Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Eleven

Day Three Hundred Eleven, Luke 13-18, Matt. 20

Today's reading includes some interesting passages that teach two very important points:

1. We should consider God's kingdom worth everything we have

BECAUSE

2. God considers us worth everything He has.

We again see Jesus teaching about the cost of discipleship, and about considering what it is we must be willing to give up in order tof ollow Him. He teaches:

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple."

However, in this reading we also see Jesus' love for Jerusalem, as He laments for the city:

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left unto you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

Finally, we see a couple of parables which demonstrate just how valuable we are to God. In the parable of the Lost Sheep, scripture says, "there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." In my personal favorite, that of the Prodigal Son, we see a son who has basically disowned his father and gone off on his own way. Ater his life becomes a disaster, he decides to come back home and just beg for his father's mercy. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son,t hrew his arms around him and kissed him." He tells the son's older brother that "we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Ten

Day Three Hundred Ten, Luke 9-11, Luke 17, Matt. 11, John 10

Lots of good stuff going on in today's reading as Jesus finishes up His Galilean ministry. He "resolutely set out for Jerusalem" at this point.

Jesus heals ten lepers. One comes back to thank Him.

Jesus sends out seventy-two of His disciples with authority to teach and proclaim the coming kingdom of God. When they return, Jesus rejoices in the fact that the kingdom is being revealed.

Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.

He spends time with Mary and Martha, commending Mary for the time she chooses to spend at His feet, listening to Him.

He teaches His disciples how to pray and encourages them to pray with persistence. He wants them to pray with faith, as He assures them that as they know how to give good gifts to their children, even more so, God gives good gifts to His children.

At the end of today's reading, Jesus once again affirms His deity, as He claims that He and the Father are one.

But buried right smack dab in the middle of today's reading is yet another glorious invitation that Jesus issues, one that always speaks to my heart of Jesus' desire to give us just what we need:

In Matthew 11, He says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you wil find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Nine

Day Three Hundred Nine, John 8-10

In a large portion of today's reading, Jesus seems to rail against the Jews for their lack of faith in Him. He tells them that by belief in Him, they will be set free. They maintain that, as children of Abraham, they "have never been slaves to anyone."

Jesus tells the people that if they were truly Abraham's children, the would believe in Him, because God has sent Him. Rather, He accuses them of doing what their own father does. He then proceeds to explain to them that their father, the devil, is a liar and the father of lies. Lies are Satan's native language, and he was a murderer from the beginning. The Jews, who want to kill Jesus, are follwing in the footsteps of their real father, Jesus implies.

As Jesus claims to be from God, and He claims that anyone who keeps His word will never see death, the Jews become really offended. They know that even their father Abraham tasted death. "Are you greater than our father Abraham...who do you think you are?" they ask!

"I tell you the truth, Jesus answered, before Abraham was, I am."

Again this reminds me of that great scene I referenced a couple of weeks ago from "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." As Aslan talks with the witch about the deep magic of Narnia and reminds her that he "was there when it was written", so Jesus tells these people who are opposing Him that He is, indeed, the "I AM."

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Eight

Day Three Hundred Eight, John 7

Today's reading includes some teaching that Jesus does in the Temple at Jerusalem. He had gone to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, so there were many Jews in the city, and really, there was a lot of talking going on about Jesus. At this point in His ministry, no one was sure what to think of Him. Some believed He was a good man. Others believed He was a liar. Some believed He was a prophet. Some wondered if He could be the Christ. Some think He is crazy or demon-possessed, Himself. He knew that some of the Jewish leaders wanted to arrest and kill Him. Yet He was able to openly speak to the public in the Temple, and no one laid a hand on Him.

What stands out most to me about His teaching is the almost desperate tone that He takes. At one point, the people are discussing whether or not He could be the Christ. "Some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, 'Isn't this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Christ? But we know where this man is from; when Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.' Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, 'Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him, because I am from him and he sent me.'"

I think that Jesus "cried out" because He desperately wanted these people to be able to believe in Him. Indeed, many in the crowd did put their faith in Him. On the last day of the Feast, in fact, Jesus issued this glorious invitation: "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him."

