The overflow

Read: Genesis 38-40, Matthew 12:22-50

Whether it’s intentional or not, things are going in and out of us all day every day. I’m not talking about food here. Or maybe I am. But it’s the spiritual sort. We read an article. We drive past a billboard. We watch a TV show. We have a conversation with a friend. We pass by a stranger. It’s all stimulation and it’s all being absorbed one way or another. And what goes in is what will come out.

Matthew 12:34

Since there are a lot of things that go in that we have no control over, the situation may seem hopeless. But, as we discussed yesterday, there is always hope. Just because we can’t control all of the bad things doesn’t mean we have no control whatsoever over the good things. We just have to make sure that the good stuff outweighs the bad. It may be as simple as changing the radio station in the car on the commute to work, or putting down one book in exchange for another. In some cases, it may take a little more effort.

For me, it’s getting up earlier than my schedule requires so that I know I will have time first thing every day to spend in the Word of God. I can carry that with me all day.

I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11 (NIV)

Jesus said that a tree—that’s us—is recognized by its fruit. A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. Every once in a while, it does us good to take a look at the kind of fruit we bear. We cannot assume that it’s always good. And, once we’ve determined our produce, we may need to take a look at what we’ve been feeding it. Even if you believe you have pretty decent fruit, keep in mind it can always be better, and the better it is, the less chance there is of it turning on you. Your fruit affects those around you even more than it affects you.

So, what’s your overflow?

Suitable for all audiences

Read: Genesis 33-35, Matthew 11

Have you ever known someone who refused to watch a G-rated movie because that stuff is juvenile? It’s fluff. It’s meant for kids. I’m above that sort of childishness. Well, I guess the Gospel is too juvenile as well, because Jesus made sure that his message was suitable for all audiences. It was actually aimed toward the less learned.

Matthew 11:25

Jesus stood strong in the face of the religious and welcomed the children to him. He acted in direct contrast to the culture of the day appealing to the weak and simple. His Gospel, while suitable for all audiences, was better received by those who had no claim to knowledge of the law.

Aside from sin, the thing that can restrain us the most from receiving from God is ourselves. Our big brains and so-called wisdom clog our mind with complex ideas that Jesus never presented. Like the Pharisees in the days of the disciples, we see ourselves as being above such simplicity. And Jesus praised God that He chose to reveal his truth to the young and the simple rather than the wise and learned.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is simple enough to be received by children and enduring enough for the aged. It is deep enough to appeal to the learned and broad enough to be understood by the simple.

Rather than working from the top down, Jesus started at the bottom and worked his way up. Not because those were the only people who would listen to him, but because it was his Father’s will that he do so.

Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.

Matthew 11:26 (NIV)

The God of my father

Read: Genesis 31-32, Matthew 10:24-42

My grandfather was a pastor. For nearly my entire life, he was my pastor. That is, until he died.

Called to the ministry long before he entered it, he had an anointing to heal. People from all over were drawn to his charisma, his grand personality. He was a strong man in ideals and in faith. When he passed away, another minister preached—yes, preached—at his funeral. A room full of people from every facet of his life, both from church and work, heard this pastor speak of the mantle that would now be passed on. Like Elijah to Elisha, the anointing of Papa’s ministry would pass on, but not just to one person. It would spread. The foundation that he laid would not go to waste. The ceiling of his ministry would become the floor for those who would follow in his footsteps.

What is the significance in those who have gone before us?

All through the Bible, God is referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel). It was recognised that the men who had gone before had a certain relationship with God. It was generational. And it was important to remember.

…the God of your father…

Genesis 31:29 (NIV)

If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac…

Genesis 31:42 (NIV)

Genesis 31:53

“O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac…”

Genesis 32:9 (NIV)

In two chapters of Genesis, there are no less than four examples of God being referred to as the God of a generation passed. Why?

Because God made promises to Abraham and to Isaac. Over and over again, God had proven himself faithful to Jacob’s father and grandfather. In his persistent reference to the God of his fathers, he reminded himself of those promises and that faithfulness.

We may throw away many things from the previous generation, but one thing that should never be set aside is the faith—the God—of our fathers. I don’t for one second take for granted the spiritual foundation that my grandfather laid. I know that he prayed for every person in his family by name every day. He prayed for me. I know that his work and his prayers were not in vain. I know that the relationship with God that I enjoy today has a lot to do with the relationship he had with God while he still walked this earth.

