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Authority

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Day workers in a vineyard
Image source: Lumo Project

In today’s Bible reading, we read the parable of the Kingdom of God through the vineyard manager. In it, some day laborers are hired in the morning. They agree to work for a day’s wage. Several other times during the day, new workers are hired and agree to work for a day’s wage.

At the end of a hard day’s work, the owner told the foreman to arrange the workers according to when they were hired. Beginning with those who worked the most hours, the vineyard owner paid each worker the daily wage. All were paid the same. Those who worked all day grumbled when they saw that the short-day workers were paid the same as they were.

The owner rightly pointed out that no one was being cheated. Every single worker was being paid what he had agreed to. The key verse here is Matthew 20:15, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (ESV)

Application

We are so man-centered in our thinking. And that man-centered orientation twists our understanding of EVERYTHING.

I have heard many people accuse God of not being fair. It isn’t fair that God allows some people to live with lots of blessings and excess while other people aren’t even paid a living wage. I haven’t heard as many people decry the ultimate unfairness that some people spending eternal rest in heaven while others spend eternal punishment in hell. That isn’t fair!

No, that isn’t fair…. from our man-centered orientation.

But if God is the owner of the vineyard, if God is the owner of everything, He can do anything He wishes. And being the only perfect being in the universe (or even outside of it!), He gets to call the shots. He gets to determine what is fair and what isn’t. Fallen human beings don’t get to judge the perfect God. Fallen human beings don’t get to make up the rules of how things work and what’s fair and what isn’t.

So, given the fact that God owns it all, given the fact that God is perfect and completely righteous, and given the fact that we are none of those things, the very idea that God would save anyone is simply shocking. That God would stoop to save a single person demonstrates His all-surpassing love, grace, and mercy.

It isn’t fair that God would send His perfect Son to die that even one fallen person would be saved. Not because the person was worth it, but because the offense was so heinous against such a Holy God.

No, it isn’t fair that any be sent to hell. But the more pressing point is that it isn’t fair that God would save anyone. Fair means that every fallen creature that has ever lived spends eternity separated from the Holy Creator.

Trust me: You don’t want God to be FAIR!

You want God to be GRACIOUS!
You want God to be MERCIFUL!

And because God is gracious,
because God is merciful,
He is worthy of all of our praise.

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pruning a rose bush
Spring pruning roses in the garden

Reading the Bible can sometimes be a little unpleasant. If in your Bible reading, you are always comforted, always affirmed in your relationship with God and never feel a sense of conviction of sin, you should ask if you are truly saved.

In today’s Bible reading, Jesus points out some things about divorce and remarriage, as well as money. His words are uncomfortable because His words are not accepted by many, even those who claim to follow Jesus.

I am surprised at how quickly Christians turn to divorce and how quickly remarry someone else. It’s as if they forget that it’s better to not make a vow and not fulfill it. (Ecclesiastes 5:5) Christians seek a church wedding — for the marriage to be blessed by God — and so quickly renege on the vows they made to their spouse and to God. It isn’t right (according to Jesus). He allows (though doesn’t require) divorce in very limited circumstances. And yet, they idolize their own happiness instead of seeking the eternal pleasures that are at God’s right hand. (Psalm 16:11)

Finally in Matthew 19, He addresses a man who self-righteously asks Jesus about obtaining eternal life. When Jesus points him to the Law, the man claims to be blameless. And then, Jesus pokes him in the idols. He tells him to sell everything he has and give the proceeds to the poor. Matthew tells us that the young man went away sad because he had a lot of possessions. I would rephrase that to say that a lot of possessions had him. There’s nothing wrong with having money. God blesses many people with more money than they need to survive. And with these blessings, God expects those blessings to be passed on to others. (Luke 12:48)

Application

Reformer John Calvin said that our hearts are idol factories. I cannot refute that statement. It is so true! I need no help from the world or the devil to come up with all kinds of things to distract me from living wholeheartedly for the glory of the Lover of my Soul.

As I began this devotional, I said that if in your Bible reading, you are always comforted, always affirmed in your relationship with God and never feel a sense of conviction of sin, you should ask if you are truly saved. I meant that. Either you’re only reading comfortable parts of the Bible, or you are merely letting your eyes skim the ink on the page.

As you read, ask God to show you those areas where your behavior, attitudes, and beliefs don’t line up with His Word. (Psalm 139:23–24) And be prepared for Him to answer that prayer. The Holy Spirit will let empower you to make changes in your beliefs, attitudes, and behavior.