"If anyone is thirsty..."

I dunno about you, but I'm thirsty.

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Seven

Day Three Hundred Seven, Matt. 16-18, Mark 8-9, Luke 9, Luke 17

At the beginning of Matthew chapter 17 is the story of the Transfiguration, in which Jesus appears to three of His closest apostles in majestic glory with Moses and Elijah. The apostles are stunned as they see the glory of the Lord. Moses and Elijah disappear, and a voice from heaven says, "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him." Very powerful, very exciting. After this incredible mountaintop experience, Jesus comes down to this:

"When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them...'What are you arguing about?' He asked. A man in the crowd answered, 'Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.'"

That's one heck of a transition from His transfiguration, wouldn't you agree? You can hear the frustration in Jesus' voice:

"'O unbelieving generation,' Jesus replied, 'how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.'"

When the boy is brought to Him, He asks the boy's father, "'How long has he been like this?' 'From childhood,' he answered. 'It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.' '"If you can"?' said Jesus. 'Everything is possible for him who believes.' Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, 'I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!'"

That statement by the boy's father has got to be one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture, because I can identify with it so well. I do believe. Yet sometimes I still struggle. The good news? That tiny, mustard-sized belief? It's enough for Jesus to work with.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Six

Day Three Hundred Six, Matt. 15-16, Mark 7-8

Today's reading is relatively short compared to some of the other days. It includes the healing of a deaf mute, the less-famous feeding of the four thousand followed up by the Pharisees asking for yet another sign. This is followed by Jesus warning His apostles about the Pharisees. Finally, it ends with the healing of a blind man.

However, this reading also includes a story that has always been curious, if not down-right confusing for me. But I've recently (as in the last couple of years) heard my preacher teach on it at least two or three times, and I've read a book by John Ortberg in which this story is covered, so I've come to appreciate it a little more with a better understanding of what is happening. (Disclaimer: Any insights gained from this blog post were lifted directly from my notes over said minister's sermons on this passage.)

Jesus leaves Galilee for the region of Tyre and Sidon. "A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, 'Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.' Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, 'Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.' He answered, 'I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.' The woman came and knelt before Him, 'Lord, help me!' she said. He replied, 'It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs.' 'Yes, Lord,' she said, 'but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.' Then Jesus answered, 'Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.' And her daughter was healed from that very hour."

At first glance, this passage can seem rather startling. Jesus ignores this woman, then He insults her! One might think that Jesus is not acting very "Christlike". However, the woman's response to Him is one of incredible faith, and Jesus commends her for it. Jesus is obviously testing this woman, but one has to wonder if He isn't also testing His disciples at the same time. For He ignores her, and His disciples are the first ones to speak up about her. I can't help but wonder if Jesus said nothing to her at first, because He was waiting to give His disciples an opportunity to respond to her?

When the disciples react, not by responding to the woman, but by asking Jesus to send her away, He replies, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." If I'm reading the text correctly, that first statement is directed not at the woman, but at His disciples. And it seems really harsh. In my mind, at least, it sounds like He's giving them yet another chance to pass this test, to have compassion on this woman, to recognize how harsh His statement was, and to say, "But Lord, this woman needs help!" Unfortunately, even if any of His disciples does recognize the harshness of His statement, none of them speaks up about it. Fail.

The woman, however, passes her test with flying colors. Finally, Jesus addresses the woman, who is now on her knees in front of Him, begging for His help. When He basically insults her, she has the humility to recognize that even the crumbs from the Bread of Life are enough to meet her need, and the Lord praised her for that.

May we all be so humble to recognize the Bread of Life and His ability to meet our needs--and may we praise Him for His constant willingness to do so!

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Five

Day Three Hundred Five, Mark 6-7, Luke 9, John 6-7, Matt. 14-15

Today's reading begins with one of the stories that I remember learning in my earliest days in church, that of Jesus feeding the 5,000. Interesting to note that Scripture says there were 5,000 men present, so there easily could have been twice as many people when you count the women/children. Regardless, the fact is that there was a MASSIVE amount of people that needed to be fed. Jesus took five loaves and two fish and when He was done with it, each person ate until full, and there were twelve basketfuls of food left over. Again, we see our Lord providing, and providing in abundance.

