But righteousness delivers from death. 5 The righteousness of the blameless will smooth his way,
But the wicked will fall by his own wickedness. 6 The righteousness of the upright will deliver them,
But the treacherous will be caught by their own greed
We see that the upright or righteous person will be delivered from death. The fool or wicked person will be destroyed. The money, possessions or whatever else they have gained from their crooked ways cannot save them. We see people who have gained wealth and power from all kinds of things that are not pleasing to God. We see people that appear to have it made who are not seeking God’s wisdom. We see righteous people who are seeking God’s wisdom go through struggles. However, It is made very clear that no matter what people gain from their wicked ways, in the end it will catch up with them and they will be destroyed. In the end, the righteous ones will be delivered.
Another example from this chapter is verses 24-26
24 There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more,
And there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want. 25 The generous man will be prosperous,
And he who waters will himself be watered. 26 He who withholds grain, the people will curse him,
But blessing will be on the head of him who sells it.
There are people who teach that this is specifically talking about wealth in the current time. They say that if you give away $10.00, you will get $100.00 in return. I don’t think that is accurate, and I don’t think it is even a great blessing compared to all the blessings that God does give us. However, the generous man is the one who is doing what God wants, which makes it a wise decision. The generous will be blessed. The miser who withholds everything for himself will be cursed. I think some of this comes in everyday life. If someone who is generous and helpful has a problem, often people will help that person. However, when someone who is greedy and never helps anyone else has a problem, people are unlikely to help that person.
Verses 29 and 30 say:
He who troubles his own house will inherit wind,
And the foolish will be servant to the wisehearted. 30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
And he who is wise wins souls.
The outcome of seeking Godly wisdom and following in God’s righteousness is life for themselves and for the souls they win. We have to choose daily to seek after wisdom. If we make no choice, foolishness and ultimately destruction are the default choice.
Solomon begins Proverbs 5 again reminding us to seek out God’s wisdom. We must not only hear the wisdom offered, but we must absorb that wisdom and apply it to our lives, so that we can make wise and moral decisions. Then your “lips may preserve knowledge”. In other words, the things we say will be full of knowledge and insight. Solomon knows that we need God’s wisdom to help us make wise choices, because we are constantly facing temptations.
Solomon continues the chapter talking about our temptations, using the example of an adulterous woman. He says, “For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil.” (Proverbs 5:3) Simply put, this means that this immoral woman may come to you with sweet, flattering words. She will look and sound very tempting. She will tell you whatever it takes to lure you into believing that sexually sinning with her will bring you nothing but joy and happiness.
However, the next few verses go on to say, “But in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave. She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths wander aimlessly, but she does not know it.” (Proverbs 5:4-6) In verse 3 it seemed as though the woman was offering bliss, but we find out in these verses that she actually will lead us to suffering and death. You notice it says “her steps lead straight to the grave”. We are all moving on a path. Each day we make countless decisions that are leading us down a path. We need to be using the wisdom God has provided to us in the Bible to make sure we are making choices leading us on the right path.
In verse eight Solomon goes on to offer this advice, “Keep to a path far from her (the adulteress), do not go near the door of her house.” The message here is stay as far away from temptation as possible. Do not put yourself in situations that will tempt you to sin.
The story of Judy’s chocolate bar is the perfect illustration of the stay-as-far-away-from-temptation-as-possible principle. Judy loves chocolate. In fact, Judy loves chocolate too much, so she decides to not eat chocolate for a month. One day, after deciding to give up chocolate for a month, Judy is at the grocery store buying food for dinner. While at the store, Judy decides to just go down the aisle where the chocolate is. She is not going to buy any, she just wants to look at it. As she gets closer to the chocolate she notices that it is on sale. Judy decides to purchase just one bar of chocolate. She will not eat it now, but it is on such a good sale, she wants to take advantage of the bargain and buy it for later. When she gets home from the store, she keeps thinking of the chocolate bar that is now sitting in her cupboard. Judy believes that just getting to smell the chocolate will be very satisfying and help her to stop craving the chocolate, so she unwraps the chocolate bar and takes a large whiff of the delicious chocolate. It smells incredible. Judy sets a small piece of the chocolate on her tongue, not to eat it, but just to take a little lick. You guessed it, soon the chocolate is gone! Judy devours the entire bar. The question is, when would it have been easiest for Judy to refrain from eating the chocolate? Would it have been easier to not eat the chocolate when it was sitting in the wrapper in the cupboard, or when it was sitting on Judy’s tongue? What if Judy had never gone down the chocolate aisle at the store, but had instead just gone to the fresh produce section?
We need to constantly pursue wisdom, so that we can make God-pleasing choices. We must be vigilant so that we do not believe any of the world’s lies. And finally, when we have identified what our stumbling blocks are, we must stay far away and avoid those temptations.