Notice that behavior is only part of what needs to be changed as we grow in our relationship with God. Our idols live in our beliefs and attitudes and they express themselves in our behavior. Behavior that doesn’t line up with God’s revealed will in the Bible is fruit. It’s the leaves and branches that we tend to focus on, thinking that if we can just control them, we can have a good relationship with Him. But pruning leaves and branches actually work to bring out more of what you’re attempting to cut off. It’s true of pruning your rose bushes and it’s true of attempting to prune your behavior to enhance your walk with God.

God completely loves you with an everlasting love. He completely accepts you as you are when you come to Him. But He loves you too deeply to let you continue living with your idols.

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Jesus sends our His Disciples for ministry
Image source: LumoProject

In reading through today’s Bible reading and looking back on the past four weeks of “stay at home” to flatten the curve of the coronavirus, I must say, I’m very much in a reflective mood.

As you look at what Jesus said in Matthew 10:5-15, you see a lot about what the Disciples were commissioned to do, but Jesus didn’t tell them how to go about it. One obvious point is that not once did He say anything about setting up a building as a center for ministry.

In one YouTube video I saw today, the speaker said that some church leaders (of large churches) in Canada suggested that they may not be able to return to “normal” church services until August or September. August or September!

In light of Jesus’ commissions for His Disciples in today’s reading and our recent inability to do church like we’re used to, we really need to ask some serious questions about how we are supposed to do church as we move forward.

As we begin to talk about going back to church — at least at first — we won’t be able to go back to what we’re used to. We will have to do some things differently. The mission remains, but the methods must change.

Perhaps God is giving us a chance to press the “Reset” Button. Perhaps what we’ve been doing for the past five hundred years needs to look different as we move forward. Maybe we need to stop doing some things we’ve been doing because the methods have served their purposes for a time and it’s time now to move on to more relevant things.

In some ways, we have already done this. Compared to fifty years ago, how many churches still conduct “Bible Drills” and Vacation Bible School? How many churches have an active “bus ministry”? How many churches have “Revival Services” twice a year anymore? How many churches still have a choir that wears choir robes for Sunday Morning church and present two cantatas per year? How many preachers still wear three-piece suits on Sunday Mornings? How many churches still have weekly door-to-door cold-call visitation?

Things have changed. We have already laid aside many things that may have run their course for our specific context. Note: I’m not saying that churches shouldn’t do any of these things anymore. I’m just saying that in many contexts, these methods aren’t as effective as they used to be. As a result, we have retooled our methods, as retail stores have abandoned brick-and-mortar-only approaches to selling products to customers. The market changes and our methods of delivering on our mission should also change to reflect those changes.

Just before we began to talk about merging churches, I preached about our need to do whatever it takes to reach different types of people: The lost, the traditional church-goers, and the former traditional church-goers.

Application

I have a few quick questions for our church specifically, and to other church-goers in general. When you look forward to getting back to meeting together as a church, what are you looking forward to? What do you miss? Finally, what needs to change when we go back?

On Wednesday afternoon, I attended a webinar about finishing well as a believer and church leader. Someone commented that preachers oftentimes say that they are “called into the ministry”. He followed this by saying, “No. You aren’t called into ministry. You’re called to intimacy. Ministry will flow out of intimacy.” As I reflected on this profound quote, I wondered if the intimacy he referred to was limited to (vertical) intimacy with God or if it includes (horizontal) intimacy with others.

Especially in light of today’s reading and my comments above, I believe it includes both types of intimacy. Having said that, I have to ask how much of my ministry has not been focused on vertical (with God) and horizontal (with others) intimacy (ie, the mission), but rather on the methods.

I have a lot to learn.

Nothing is more relevant to the world right now than the message of the Gospel. People are reaching out, looking for hope. Looking for answers. Record numbers of people have downloaded the YouVersion Bible App. And I have been shocked at how many people are viewing our Sunday Morning Messages on Facebook Live.

May we be true to our mission and flexible in our methods, seeking God’s leading all the time.

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Jesus heals a leper.
Image credit: LumoProject

In today’s Bible reading in Matthew chapter eight, we’re told several stories of faith. The words “faith” (noun) and “believe” (verb) are the same Greek word. They are used three times in the passage. Not all of the stories include the words faith/believe. But faith/believe is implied in the story.