That evening after everyone has eaten, the disciples (sans Jesus) get in the only boat and go across to the other side of the sea. So in the morning when the crowds are looking for Jesus and He is nowhere to be found, they are confused as to how He got across the sea. (For some reason it didn't occur to them that He might've just walked across it?)

When the crowds find Jesus on the other side of the lake, "they asked him, 'Rabbi, when did you get here?' Jesus answered, 'I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.' Then they asked him, 'What must we do to do the works God requires?' Jesus answered, 'The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.' So they asked him, 'What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate manna in the desert; as it is written: "He gave them bread from heaven to eat."' Jesus said to them, 'I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.' 'Sir, they said, 'from now on, give us this bread.' Then Jesus declared, 'I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.'"

Indeed, not only is Jesus desirable as the Bread of Life, He is the only Bread that will sustain us. Without Him, we are dead in our sins. With Him, however, we will live forever. He continues to teach the followers with these words:

"I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever."

This was a difficult teaching for many of His followers to hear, and at this point, they quit following Him. Jesus asked His disciples if they wanted to leave too, and I absolutely love Peter for his response to that question: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

Lord, to whom shall I go but You?

Or, as we sing in one of my favorite old hymns, "Where could I go but to the Lord?"

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Four

Day Three Hundred Four, Matt. 9-11, Mark 6, Luke 9, Matt. 14

In today's brief reading, Jesus, after going through all the towns teaching, preaching, and healing, decides it is time to send His apostles out with the message of the kingdom. Scripture says when Jesus saw the crowds, "he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'" Another beautiful reminder that the Lord has compassion on His people, He was sensitive to their needs, and He was willing and able to fulfill them. He recognized that the fields were ripe, and it was time to send out workers.

Jesus gives His apostles authority over disease and evil spirits. He gives them instructions on what to (or not to) take with them and what to do as they go. He also gives them warning that they should expect to meet with some opposition/rejection, but He encourages them not to be afraid of that.

As He speaks even more about being willing to sacrifice in order to be His disciple, He says, "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

That last sentence of His is a testimony to the fact that true life, abundant life, is only in Christ.

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Three

Day Three Hundred Three, Matt. 8-9, Mark 4-6, Luke 9

Lots of things going on in today's reading: calming the sea, casting out demons, healing from bleeding, raising the dead, opening blind eyes, and loosing mute tongues. Lots of miracles that confirm the authority of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.

But at the very beginning of today's material, there is a passage in which Jesus talks with some of His would-be followers about discipleship:

"Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, 'Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.' Jesus replied, 'Foxes has holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.' He said to another man, 'Follow me.' But the man replied, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.' Jesus said to him, 'Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.' Still another said, 'I will follow you, Lord, but first let me go back say good-by to my family.' Jesus replied, 'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.'"

That seems like such a hard teaching, at least for me, but it's an interesting teaching after we looked yesterday at His parables about what the kingdom of God is like. He seems to be stressing even more so the worth of the kingdom of God and the place of priority that it MUST have in the life of anyone who would be His disciple.

Also in the midst of today's reading is a story of a woman who had been suffering from bleeding for many years. Her faith amazes me, because often times we see people beg Jesus to heal them or beg Him to come with them. Indeed, Jesus was on his way with a man named Jairus to heal his daughter when this woman came near Jesus. She pressed against Him in the crowd of people around Him, thinking to herself, "If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed." She had faith enough to believe that if she just touched Him, that would be enough. And He was enough. And because of her faith, she has the privilege of being the only person in Scripture that Jesus ever calls "daughter".

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred Two

Day Three Hundred Two, Matt. 13, Mark 4

Today's reading includes a series of parables as Jesus tries to describe what the kingdom of heaven is like. I won't go over each of them, but I thought it interesting how many of them were metaphors that included seeds and sowing, scattering and growing. And one of the overarching points that I take away from a couple of these is that God is the one who brings growth in His kingdom. For "a man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how." And "though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."

