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“While He spoke these things to them, behold, a ruler came and worshiped Him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her and she will live.”  Matthew 9:18

In just nine verses Matthew summarizes the telling of two very beautiful stories of healing. The first of these overlapping stories is that of the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter.  Matthew doesn’t include the identity of the ruler that made the request but Mark provides the name in his gospel. The second is the healing of the woman who touched Jesus’ robe. 

In the first story a grief stricken Jairus comes to Jesus and reports that his daughter has just died but that he is sure that if Jesus will come and lay his hands on her that she will live. Jesus agrees to Jairus’ request, goes to the ruler’s home, sends the mourners out of the room in which the girl is lying, takes her by the hand and raises her from the dead. 

The second story happened on the way to the ruler’s house. Once again it’s Mark that provides the most details in his account. Jesus and his disciples are being jostled by the press of the crowd when Jesus stopped and looked around. In all the people pushing to be close to him a woman in need of healing, believing that if she could only touch his garment that she could be healed, had managed to slip up to Jesus and brush her fingers against He’s clothing. Immediately she was healed. But Jesus wasn’t going to just let her slip away. God had blessed her with a precious gift of healing and he deserved the praise she could give. After she had told her story Jesus then assured her that it was her faith that had made her well. 

Faith is a powerful thing. And the thing is that it doesn’t require great faith to possess that power. Even a small fragment of faith can work wonders if the one possessing that faith will act upon it. Jairus’ faith was only big enough to go and ask for Jesus to come to his home. We know from other accounts that the healing could have been accomplished from a distance, but Jairus’ faith wasn’t that big. But it was big enough to go and get Jesus to touch his daughter so that he could give her life. The woman that was healed had even bigger faith than Jairus. She believed that Jesus could heal her without even being conscious that he had done so. Turns out she was wrong. Jesus was very alert to the flow of healing energy moving from his body so he was aware that someone had been healed. She was correct, however, when she believed that if she could just touch him she could be made well. It was her faith that took hold of her healing. 

There is so much that our faith could accomplish in our lives if we would just take action. There are healings that could be affected. There is strength for our work that could be taken hold of. There is courage that can be acquired, and there are victories that can be claimed and won. All theses and more are ours if we will just act on the faith God has given us. We may only feel that we have a very small amount of faith but that minuscule faith can work wonders if we’ll just act on it. 

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.’”

The scribes and the Pharisee were trying to discredit Jesus by pointing out how his actions and practices were different from theirs. Their previous attempt had only served to illustrate how corrupt and misplaced their values were but they had not given up. In their next attempt them enticed the disciples of John the Baptist to question Jesus and his disciples neglect of fasting. 

Both the Pharisees and the disciples of John practiced fasting in an attempt to merit the favor and blessing of God. The most devout among them often fasted for two days each week.  It was on one of these fast days that the disciples of John came to Jesus with their thinly veiled accusation of impiety. 

Part of what was motivating their animosity toward Jesus was the fact that their teacher was at that time imprisoned by Herod and Jesus did nothing to secure his freedom and said very little in support of him. Knowing that John’s disciples were confused by their teacher’s situation and mourning his absence, and the uncertainty of his fate, Jesus was very gentle in his answer to them.

Jesus didn’t try to correct John’s disciples misuse of fasting. Instead, he sought to raise their understanding of his own mission, and he honored John the Baptist by employing John’s own words to do so. John had employed the figure of a bridegroom to explain how he could rejoice when his ministry was being overshadowed by the ministry of Jesus. Now his disciples can’t help but recall this as Jesus employs the same imagery. 

“Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?”  Now was not the time for mourning. Christ was with them. Now was the time to rejoice in his presence and learn from him and grow closer to heaven because the Lord of Heaven was in their midst. 

But this situation would always exist for Jesus’ disciples and Jesus’ answer includes that reality. “But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Christ had come to suffer and die that he might pay the penalty of humanity’s sin. When that time came his disciples, like John’s, would also mourn and fast. 

But even with this all is not to be sadness for us. Christ has secured our salvation. Our debt has been paid. By his death and resurrection Christ has made a way for us to be restored to unity with our Heavenly Father. In this there should be rejoicing. Our joy is full because of all that Christ has done. We should fast so that we can be released of the baggage that would interfere with our obtaining all of Christ, and we should rejoice that the fullness of Christ is ours to obtain. 

“When Jesus heard that, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.’”  Matthew 9:12–13

I’ve been a pastor now for more than twenty years. During that time I’ve pastored many churches that were doing their best just to hang on, keep their bills paid and their doors open. What all of these churches needed was a fresh infusion of life, some new faces in the pews, and some hope that their church could grow and not die a slow protracted death. 

Unfortunately, I was part of the problem. Just like everyone else in the congregation I was just prayerfully looking to heaven hoping for something to happen to get the church under my administration on the right track. I’d preach messages about evangelism and soul winning, I’d prepare sermon series on books of the Bible, famous Bible characters, Bible prophecy and a dozen other topics hoping that somehow my excellence in the pulpit would attract new people into the congregation. 