If you are fortunate enough to belong to the God of your fathers, don’t take it for granted. Look into your heritage and see the promises and the faithfulness.

If you are the first in your line, lay the foundation for future generations. Be the Abraham in your lineage.

Let us never forget the God of our fathers.

Irrevocable

Read: Genesis 29-30, Matthew 10:1-23

A story came out in the news this week about a pastor of a large church. He, like many of us, has a past. And, like many of us, he dealt with it and left it where it belonged. Until recently, he had been enjoying the success of marriage and family and ministering to his congregation.

Before I go further, let me clarify that the situation in question happened when he was a young man working in a church. The actions were of a sexual nature and involved a 17-year-old girl. By all accounts, he was immediately remorseful and admitted his transgression to those to whom he was accountable in the church. He apologized to all involved and was removed from his position. Nothing has been brought forward to say that such actions took place on any other occasion.

Now, with the #MeToo movement bringing all sorts of people out of the woodwork, this pastor is having to relive his shame. I in no way condone his actions, nor do I belittle what happened to the woman involved. There is no place in society for any sort of sexual misconduct. But, with all of the very public accusations and shaming, what seems to be missing is the greatest component of all: grace.

When Jesus began his public ministry, the people he brought alongside him were far from what society would call blameless. He called the blue collar workers. He called the tax collectors. He called the sinners. And then he walked with them. He ate with them. He taught them. Then he empowered them and sent them off into ministry.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.

Matthew 10:8 (NIV)

Some scholars believe that Jesus’ instructions here did not only reference the physical needs of the people, but were also representative of their need to be healed and revived spiritually. The men Jesus called had all been healed and brought to life in one way or another. The greater their sin, the greater the grace they received. And who better to extend grace than the one who has already received it?

If we demand that this pastor, because of his past sin, is no longer fit for ministry, then we must throw away the entire Bible. We can no longer sing our worship songs. We must seclude ourselves for fear of being infected by the sin that runs rampant in our churches.

Paul’s sole purpose in life was to kill Christians. Matthew was a tax collector (the very worst kind of evil). David, the man after God’s own heart, was a sexual predator and a murderer. Yet all of these men, and more, made invaluable contributions to the Book that we hold so closely to our hearts.

Romans 11:29

Who are we to stand in judgement of someone who has asked for, and received, forgiveness? Who are we to say who is and is not fit for ministry? David was guilty of far worse than most of us and yet we still sing his songs in church every Sunday, thousands of years after they were written. Paul himself should have been put to death for his crimes against Christianity, yet he made some of the the greatest contributions to our faith.

If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.

John 8:7b (NIV)

Without grace, we are all guilty. None of us should be fit for ministry. But if we do as Jesus told the woman described in John 8 and leave our life of sin, there is no condemnation. But for the grace of God we should all be buried under a landslide of stones.

For I am the least of all the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

1 Corinthians 15:9-10 (NIV)

God has called us all. No one, not even He, can revoke that calling. And it is only through His grace that any of us are able to walk in the purpose He has set out before us. What I give should be only from that which God has given through me. Judgement is not a gift from God. Grace is.

 

The business of prayer

Read: Genesis 20-22, Matthew 7

Matthew Henry the business of prayer

I have noticed that prayer meetings—though some of the most important meetings a church can hold—are often some of the least attended. Everyone will turn out for the day when they get something, but no one wants to show up when they have to give something, especially of themselves.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

Matthew 7:7 (NIV)

Ask. Seek. Knock. These terms are not meant to indicate a single action, but a repetitive one. Keep on asking. Don’t stop looking. Continue knocking. Keep doing it until you get an answer.

In a culture of instant everything, having to wait for anything seems like a waste of time. Time is money, after all. But aren’t there things in life that are worth far more? Perhaps our relationship with Jesus? The greater the sacrifice, the greater the reward.

Take a look at Abraham. God gave him a very specific instruction.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and got to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

Genesis 22:2 (NIV)

Now, if you’re Abraham, do you simply say, “OK,” and go about that which God asked you to do? The scripture doesn’t say so, but I believe that Abraham would have been praying the entire three day journey to their destination. What father wouldn’t do everything and anything possible to avoid the loss of his only child? I am sure that his words were very similar to Jesus’ before his death.