Every morning when I wake up I try to have my first thoughts be, “Thank you, God, for another day of life and the blessings you will give me today.” Unfortunately, often, my first thought is, “I have cancer” and I have a sinking feeling in my heart. I have to intentionally then redirect my thoughts to the first statement, put a smile on my face, remembering God’s goodness and mercy. I may have cancer, but God sent Jesus so I can be made right with him and live forever with him in his kingdom. That is worth far more than anything this life has to offer.
But I have to keep reminding myself of this because the things of this life bring so much pleasure and that is what I know and want to keep knowing. I love my family, friends, church, God’s beautiful creation, vacations, sewing, art, … And it can go on. And now I am a grandmother as well!
But even with these things that I love and know first hand, I don’t always appreciate or treat them in a way that would honor or please them or God. I have to be reminded again and again about having the right attitude, treating people right, and living intentionally. That is what Romans 12 helps us do.
Romans 12 is a chapter in the Bible that we as Christians would be wise to read every day. It reminds us of the practical, and yet profound, attitudes and actions we are to have in our relationship with God, fellow believers, and everyone we come in contact with. The following passage is verses 1-2 and then 9 and following. Read them carefully.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
“Let love be genuine.
Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
Love one another with brotherly affection.
Outdo one another in showing honor.
Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Live in harmony with one another.
Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.
Never be wise in your own sight.
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Romans 12:1-2, 9-21 ESV
You may not have to deal with all of these on any given day, but every day you will be faced with some of them. In keeping these instructions in our minds we will be ready when a situation faces us and we can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, respond in a way that will please and honor our God and Maker. The bonus is that not only will the situation turn out better, but you will be happier, with an inner peace and joy, as you grow and mature into the person God has called you to be.
Today we are going to be starting the book of Galatians which was written by Paul to the churches in Galatia.
After his introduction, he gets right into a major problem he is seeing among them:
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
Although this was an issue the people of Galatia were having, it is something that we can fall prey to as well. It is a good reminder to us that the truth matters and that if we are trying to present the gospel contrary to what is found in Scripture, we are in trouble.
He continues on with his reminder in this way:
10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
You may find that it is easy to go through life being a people pleaser, and you may be able to avoid a lot of conflict this way, but if you are so focused on pleasing people to the extent that you start to displease God, you are going to have problems.
Now, I’m not saying you should try to stir up conflict with others. We are told in Romans 12:18 “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” But that doesn’t mean that you give in to the world. You still have a responsibility first and foremost to God to uphold His Word which brings us back to keeping the gospel as it is presented in Scripture. It is an unchanging story.
This first chapter finishes up with Paul summarizing his conversion and early faith story which we read about earlier this year in Acts. If you missed it, go back and read the full account! When Paul is writing here, he is assuming that his readers have already heard the story and he doesn’t go into much detail. His point here is that God was praised because of Paul’s conversion, not because they knew Paul at all.
Most of us probably don’t have a story like Paul’s, but that doesn’t mean that God can’t be praised because of what we do for Him. If our lives are reflecting God’s love, He will be praised. Make that your goal for the week – that because of how you are living, God will be given praise.
I was reading in Proverbs about the things that God hates, this got me thinking about the things I hate. Towards the top of the list were things like people chewing with their mouth open, people who leave the toilet seat up and running out of TV shows to watch on netflix, just to name a few.
Let’s take a look at God’s list.
There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
17 haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
19 a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
Wow, my list suddenly seems very trivial. After reading this it got me thinking about my husband. In a relationship we communicate the things we love and the things we hate and out of respect and love for that person we do our best to please them. I appreciate my husband for caring about what I love but also for not doing the things I hate, like chewing with his mouth open.
In the same way, I appreciate that God clearly communicates to me the things He hates. Because of this I can do my best to please Him by loving the things He loves and hating the things He hates.
This is one of my favorite chapters. I will explain why shortly; first, I want to point out that this chapter talks about living to please God. Verse 1 not only asks, but urges us in the Lord Jesus to please God more and more. It says to control our bodies in a way that is holy and honorable. We are told to love each other. It seems like I have heard that before? How about in Mark 12:30-31 New International Version (NIV) where it says:
30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
If we follow those commandments, we will please God. And if it is mentioned more than once, it must be important.
Now the reason this is one of my favorite chapters is because it speaks about the sleep of the dead. It says that one day Jesus will return and those who have fallen asleep have hope. We have HOPE! Hope of what you ask? Hope of meeting the Lord in the air and being with Him and God FOREVER! Verse 18 says to encourage each other with these words. So I tell you encourage each other that we will be able to live for eternity with not only other believers but also God and Jesus.
Tomorrow we will talk about the last chapter of 1st Thessalonians, Chapter 5.