What I failed to realize, and what so many ministers and congregations failed to realize, is that the reason why all the efforts we were investing into our churches and their services were wasted was because we were focusing on the wrong thing. We were focusing on ourselves. We were focusing on what we liked, and what we wanted, and what we thought the world needed. Most of the time our worship wasn’t really worship because we were focused on securing for ourselves a blessing more than being a blessing to God. And our attempts at outreach were ineffective because we never quite left our comfort zone, went out to the sinners in the world and truly reached them. 

Jesus didn’t live life and do church like we do. And it wasn’t because he was a middle eastern Jew living two thousand years ago. The life he lived and the way he worshipped didn’t fit in his time and place either. The reason for this was because he actually invested himself and his time in being with those he was trying to save. He went to the people and shared what he had to say with them. He spent time with them in their homes. He met with them at the village well, in the market place, on the street, or wherever they happened to be. 

He connected with people the religiously righteous avoided and when asked why his answer was, “I came for the people who are sick not the ones that are well. I came for the sinners, to call them to repentance, not the righteous.

When we as a church stop talking about reaching the world and actually leave our homes and church buildings and go out into the world and meet with, and talk to, and make friends with, and share Jesus’ love with the people there we’ll start seeing our churches grow. Jesus invested himself in people. He invested himself in their lives; when we get to doing what he did we’ll see the growth we’ve been praying for. 

“Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.’”  Matthew 9:2

Matthew records that after Jesus had healed the demoniac that He and His disciples got back into their boat and again crossed the Sea of Galilee. Matthew doesn’t name their destination referring to the place as “His own city.”  Mark, in his gospel, does specify that the city they went to was Capernaum. 

Large numbers of people came to Jesus. Scribes and Pharisees came to question Him. Many others came because they loved to hear Him teach. Still others came because He had the power to heal. As part of this latter group there came some people transporting a paralytic friend on his bed. The gospel of Mark tells us that when these men arrived the house Jesus was in was so full of people that they couldn’t get in. But they didn’t give up. No, they climbed to the roof and removed part of it so that they could lower their friend down to Jesus. 

When Jesus saw their faith, He turned to the paralytic man and said, “Be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.”  Jesus must have been able to see that the burden of guilt on the man’s heart was heavier for him than the weight of his illness. O how he longed to know that he was forgiven, and Jesus answered the desire of his heart with a message of forgiveness. We too can pass that message on to other sin burdened souls. It’s not that we have the power to forgive sin. Oh no. But we do have the knowledge that Jesus stands just as ready today as He was two thousand years ago to forgive any who come to Him in faith, sincerely repenting of their sins. 

The scribes and Pharisees were scandalized by what Jesus had said to the paralytic. Looking at one another they all thought to themselves, “This man blasphemes!  Who does He think He is telling this man that his sins are forgiven? Only God can forgive sin.”

Jesus knew what they were thinking and He answered their unspoken accusations. “Which is easier,” He questioned, “to tell this man that he’s forgiven or to tell him to get up and walk? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has the power on earth to forgive sin — Arise,” He commanded the man, “take up your bed and go home.”  Immediately the paralytic was healed and did as he was commanded. 

There are many today shouldering a terrible burden of sin and guilt. On their own they’re powerless to lighten their lode and everyday it wears more heavily upon their hearts and minds.  Anxiety, depression and addictions and other mental illnesses are often the affect of this weight of sin. Perhaps one of you reading this post is one of those yearning for freedom from the weight of sin. 

Friend, Jesus stands just as ready today as He was that day to speak the words of forgiveness that will release you of your guilt. All you have to do is come to Him believing He’ll accept you and in faith confess your guilt to Him.  As you do you too can be sure that His answer will be, “Be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.”

“When He had come to the other side, to the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way.”  Matthew 8:28

During the night Jesus and his disciples had faced a violent storm, and Jesus with just a word had brought peace. Now as morning had just begun to grace the Sea of Galilee they faced another storm of a very different type. There on the sea shore, in the region of the Gergesenes, Matthew tells us that they were met by two demon possessed men. Different people when possessed by demons are affected differently, but always the affect is to demean the one possessed and destroy the image of the loving God in which we we’re all created. These men were extremely violent. So much so that no one could pass through the area they inhabited. 

I’ve always imagined that when the Jesus and the disciples landed that morning and had begun making their way down the sea shore that they were suddenly surprised by the demoniacs as they rushed violently toward them. The disciples then reacted by scrambling back to the boat but when they turned to see where the demon possessed men were they discovered that Jesus had not fled. Instead there he was standing serenely with the the same hand he’d raised to calm the sea now raised as he speaks peace to the minds of those tormented men. 

Suddenly the demons cry out, “Why have you come to us, Jesus, Son of God?  Have you come to torment us before the appointed time?”

The demons want to resist Jesus authority but they cannot. They must obey the command of the Son of God. Near by is a large herd of pigs. “Let us go into the pigs,” they ask. 

“Go!” Jesus commanded. 

Immediately as the demons enter into the swine the entire herd turn, rush down the steep bank of the sea shore and drown themselves in the sea. 