Also, there are the parables of the hidden treasure/pearl of great price:

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field."

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it."

It's hard to miss the message there...the kingdom of heaven, and having your place within it, is worth everything you've got.

The question is, are you willing to give it everything you've got?

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred One

Day Three Hundred One, Luke 11-13

We've seen previously where Jesus had been faced with opposition from the Pharisees for His life and teaching, and in today's passage from Luke, there is quite a bit of warning against the hypocrisy that these people so embody. Jesus teaches harshly against the fact that their actions do not match up with the heart of the Law that they claim to follow so strictly. Jesus also uses a couple of parables to teach of the importance of repentance and of living a life so as to be ready for His return. But there are a couple of passages in today's reading that stood out to me, and I wanted to share them here.

The first one talks of the importance of fearing God above all. Jesus says, "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who can kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after killing the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." I love the reminder that in the same way God has not forgotten about the sparrows, so He also has not forgotten about me. It's easy to think that...I'm just one little person in the midst of a GINORMOUS universe that God has created and rules over. It would be easy to imagine that He could somehow overlook me...except that He WON'T! He's omniscient and omnipresent. I love being reminded that I'm worth a lot to Him. As one of my favorite preachers once said, "Shall we be saved? Are you kidding, we're more saved than we need to be! Because He paid more for us than we're worth."

The other passage that I wanted to share is one that encourages us to trust in God's providence. Following Luke's rendition of Jesus' teaching about not worrying (see Matt. 6, blogged about on day 299), are these words from the Master: "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." A few years ago, a friend of mine wrote about this passage and Jesus' commandment to "sell your possessions and give to the poor." He shared a little of his journey, a little of his struggle with this command, and finally a little of the blessing he received when he decided to obey it. It inspired me to do the same. And it is a blessing to be able to sell some of the things that I learned that I didn't really need...and to also go without a couple of comforts that I'm also learning that I don't really need...in order to fund some giving to some organizations that I know are about His business. They want what He wants, and they're able to use whatever small amount I can share with them in order to make it happen.

Except I guess I'm a little slow at getting with things, because although this friend of mine shared his story probably three years ago, I'm just now making it happen in my life over this past year. But this passage has been one that's haunted me, in a good way, for the past three years. And I hope it continues to in the future.

Project 4:4--Day Three Hundred

Day Three Hundred, Matt. 8, Luke 7-8, Matt. 11-12, Luke 11

Today's reading involves several different events as Jesus' ministry continues. He heals a centurion's slave, He raises a widow's dead son, He is anointed by a sinful woman, He is accused of acting under the power of the prince of demons, and He is asked for a miraculous sign to prove that He is who He claims to be. But there is one event in this reading that always stands out to me, and I want to discuss it.

This is the point where John the Baptist, who has now been thrown into prison by Herod and likely knows that his time is short, sends his disciples to question Jesus. After spending his life proclaiming the coming kingdom of God, he's gotta know...is Jesus really the One? I mean, it doesn't exactly add up in the human mind, for someone like John who has done the best he could at fulfilling God's calling on his life, to find himself in the situation he is in now, at the end of his life. So John just has to know, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" First, let me note that it's comforting that even someone who did as good of a job at fulfilling his role in God's kingdom as John the Baptist did, has a time of doubt.

Even more comforting, though, is Jesus' response to John's disciples. He simply asks them to report to John what they have seen and heard: "the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." Let the facts speak for themselves, Jesus says.

Surely John the Baptist, who had a measure of the Holy Spirit even from the womb, is familiar enough with the Messianic prophecies to know what Jesus is saying. Isaiah is one of the prophets who speaks often of what the Messiah would do and the kingdom He would bring about. "The eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy..." Even the passage from Isaiah that Jesus quoted Himself while in the synagogue comes to mind: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord..."

So, to answer John's question, is Jesus the One who was to come?

"Are the Messianic prophecies being fulfilled through me?"

"Blessed is he who does not take offense at me."

Blessed is John, who could believe that Jesus was the Messiah, even if he didn't understand the situation he was in.