For instance, in the first paragraph, Matthew tells us that a leper comes to Jesus, asking to be healed. The words don’t appear in the paragraph, but we know the paragraph is about faith/believe because why would a leper seek Jesus out unless he believed that Jesus could heal him? Jesus doesn’t tell him that his faith has healed him, but elsewhere when Jesus heals/delivers, He connects faith and healing/deliverance. (Matthew 9:22, Matthew 15:28, Mark 5:34, Mark 9:24, Mark 10:52, Luke 8:50, Luke 17:19, Luke 18:42 [this list is not exhaustive])

If you look up some of the verses above — as with Matthew 8:5-13 — you’ll see that in some cases the faith of the one healed isn’t even factored into the equation. Rather, the faith of the one requesting healing/deliverance is honored by Jesus. And although Jesus rebuked the Disciples’ “little faith”, He honored what little faith they had.

For a comment on “mustard faith”, see my posts here and here.

Application

Does this mean that if you have even a little bit of faith, all you need to do is ask Jesus and He’s obligated to answer your request? NO! It doesn’t work that way! Jesus isn’t your heavenly genie!

And that’s one reason we don’t get what we pray for: we ask with the wrong motives. (James 4:3) Nowhere in the Bible are we given a blank check with the authority to command God to do anything. Remember Christian Life Rule #1: God is God. and Rule #2: You aren’t God. Always remember that your place is to submit to God’s authority, God’s sovereignty. He calls the shots. And the reason we pray isn’t to change God, but to change us.

If you are a Believer, you are an adopted child of God. And being one of His gives you incredible authority and privilege. But that authority and privilege must be a balanced with reverence and awe of the Great God Who created it all, owns it all, and rules it all.

And that requires a great deal of humility and killing of pride.

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Demonstration of the Hebrew Tittle

Take a look at the two Hebrew letters on the left. If I had not highlighted the difference, do you think you would have caught it? It’s small. Almost unnoticeable. But that tiny difference between these two letters can make a big difference! The letter on the left is R and the letter on the right is D. That one tiny stroke makes a different letter. Similarly, one tiny stroke makes the difference in the English letters E and F. And dealing with those tiny strokes in Hebrew is why I began to wear glasses!

Jesus gives us a word picture in today’s Bible reading. He says, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18 ESV) Iota is the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet. In a parallel passage, He says that “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.” Luke 16:17 (KJV)

We rarely use the word tittle anymore. Modern translations use “stroke of a letter” instead of tittle. The difference between the Hebrew B and D and the difference between the English E and F is called a tittle.

Jesus says that it’s more likely for heaven and earth to fall apart than for God’s Word to be corrupted. “Ah”, the skeptic would say, “but there are differences in the Bible’s manuscripts!” The skeptic is correct. As we compare manuscripts and scrolls of the Bible, yes, there are some small differences. There may even be some tittles added or missing when you look closely. But, I would add that those small differences are virtually insignificant where they appear.

Thanks to the abundance of manuscripts, scholars can go back and recreate the original texts with a very high degree of certainty. When they compare the manuscripts against each other, they can easily determine slips of the pen that a scribe made. Those uncrossed t’s, undotted i’s, as well as the extra or missing tittles are easily recognized. And you know what? In “all of these mistakes”, (and there are very few) not a single Bible doctrine is affected by the mistake.

You may have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In November 1946, a young shepherd was throwing rocks into caves in the area of Qumran, Jordan and heard pottery break. He went inside the cave and found several pottery jars with scrolls rolled up inside. Over the next few years, more scrolls were discovered. As scholars studied the scrolls, they found some of them to be Old Testament Scriptures and were almost 1000 years older than the oldest scrolls known to exist. When they compared the Dead Sea Scrolls to the oldest scrolls they had — roughly one thousand years younger than the Dead Sea Scrolls — scholars discovered the differences to be minuscule.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrated God’s sovereign hand in preserving His Word over the centuries.

Application

God’s Word can be trusted, in part, because God has preserved His Word for His people. Given that God cares so much to preserve His Word for His people, I can’t state too strongly the importance of studying His preserved Word. God’s people have literally bled and died trying to get God’s Word into your hands.

If God can preserve tittles over thousands of years, don’t you think that He can handle the smallest details of your life? Spend a few minutes today thanking God for caring about the little things. And thank Him for the little ways He cares for you.

Note: This devotional first appeared on July 18, 2019 regarding Luke 16:17 and was updated just a bit for today’s passage.

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