The herdsmen then rush to the owners of the swine and tell them what’s happened and the owners come to Jesus and beg him to leave. They can’t see the miracle of the restoration of the demon possessed men. They can only see that Jesus’ coming to their shore has brought disaster upon them. 

Life in this world must sometimes, to a greater or lesser degree, be like that. The bestowing of a blessing in one area might bring perceived difficulty in another. We must train ourselves to remember that God’s hand only brings us blessing. Some of those blessings may come in the appearance of a trial or a storm but if we look upon them with eyes of faith we’ll see the blessings our Heavenly Father has given. God used time and the witness of the restored demoniacs to open the eyes of the Gergesenes. He’ll open our eyes to the blessings contained in our trials too if we’ll give him the chance. 

“But He said to them, ‘Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?’ Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, ‘Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?’”  Matthew 8:26–27

We have an illustrated children’s Bible story book that tells the story of Jesus calming the sea. When they were little, I remember our children taking that book to their Papa, my father in law, and begging him to read it to them. How they loved the way he animated that story. 

During he beginning of the story, when the seas were calm, he’d read the story rocking slowing back and forth, like a parent trying to rock a baby to sleep. But when he came to the part about the storm how they would laugh as his bass voice rolled like the thunder and he’d rock violently back forth and bounced them up and down. And then when Jesus said, “Peace be still,” he’d suddenly go back to quietly rocking back and forth, back and forth.

When the story was done they begged him to read it again and you could tell that their favorite part was when the storm was rocking and bouncing the boat. 

I’ll confess that in real life I actually like storms. I like hearing the wind, the thunder and the driving rain. I think it’s spectacular to see a lightning storm. There’s just so much power and raw beauty in a storm. 

But for most of us, when it comes to real life, storms aren’t our favorite part. When they’re on their way we pray that God will make them go away. And in those many times when they do come we pray that God will make them brief and keep them from become too strong. We’ve learned through difficult and painful experience that the winds, rains and lightning of storms can cause a great deal of damage and sometimes can even kill. And while I like storms, I too pray that God will protect people from the danger they can cause. 

In the Bible story of the calming of the storm we’re told that the disciples were terrified that they were going to die. They’d done everything they could, but they couldn’t keep their boat from filling with water, they were fearful that they were going to capsize, and they couldn’t get to shore. They were becoming desperate in their fear and what was Jesus doing?  He was sleeping. 

So they woke him up and cried out, “Save us. We’re dying.”

Jesus’ reply was, “Why are you afraid?  O you of little faith.”  

It was like Jesus was saying, “Don’t you trust God to protect you in the storm?  Don’t you believe that God knows exactly what’s best for you, the best blessings, the best trials, and even the best time to die?  Don’t you believe that your Heavenly Father is only going to give you what’s best for you?”

Whether we’re fearful or not comes down to our trust in God. It takes most of us the better part of a life time to learn that depth of trust. But whether we’ve learned it or not God is worthy of that trust. He knows what’s best for us and he’ll always give us the best. Whether it’s times of peace or a storm. 

“Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, ‘Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’”  Matthew 8:19–20

After the healing of the centurion’s servant Matthew next records that Jesus went to Peter’s house and there healed his mother in law of a fever. Mathew then tells us that multitudes of people flocked to Jesus, bringing their lame, sick and demon possessed and Jesus healed all their ailments. 

At this time many were attracted to follow after Jesus, most for only a short period of time. It was common for the Jewish people to follow a teacher for a few days or weeks and after that return to their families and occupations. There were those, however, who were inclined to make following Jesus their life’s ambition. 

Matthew describes a scribe coming to Jesus and and telling him, “Teacher, I’ll follow you were ever you go.”

Jesus must have seen that worldly ambition was the motivation driving this man. He must have thought that Jesus, like every other teacher he knew, was going to pursue authority, wealth and honor for himself, and he hoped to cash in on all the benefits that flowed to Jesus. He must have also hoped that Jesus might be the Messiah, and was therefore setting himself up to reap a bonanza of rewards when Christ ascended to his throne. 

Jesus brought these thoughts and motivations to an end. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head,” was his answer to the scribes offer. 

Another man came to Jesus convinced that he needed to follow him but requested that he be allowed to bury his father first. Now, the man’s father had not yet died. There were no funeral plans in process at that time. The man was actually requesting that he be permitted to delay following Jesus until after such a time as his father had died. The man was in reality placing a higher priority on the requirements of an earthly father over those of God. 

“Follow me and let the dead bury their own dead,” was Jesus reply. Fulfill the purpose heaven has given you and let those who see nothing beyond this life take care of merely worldly concerns. 

Far to often we devalue the importance and priority that the call of discipleship ought to have in our daily lives. We give ourselves, or first energy and or best effort, to fulfilling tasks and ambitions that have no meaning or purpose beyond this life while matters of eternity and salvation lie virtually neglected, getting only a token of the attention they deserve. 

Disciples are called to give Christ their first and best effort. Each day we’ll learn better what that means but it all begins with the knowledge that Jesus is asking for our first and our best. 

“Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”  Matthew 8:3

Matthew’s account of the ministry of Christ reveals that as Jesus was coming down from the mountain he’d been preaching upon that he was approached by a leper. With the presence of the crowd surrounding Jesus it must have been impossible for this man to gain access to Jesus earlier, but his desperate situation and the hope for healing at the hand of Jesus had made him wait until he could bring Jesus his request. 

The patience of this man as he sought healing from our Savior stands as a testimony and a rebuke to many of us. The old proverb is true, “patience is a virtue,” but so few of us really possess it, and it seems that everything about our society teaches us less and less to have the steadfast tranquility and resolve that together combine to become patience. 

Isaiah chapter forty tells us that it’s they that “wait” upon the Lord that renew their strength, that go up on eagles wings, that walk and run without tiring or fainting. A willingness to wait, an ability to be patient, is often necessary if we’re to receive the blessing we seek from heaven. 

At last, as Jesus descends the mountain, a path is made clear for the leper and he came and knelt on the ground before him and worshipped him and said, “Lord, if you are willing you can make me clean.”

Nothing is impossible for God. No task to difficult, no need to great. But just because something is possible, even easily accomplished, does that always make it the wisest course to take? Might there be an even greater blessing to be gained if some unpleasant condition were to remain. When we seek the will of God we’re asking him to give us his best, not the best we can imagine. Are we ready to submit our wants and wishes to the wisdom of Jesus?

Jesus’ will for the leper was that he be made whole and immediately he was healed. Then Jesus told him to go and show himself to the priest to receive a declaration of being free of leprosy and to tell no one that he’d been healed by Jesus.  But the man only partially obeyed. Mark tells us that as he left he freely told everyone that he’d been healed by Jesus and widely spread the news of his healing. The result was that Jesus could no longer go into the cities. Great multitudes flocked to him and he had no choice but to work in the country side where there was room for the crowds. 

Sometimes we hinder the work of God by our disobedience. It may seem a small thing at the time. It may not make sense to us that we should be asked to do something different than we’d naturally want to do. God doesn’t require us to understand but he does command us to obey, and our obedience will bring the best outcome for everyone. 

Dear Devotional Readers,

Your Story Hour has asked me to begin a writing a series of family oriented devotionals for them and I’ve accepted the project and it has now grown into the writing of a new 365 day devotional . To make room for this new opportunity I’ll be scaling back the devotional writing I’ve been doing here on Facebook for the past two years to only one post per week. 

Please pray for me as I begin writing with children as the primary focal audience. This is a new challenge for me and I hope to be a blessing.

I’ll update you on the progress of the YSH project as I can and I look forward to hearing from you weekly as I continue journeying with you through the gospel of Matthew. 

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”  Matthew 7:24–27

I remember singing the song “The Wise Man Built His House Upon The Rock” as a child, pounding my little fists together to illustrate the building of the houses, waving my hands and wiggling my fingers to illustrate the rain, raising my flattened hands to illustrate the rising floods and clapping my hands together to illustrate the crashing of the foolish man’s house falling down. 

As a child I didn’t really understand the lesson Jesus was trying to impress upon his listeners as he concluded his teaching there on the grassy mountainside, it was just a fun song to sing for me, but Jesus was sending a serious warning that day through the simple comparison of the wise and foolish builders; there are serious consequences if you try and build your spiritual life on a foundation other than one that’s in harmony with his teaching. 

Jesus had begun his sermon by listing a series of blessings that become ours when we fully enter into the process of the plan of salvation, he continued by declaring that we’re his witnesses to the world for the salvation he’s provided, he then declared that he had not come to destroy the law and that it would stand till all is fulfilled, after that he took a great deal of time to illustrate how the law is far bigger than many legalists would interpret it to be and called us to enter into a life fully keeping the law and living in the blessing of the love it teaches us to have. After that he taught about the blessing of praying, the danger of relying on wealth, and the evil of judging. Then he ended by assuring us that God hears and answers our prayers of faith, reminded us of the Golden Rule, warned us about false teachers, and admonished us to build our lives on his teachings. 

In the conclusion to his sermon Jesus twice warns that there are dire consequences to trying to do things differently than he has taught. In the parable of the two gates he warns that choosing  the wide gate and easy path will lead to destruction, and in our focus text he tells us that the result of building on any foundation other than his word is destruction as well. 

I don’t know about the rest of you but I find it very tempting to try and come up with reasons for excusing myself from following some of the lessons Jesus has taught. Sometimes I tell myself that I’m working my way by small steps toward the standard he’s set, and other times I try to use logic and reason to reduce the requirement or give myself an exception.

Jesus doesn’t give us any room for this self deception. Disobedience to his teaching is to poison ourselves spiritually and it will result in death and destruction. 

Jesus is calling us to life.  The Sermon on the Mount tells us how we can find life and truly live. That life is found in Jesus and we abide in that life when we accept his teachings and obey them. The choice he gives us is clear and so is his call. Come to me, he says. Choose life. 

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”  Matthew 7:21

Romans chapter ten verse nine says this, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Many have taken these words in isolation from their immediate context and without consideration for other passages, like our focus text, and have derived a teaching that purports that all that’s necessary for salvation is a verbal assent to all that the Bible says regarding Jesus being our Savior. This is spiritually dangerous because it gives people the understanding that little is required of them when it comes to cooperating with what God is doing as he continues to work upon their hearts.