Project 4:4--Day Two Hundred Ninety-Nine

Day Two Hundred Ninety-Nine, Matthew 5-7, Luke 6

Today's reading is one of my favorite passages in the New Testament, perhaps one of my favorite in all the Bible. It's the Sermon on the Mount, which contains perhaps some of the most famous of all Jesus' teachings. I love how one of the first things He teaches the people (after we see Him being accused of breaking the law in yesterday's reading) is that He has not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them.

Indeed, He is the fulfillment of the prophecies of a coming Messiah and a coming kingdom in which the Lord will reign with peace and justice. To borrow His phrase, that time "is coming and has now come," as He begins, not to abolish the Old Law, but to teach the people the true spirit of that law.

They've heard it said, "Do not murder." Jesus says, "Do not be angry with your brother."

They've heard it said, "Do not commit adultery." Jesus says, "Do not even look at another one lustfully."

They've heard it said, "In order to divorce, a man must give his wife a certificate of divorce." Jesus says, "Anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, is an adulterer."

They've heard it said, "Do not break your oath." Jesus says, "Do not swear at all...let your 'yes' be 'yes' and your 'no' be 'no'."

They've heard it said, "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth." Jesus says, "Do not resist an evil person...turn the other cheek...go the extra mile...do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

They've heard it said, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." Jesus says, "Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you."

The rest of these passages in this sermon continue to remind the listener of what is most important, and of God's ability to provide for those who are willing to recognize that.

As Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, He reminds them that their Father knows what is needed before they ask Him. He encourages them not to "store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

He tells His disciples not to worry about the things of this world, your body, what you will eat or drink, or what you will wear. He points out to them how God takes care of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, which are here today and gone tomorrow. We, as His children, are much more vaulable to God than they are. God knows that we need these things. That passages is ended by one of my favorite Bible verses, which is, I think somewhat-appropriately, on the cover of my checkbook as a reminder to "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

Again, I love the reminder that if we seek God, we will find Him. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."

Project 4:4--Day Two Hundred Ninety-Eight

Day Two Hundred Ninety-Eight, Mark 2, Matt. 9, Luke 5, John 5, Matt. 12, Luke 6

Today we read the first of many times that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees will oppose Jesus and His teachings, because He is doing things that they, as self-appointed, self-righteous enforcers of the Law-as-they-see-it, do not approve of. He calls Matthew (a much-hated tax collector who is likely despised for being a friend of the Romans) to be a follower of His. Matthew hosts a party for Jesus at his home, where he invites all of his tax-collector friends to hang out with Jesus, and the Pharisees accuse of Jesus of dining with "sinners"--as though they, themselves, are not sinners!

They question Jesus about the fact that His disciples do not fast and pray, to which He gives them what must be a cryptic response about the friends of the bridegroom not fasting while the bridegroom is with them. He assures the Pharisees that the time will come for the bridegroom to be taken from His followers, and then will be the time for fasting.

Jesus is also accused of not keeping the Sabbath when He and His disciples pick grain on the Sabbath, and when Jesus does some healing on the Sabbath. When He is accused after picking the grain--that is, doing what is unlawful--Jesus gives the Pharisees a couple of examples. He reminds them that even King David did what was unlawful by eating the consecrated bread, and He points out the fact that the priests in the Temple desecrate the Sabbath, yet they are considered innocent, because they are doing Temple work. Jesus wants them to understand the spirit of the law, not just the letter of the law, as He tells them that "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." He asserts to them that one greater than David and one greater than the Temple is here.

After healing on the Sabbath, Jesus gave them this answer, which speaks to the authority that Jesus has as God's own Son--the authority He has to give life to those who would believe in Him.

"I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement, he will show him even greater things than these. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Project 4:4--Day Two Hundred Ninety-Seven

Day Two Hundred Ninety-Seven, Matt. 4, Luke 4-5, Mark 1-2

Today's reading describes the beginning of Jesus' ministry in Galilee, the region in which He grew up. As He is in Nazareth, His hometown, we see that one Sabbath when He is in the synagogue (as is His custom, to go to the syngagogue on the Sabbath) He does one of the most amazing and wonderful and interesting things that He does as He begins His ministry. Jesus stands up to read in the synagogue, takes the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and reads, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Then He rolls up the scroll, hands it back, and sits down. Everyone is staring at Him, wondering what He's going to say, and He follows up that reading with, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." That's what God's kingdom is about. It's about good news for the poor, freedom from oppression, recovery of sight, and the Lord's favor! Jesus reads this to the people and then says, "That's me! It's talking about Me!" Indeed, He is the only One who can provide all of those things for us.