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.

Luke 22:42 (NIV)

How often do we pray like we really mean it? As though our very lives—or the lives of loved ones—depend on it? Is prayer a hobby or it is our business? It could be said that prayer is the family business. If we declare ourselves to be a part of the family of God, then prayer has become our business. It is our trade. It is our responsibility to hone that trade.

If you have yet to see the answer you seek, keep on seeking. Ask until you get a response. Knock, pound on the door if you have to, until it opens. Because then, and only then, will you see the rewards of your labour.

For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

Matthew 7:8 (NIV)

Can you keep a secret?

Read: Genesis 18-19, Matthew 6

SECRET: Separate, hid, concealed from the notice or knowledge of all persons except the individual or individuals concerned.

Some things in life should be public. Our faith being one of those things. No one should ever doubt your salvation or your Christian walk. The way you behave in public should set you apart. But some parts of that walk should remain secret. Jesus addresses three such portions: giving, praying, and fasting.

In Jesus’ day, there were those in the temple who went to great efforts to make sure that everyone knew what they were up to. They needed the world to know that they were righteous and holy because of what they were doing. Let the trumpets sound and the heralds declare!

To what end? What was the purpose in making public their “holy” acts? If it was for acknowledgement then their entire purpose for giving, praying, or fasting was made void for all of those things should be done to glorify God. And if we are seeking our own glorification for doing those things, then how can God get any glory?

Jesus tells us these things should be done in secret. For if we do it when no one is watching, then we can know that our heart is in the right place and our reasons for doing these things are indeed for the glory of God. The reward we look for should not be immediate gratification, but eternal glory. In each instance, we see that there is a reward for keeping our holy acts between ourselves and the Lord.

…so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:4 (NIV)

Matthew 6:6

…so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:18 (NIV)

You see, when we turn our focus on to God rather than on ourselves, not only is the glory given to whom it belongs, but we also receive the reward our actions deserve. A reward is not warranted if our sole purpose for giving is public accolade. But when we give for the purpose of being generous, even in secret, God sees and He stores up for us a heavenly reward that is far greater than anything we could receive here on earth.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:33 (NIV)

God’s kingdom should always be first and foremost. It is first for His benefit that we give, pray, and fast. Those things will then benefit others and ourselves last. Matthew Henry said that what we do must be done from an inward principle, that we may be approved of God, not that we may be praised of men.

Not all secrets are shady. There is nothing dubious or nefarious in giving, fasting, or praying. Jesus encourages us to do all of these things. And it is not only that we do them that matters, but how we go about doing them.

Still advancing

Read: Genesis 15-17, Matthew 5:27-48

Matthew 5:48

Jesus, more than anyone, knows that no one is perfect (except himself, of course), yet here he is, telling us to be perfect. It’s a bit of an impossible task, if you ask me. But perfection, as most of us would view it, is not what Jesus is calling us to.

Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

1 Peter 1:15-16 (NIV)

In the Hebrew and in Greek, “holy” implies connection with God or the divine. Thus, God is holy and people, things, and actions may be holy by association with God.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

Jesus is not calling us to be something that we can never be, but rather, he is calling us to be close to that which he wants us to be. Perfection this side of Heaven is impossible. Our humanity makes it so. But, J. Newton Davies said that the perfect man was the man who had set his feet on the true path and was still advancing. 

In a very small nutshell, the sermon Jesus is preaching in Matthew 5 is all about how, if we are followers of God, we should act like it and the world should know it. Not committing adultery isn’t good enough, you shouldn’t even think about it. You shouldn’t have to swear an oath because your word should be good enough. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and let him hit the other side. Love your neighbours and love your enemies, too. Being holy means being and acting different than those around us.

The perfection is not sinlessness, but a complete control by God’s Spirit.

The International Bible Commentary

The closer we walk with God, the more our actions will reflect it. If you want to be perfect, you have to hang around with someone who is perfect. If you want to be holy, you have to spend time someone who is holy. And the closer you get to that person, the more like them you will become.

The path to perfection is not a solo journey. There is only one path and it can only be travelled side-by-side with the One who is perfect. You may never achieve perfection in this life, but that doesn’t mean you can be still advancing toward it.