I believe that part of the problem is that too much we study salvations two major components, justification and sanctification, in isolation of each other never considering that these are in fact not two experiences. They’re so intimately integrated within one another that they are a single complex experience. Yes, it may be helpful for our mental processing to think about them separately but they are still in fact intertwined together as one working process; the process of salvation. 

Justification is that part of salvation where the plan is begun for us. We believe in and accept Jesus as our Savior receiving his forgiveness for our sin. Sanctification is that part where we cooperate as God, through the inner working of the Holy Spirit, changes our thoughts, motives and behaviors transforming our characters so that once again they reflect the divine image. 

Our focus text, together with the verses and chapters surrounding it, make it very clear that our cooperative participation in the salvation process is required for us to enter the kingdom of heaven. Obedience to the instructions of scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit as they harmoniously guide us into a godly life is a requirement for entrance into the reward of the redeemed. 

Salvation isn’t something we wait for. Today God is working to set us free from the bonds of sin and waywardness. Today God is laboring to restore his image in us and he begins by reforming our hearts, minds, and thoughts. As these change it will be evidenced by accompanying changes in our words and actions. When we hold onto what Jesus is asking us to let go of and refuse to add to our lives those graces that he would have us receive we give evidence that we are, in fact, refusing his salvation. This refusal, if unrepented of, bars us from entering through heaven’s doors. 

O friend, let Jesus work his salvation in your life. Allow him to transform your heart into an image of his own. Let him write in the pages of your heart and the testimony of your actions that writ that will be your passport through heavens gates. 

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?  Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”  Matthew 7:15–17

What were the primary character traits of the biblical prophets?

In truth the Bible doesn’t spend a lot of time praising the men and women God chose to entrust with the work of being his messengers. If you think about it self promotion or being promoted by others wasn’t really part of the goal of the calling. What was needed was the dedication, humility, and faithfulness to conscientiously fulfill the task given them however humble, thankless and dangerous that task might be. 

Few of those who served God as his prophets received any consistent respect for their dedication. Almost all were poor. Frequently they were personally mocked and reviled and the messages they faithfully delivered were ignored.  Still, most of these men and women were faithful till their final breath. 

So what were their primary character traits?  Love for God, love for God’s people, humility, honesty, integrity, generosity, and courage. They were both faith filled and faithful. As a group they weren’t concerned about their personal standing and honor.  It was God’s standing, God’s honor, God’s name and God’s message that were to be proclaimed and promoted and his will that was to be done. 

Jesus warned that there would be those that would attempt to use his name and authority to pursue their own agenda and promote their own doctrine. These he called false prophets. In the Sermon of the Mount he told us that we would recognize true and false prophets by their fruit. True prophets will be honest, humble, gentle and generous. True prophets will be godly, ethical and possess moral integrity. True prophets will understand the difference between sin and righteousness and will stand stalwartly for the right while lovingly calling all people to forsake their sin and receive of Christ’s righteousness.

The apostle Paul expressed a desire that all of God’s people would be prophets and I believe that today God is calling every man, woman, and child that claims the name of Christ to take up the mantle of the prophet and to present themselves as willing ambassadors in the service of Jesus.  

All creation is waiting for the final gospel appeal. All the world is waiting to hear that message that will herald our Saviors return. Revelation foretells a final prophetic movement and today God is calling each of us to receive of the character of Christ, to become a true and faithful messenger for him and to carry his call to the every nation, every language and every people. 

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  Matthew 7:13–14

Here in America we like options, I assume the rest of the world likes options too. The more options we have means we have more possibilities to choose from and I guess that makes us feel that we have a better hope of choosing what we really want or what will best meet our needs. 

But do we really need an abundance of choices to ensure that our needs are meet and that we’ll be happy with the choice that we’ve made?  I don’t think so. Whether we’re happy or not is only dependent upon our basic, most fundamental, needs being meet after that having more doesn’t add to our happiness. 

When it comes to having a blessed life there are really only two choices. 

There’s the choice Satan has been advocating for in which everyone gets to serve themselves and look out for only their own needs. This option, referred to by Jesus in our focus text as the broad way, is the one that offers the most options and therefore seems to be giving us the greatest opportunity for happiness and satisfaction. Jesus tells us that many are choosing this option. It’s an easy option to find and it’s popularity means that lots of people will understand and support your decision to choose this option. In our pluralistic world it’s become the norm to support any decision another makes regardless as to how harmful or directionless that choice may be. 

Then there’s the choice Jesus is offering. “Come to me,” he says. “Learn from me,” he tells us. “I Am the way, the truth and the life. You won’t find salvation in any one else. You won’t find lasting peace and joy and love anywhere else. You can’t find life anywhere else and you can only keep that life by following me, by obeying me, and living like I live ” 

Jesus’ choice doesn’t offer us very many options. That’s why he describes it as being both narrow and difficult. The life he’s calling us to is one that’s not in harmony with the life most others are choosing. There won’t be any room for compromise in our choice to follow Christ, like there is when we choose to do whatever makes us most happy. People won’t always understand and they’ll think it’s we who are being difficult when in reality the difficultly lies in the path and the fact that it’s leading us away from sin and death and into life and righteousness and Christ. 