Not only is Jesus the only One who can provide all of those things for us, He provides them in abundance. He came that we may have life more abundantly! (But I'm getting ahead of myself, there.) We see an example of His abundance in the next scene, where we have Jesus speaking to a crowd by the Sea of Galilee. As they began to crowd around Him, He saw a couple of boats near the shore that belonged to a fisherman by the name of Simon (Peter). He decided to get in the boat and put out a little from the shore so that He could teach the people from the boat. When He is done teaching the people, He tells Simon to go out into the deep water and let down the nets for a catch. Simon mentions to Him that they've been fishing all night without catching anything, "but because you say so, I will let down the nets." (Yet another example of someone taking Him at His word.) Well, of course, this time when Simon lets down the nets, you know what happens: there is an amazing catch of fish, the nets begin to break, the boat begins to sink, and Simon has to call his partners in the other boat to help him. The partners come and the men fill both boats with fish so that BOTH boats begin to sink! My only comment on this passage is, if that's not abundance, I don't know what is!

Through the rest of today's reading, it seems the other important factor about Jesus that is highlighted is His authority. People are amazed because He teaches as one with authority...He has authority over evil spirits...He even exemplifies to the teachers of the law that He has authority to forgive sins.

From His Galilean ministry, we learn that He is here to meet the human need that only He can...that He wants to give us an abundance of what we need...and that as God-in-the-flesh, He alone has the power and authority to do so.

Project 4:4--Day Two Hundred Ninety-Six

Day Two Hundred Ninety-Six, John 1-4, Luke 3

Today's reading includes quite a bit about Jesus' early ministry. It includes Jesus' first miracle at Cana, His cleansing of the Temple, His teachings to Nicodemus, and His encounter with the woman at the well in Samaria. There is also a little bit more of John's testimony about Jesus. In each of these events, I continue to see more evidence that He is enough...in fact, He is all I need.

At the wedding that Jesus and His disciples attend in Cana, Jesus' mother is there. She informs Him of the lack of wine and asks Him to do something about it. She doesn't quite take His hint when He tells her He is not ready...she just assumes that He will do what she asks. I find that so interesting...she has such complete faith in Him to do what is needed that she just tells the servants, "Do whatever He tells you." Of course, after Jesus turns the water into wine, the caterer's comment to the bridegroom is, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now." Worth noting that not only does God provide, but when He does, you can guarantee it will be the best.

When Jesus is cleansing the Temple, driving out the moneychangers who are taking advantage of people, the Jews become angry with Him. They demand to know how He can prove His authority to them. His response? "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." His own authority is all He needs.

As Jesus teaches Nicodemus, He teaches of the necessity of being born of the Spirit. He tells Nicodemus, "No one can enter the kingdom of God unless He is born of the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." We need His Spirit.

When John the Baptist gives even more testimony about Jesus, we hear even more about the fact that Jesus, sent by God, is above all. "The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what He has seen and heard...for the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit."

When Jesus is talking to the woman at the well in Samaria, He tells her of His supplication for our deepest need. After asking her for a drink--which leaves her a little befuddled, He tells her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water...Everyone who drinks this water again will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." He continues this teaching with His apostles when they return, telling them, "I have food to eat that you know nothing about...My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work. Do you not say, 'Four months more and then the harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest...I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor."

This day's reading ends with an interesting miracle that Jesus performs for an official by healing his son. The interesting thing about this miracle is that Jesus is not present to heal the boy. The man asked Jesus to come and heal his son, but when Jesus told him that everything would be okay, "The man took Jesus at His word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, 'The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.' Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, 'Your son will live.'"

The man took Jesus at His word.

How often do you take Him at His word?