We like options and the the path of this world seems to be offering the most options but what our choices really comes down to is this, sin or righteousness, death or life, Satan or Christ. 

From the outset Jesus has made it clear, if you choose him you choose life and that means you’ll have to learn to do things his way, and he promises that this will bring lasting joy and happiness. In the end you don’t need lots of options you just need what is right. You need Christ. 

“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”  Matthew 7:12

A few years ago, after a life time of learning about God, his word and his ways, I came to an understanding that I should have realized all along. In truth, I did understand it, at least I understood it a little. What should I have understood? That God is inviting us into a relationship circle with him. That circle began in the infinite reaches of time past with just the members of the Godhead and now God invites us to join that circle as equal sharers in the blessing of what that relationship circle has to offer. There’s only one requirement for being part of that circle. Love everyone else better than you love yourself. 

Jesus, in our focus text, is attempting, in the weakness of human language, to explain this principle. “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them.”  In other places in the gospels this thought is expressed in the words, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  We call this statement “The Golden Rule.”  Here in Matthew chapter seven Jesus tells us that in these few words is embodied all the law and the prophets. 

The Golden Rule demands that we be different that we’re naturally inclined to be. Sinful human nature is all about serving self. Even in our attempts to obey scripture our selfishness is apparent. Many times when complaints come to me about what’s happening or not happening in the church family there is underlying the complaint a selfish message. My needs aren’t being met. My worship experience is being disrupted. Too much is being asked of me. Me, me, me. my, my, my. I, I, I.

In truth, they’re usually right. Their needs weren’t met, their worship was disrupted, they were asked to do more than they were ready to do. 

But here’s the thing. If we’re obeying the Golden Rule, if we’re prying our focus off of ourselves and making others the focus of our attention, like Christ did, we’ll never feel that too much has been asked of us. Sure there’s more need than we could ever meet on our own, but we’re never alone. Someone else is always there to help us lift the load. God is always present to help us, doing his part as we do ours. 

The great controversy is deciding which rule is better, selfish sin or selfless righteousness.  The rule of sin says that you’re better off it you take care of yourself. The rule of righteousness says that you’re better off if you take care of others. All the suffering that resulted from looking out for self first should have taught us that selfishness doesn’t work. In a sinful world righteousness doesn’t always get to bear its full harvest but Jesus has demonstrated that it can overcome the attacks of selfishness. 

Think about it. Satan in his selfishness had Jesus nailed to a cross, and Jesus, while he was on that cross, still was able to minister to others: first by giving comfort and assurance to a thief, next by caring for his mother, and finally by asking that his executioners be forgiven. 

Selfless love is the grandest, strongest, most precious thing in the universe. It’s also the most abundant. It flows unceasingly from the heart of God, and by his grace it can flow from yours as well. 

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”  Matthew 7:7–8

Today as I write this post my family is entering into the fourth day of a heart breaking ordeal we never thought we’d have to go through. My aunt, who has Alzheimer’s, wandered off in the late afternoon three days ago. To add further trauma to an already traumatic situation several tornados went through the town she lives in destroying homes, tearing up trees, and wreaking all kinds of destruction. 

My uncle began looking for my aunt within ten or fifteen minutes of her wandering off, my cousin, their daughter joined him a short time later and they’ve hardly stopped searching since they began. Police have helped. Yesterday a large group went out canvassing the area. Thousands have united in prayer seeking God for her safe return. 

It’s easy in the face of the continued delay in my aunts recovery to wonder where God is and to ask why he hasn’t kept his promise. Our focus text seems pretty clear. Ask, seek and knock and God will answer with the good gift you’ve requested. The thing is that the passage is a little deeper than might be apparent in its English translation. 

The tense of the verbs ask, seek, and knock in the Greek language they were originally written in is the present continuous tense. Most accurately they ought to be translated “ask and keep asking,” “seek and keep seeking,” “knock and keep knocking.”

It’s easy with a shallow, presumptuous, selfish faith to carelessly toss our prayers at God making requests of him, knowing that he’s well able to provide but not truly appreciating and in fact not truly valuing the enormity of the gift we’ve received when we’re given what we’ve asked for. We wander through our days often so far distanced from God and so deeply engrossed in our daily activities that we’re senseless and oblivious to God’s prompting as he attempts to lead us in a better path. 

C. S. Lewis wrote that it’s in our pain that God is shouting at us.

O God forgive us for being so neglectful of listening to you. Forgive us for taking you and your care for us for granted. Forgive us for expecting you to focus your every care upon us when we give so little care for you and the effort you give everyday as you care for us. Forgive us for making you have to shout to make yourself heard. 

Jesus calls us to a faith that asks and asks and asks, seeks and seeks and seeks, and knocks and knocks and knocks. We’re called to a persistent faith, a durable faith. One that as it’s lived in this sin saturated world doesn’t shrink in the face of hardship or heartbreak. A faith that trusts in God to work to the uttermost to save. A faith that recognizes that every moment God is working to bring billions of his children who are lost in sin home to him. A Faith that trusts that he won’t neglect to bring my Aunt home as well. 

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matthew 6:19–21

Recently I’ve been attracted to a more minimalist approach to living life. There just seems to me to be a lot of advantages to living life without all the unnecessary baggage it’s so easy to collect in the materialistic world we live in. 

The first advantage is that you save your money for more meaningful, more satisfying things. Face it, there’s a price tag attached to everything. If we stop spending our hard earned money on so much worthless stuff we’ll have more of it available for the quality things we really need and want.

The second advantage is that you save time. All that stuff takes time. It takes you time to collect it and after you’ve collected it it now takes you time to keep it in order. Far better to stop getting those things that you’re just going to lose interest in in ten minutes and focus on those few things that will have lasting importance to you.  All that saved time will also leave you the freedom of being able to spend your time on relationships. Your relationship with God and your relationships with family and friends. In the end it’s your investment in time with God, and time with family and time with friends that will bring you the greatest satisfaction. 

Freed time and money will also open the door for experiences that you might have missed had you frittered your time and money away on worthless things. As we’ve already observed everything has a price tag, part of the price is money and part of the price is time. Choosing to spend our time and money on the few things in life that are truly important is the best choice. 

But what truly matters?  What’s the best choice?

In our focus text, Jesus advised us to lay up for ourselves treasure in heaven. In the end there are only two categories of investments that you can take to heaven. Investments in a godly character for yourself and investments in the godly characters of others. That’s all. Scripture tells us that everything else will be destroyed. 

So invest yourself and your treasure in deepening your connection with your Heavenly Father and invest yourself in helping others to find their own connection with him.  Nothing will give you greater satisfaction and no investment will give you a greater return. 

“But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”  Matthew 6:17–18 

Fasting has long been an important aspect of religious practices in numerous religions around the world. The fact that so many different faith and belief systems value and practice fasting as a part of their spiritual disciplines demonstrates a recognition that fasting gives benefits to the people’s physical and mental processes. 

A number of scientific studies have been conducted to verify and measure the extent of the benefits of fasting and several benefits have been documented. Fasting promotes blood sugar control by reducing insulin resistance, it helps the body fight inflammation, it helps to lower blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol, it can boost brain function and prevent neurodegenerative diseases, it aids in weight loss by reducing caloric intake and boosting metabolism, it increases the body’s production of human growth hormone, it can help to delay aging and increase longevity, and it may aid in cancer prevention and improve cancer treatment effectiveness. 

But notwithstanding all the good things fasting can do for you Jesus had a problem with the way so many people were conducting their fasts during his three years of earthly ministry. The problem he had was their motivation for their fasting and the subsequent display of their fasting ritual. 

The scribes and Pharisees saw opportunity in every religious practice for them to put their righteousness, piety, and religious devotion on display. They liked to be thought to be holy. They craved the attention, adulation, and commendations of the people that came because of their public religious devotions so when they participated in a fast that did it with a great amount of display. 

Jesus instructed the people to not fast like the hypocritical scribes who went about with sad countenances, disfiguring their faces so that they might appear to be fasting.  He also warned that if your motive for fasting was to gain public recognition and favor that that was all the reward you would get. 

Fasting, like any beneficial activity can be misused. The scribes and Pharisees used it for religious display but didn’t actually engage in the worship and devotion their fasting could have enhanced. 

I’d encourage anyone who doesn’t have health concerns that would prevent it to make fasting a part of their lifestyle. Daily fast by not eating between meals and periodically fast by abstaining from food for a day or two. If you do you’ll reap physical and mental benefits that will give you advantages in your health, your worship and your service for God.

“In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

We all want those three things the benediction of Lord’s Prayer is teaching us to surrender to God. Kingdom, power and glory. Most of us primarily want one more than the others, but if we’re truly honest as we examine our hearts we have to admit that we want all three. Oh, we may call them different names or give them different descriptions but these three desires are still there. 

We may have to substitute kingdom with home, or property, or a place where I belong but the only thing that’s really changed is the expectation of scale. We may have compromised about how big the kingdom is but still we desire a place where our will, our decisions, our wants and ways hold sway. 

And we want power. We want the ability to hold off any and all who would threaten the safety, sovereignty and reality of our kingdom. Additionally we also crave the strength and power to push back the boundaries so that the extent of our domain would increase. We want the power and we want enough power so that our power is never challenged our compromised. 

And we want glory. We want people to see our accomplishments and acknowledge the great things we’ve done. We want our greatness to be seen and remembered. We want our fame to be known and we want that reward of praise that’s rightfully ours to be lavished upon us. 

As I said earlier, we don’t want these things equally and some may want one far more than the others but we all want a kingdom, power and glory. I know I give evidence of wanting all three of these things everyday. 

God calls us to humbly submit these aspirations to him everyday. Our sinfulness drives us to covet these things for ourselves but righteousness calls us to give them all away to Him who is most worthy. Unsurrendered to God the drive for dominion, power and praise will corrupt us. Unsubmitted our quest for dominance in these three realms would destroy the righteous God is nurturing in our hearts.  

Love is the greatest power in the universe. God himself is described as being love. God’s law is defined as being the transcript of what love is. Sin is loves opposite, its antithesis. Sin is purely selfish and love is purely unselfish. Love always considers the other above and before self. Love is willing to bear burdens, dangers and hurts for the good of others. Because love is other focused love doesn’t count the cost or consider the loss to self; whatever is a blessing or a benefit to others is a blessing to self. 

So Jesus teaches us to each day loosen our grasp on the kingdom, power and glory and to let go and give them to God. As our creator they rightfully belong to him. As our Savior he’s demonstrated that his unselfishness is of a scale to make him a trustworthy possessor of their burdens and responsibilities. As our brother and friend we know that we can trust him to use  them to care for us even before he cares for himself. They already belong to him so we give them to him today. 

“In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

Many years ago as I was considering temptation I was led to the observation that temptation has only three causes or sources. 

The first is the devil. He is the source of the first temptation that befell Eve in the garden. He is the source of the three great temptations that Jesus was victorious over in the wilderness. He is without a doubt the instigator of many of the temptations we face each day. There’s some truth in the statement, “the devil made me do it.”

But the devil isn’t the only source of temptation. Other people also impose temptations upon us, and they are the second source of temptation. Sometimes those provocations are intentional and other times they’re the product of thoughtless actions but still many temptations will come today that find their source in other people. 

But there’s also a third source and that source is our own self: our weaknesses, our wants and our desires. I believe that we, in our unsurrenderedness, unsubmittedness, carelessness and distractedness, are the largest contributor to the stream of temptation we experience each day. The apostle John tells us that when the devil prepares his temptations he first consults our personal desires so that he can better guarantee the success of his efforts. This means that even the devils temptations find their inspiration in us. 

So when we prayer the Lord’s Prayer and ask that God, “lead us not into temptation but to deliver us from evil,” we are to a great degree asking that God would lead us away from our own sinful selves. We’re asking that God would somehow lessen the hold that our own perverted wants and desire have on our lives so that God can deliver us from the evil thoughts and impulses that have their beginning in us. We’re asking that God would save us from ourselves. 

It’s important that we realize this because without this realization we’ll never be able to fully cooperate with the Holy Spirit as he works to bring the, “Yes,” that God gives our prayer to fulfillment. If we don’t recognize that God is, in fact, leading us away from ourselves as he leads us to himself we won’t be able to follow as willingly as we need to. The old man of sin Jesus is trying to relegate into the distant past will keep interfering with his insistence that we take a different path if we don’t take the steps we need to take to silence and marginalize him. 

Lead us not into temptation is not just what happens outside of us. The greatest part of that prayer will, in fact, happen inside our own hearts and minds. 

O Jesus, lead me in the paths of righteousness. Lead me away from the sinful impulses and desires that characterize my own heart. Deliver me from the evil that is my own nature. Protect me from the interference of the devil and others. Lead me to Jesus today. 

“In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

Sometimes we’re acutely aware of our sin and unworthiness. At other times our degraded spiritual condition is merely an abstract theological truth we mentally accept. Most often those times of spiritual clarity regarding the depth of our need come following some failure on our part, we’ve hurt someone we love, we’ve gotten caught doing something and the consequences of the exposure are significant, maybe we haven’t gotten caught but still we feel dirty. I could go on listing maybes but I think you get the picture. 

The thing is that regardless as to whether or not we’re aware that we’ve done something sinful we’re still filled with sin. The prophet Jeremiah said it most clearly, “the heart of a man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked…” What the prophet is so poetically saying is that our sinfulness is so deep and pervasive we can’t even comprehend its extent. That’s why the four word petition, “forgive us our debts,” is so important to us. We need forgiveness more than we can even know. 

And the message of scripture is that if we come to Jesus honestly, sincerely confessing our sin and asking for forgiveness he will faithfully forgive and cleanse us. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done, nothing is too big, God’s grace is infinite, he’s able to cover and cleanse our sin if we’ll repent. 

But there’s a condition we must meet if our repentance is to be genuine and we’re to remain covered by God’s blanket of forgiveness. The Lord’s Prayer reveals what that condition is with the words immediately following our request for forgiveness, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

The point of grace and forgiveness as it’s applied in our lives is that we stop being vessels of hate and destruction and begin being vessels of God’s love in this world. We cannot be that if we’re unwilling to forgive as we’ve been forgiven. 

God begins the cleansing of the sin from our lives by first clearing away the rubble and debris of sin in our hearts that gets in the way of our become forgiving like he is, and then he prompts us to begin letting go of our hurt and anger as we give forgiveness to those that have wronged us. 

We may be tempted to hold onto that hurt and resentment, after all they deserve our anger. Well,,friend, forgiveness wouldn’t be needed if the wounds weren’t real. But God’s calling us to put off sin and to put on love. Love calls us to forgive, and we can’t be forgiven for our sin if we’re not willing to let go of it and become forgiving. 

O God help me be forgiving. The hurts are real, and sometimes deep. I’m in awe when I consider the expansiveness of your love and forgiveness for me. Help me to follow your example and to love and forgive like you.