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?

A new hope

Read: Genesis 36-37, Matthew 12:1-21

A look at any news outlet these days will let you know that there are an awful lot of people who have no hope. Even those who think they do, don’t. This is nothing new. Hopelessness has plagued the human race since the very first humans walked the earth. Our own weaknesses and insecurities often overshadow anything or anyone who may be able to shine a little light into our lives.

This is what the Jews were feeling in the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The Pharisees had interpreted the law to a point that there was absolutely no hope in ever being able to keep it. In the first few verses of Matthew 12, we find Jesus and his disciples accused of breaking the law simply because they were hungry. If the need for a midday meal was enough to break the law, how much more did the Jews struggle in their daily life to keep up with the strict parameters the Pharisees put on them?

Yet Jesus fought against these man-made restrictions. While still keeping the law, he explained the freedom in it. Certain exceptions could be made within the boundaries of the law. Jesus emphasized his point by healing a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees considered healing work and thus, decided it was unlawful to do so on the Sabbath. Jesus, on the other hand established that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:12).

Matthew 12:21

Jesus’ ministry was not to publicly put the Pharisees in their place, but rather to show the average person that there was hope beyond what they’d been taught. Their faith wasn’t all about the rules, but the freedom that could be found in them. The law was not given to stifle humanity, but to benefit them. And Jesus, in fulfilling the law, came to do the same.

It is in Jesus’ name that our greatest hope is found. It is in his name that demons must flee and sickness must vanish. It is in his name that we are set free and in his name that we find life everlasting.

Where there is no hope, there is Jesus. Where hope has faded, he brings a new hope.

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)

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.

 

God wants you!

Read: Genesis 27-28, Matthew 9: 18-38

All over Israel, Jesus went with his disciples. He taught and he healed. There are no accounts of Jesus refusing healing to anyone who asked. Everywhere he went, crowds followed and Jesus had compassion on them. So he told his disciples to do something. Pray. Pray for workers because the harvest is plenty.

Matthew 9:38

We can assume that they prayed.

How often have you prayed this prayer? How often has your pastor asked you to pray this prayer? We all know that there is a great harvest of souls out there in the world and the only way that they can be brought into the body of Christ is if people go out and get them. So we pray. And we pray. And we pray.

But take a look at the next verse:

He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

Matthew 10:1 (NIV)

Who did Jesus ask to pray for workers? His disciples. Who did Jesus send out as workers? His disciples.

When he told his disciples to pray for workers, he wasn’t asking them to pray for a group of complete strangers. They were praying for each other. They were praying for themselves.

Chances are that, if you feel a burden to pray for workers to reap the harvest (and even if you feel no burden whatsoever), you are the worker God wants in the field.

Let the well alone

Read: Genesis 25-26, Matthew 9:1-17

Every year on Christmas Eve, my mother and I watch White Christmas. We’ve seen it so many times that we can pretty much quote the entire movie and sing along to every musical number, which is why today’s reading reminded me of a song from this classic film.

I know of a doctor

Sad to say, one day he fell
Right into a great big well

He should have attended to the sick
And let the well alone

The Minstrel Show

Like the song, it’s sad to say, but many Christians have unknowingly found themselves at the bottom of a deep pit. Instead of attending to the sick, they stayed too close to the well.

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:12-13 (NIV)

In 2005, John Burke published a book called No Perfect People Allowed. Since then, many churches, including my own, have adopted and promoted this phrase. In no way are we discounting that, though Jesus’ sacrifice, we are being made perfect, but we are tending to the spiritually sick by letting them know that they are welcome as they are. For too long, the church in general has acted like a quarantine for the spiritually “healthy”. And, in doing so, we have become just like the Pharisees who scorned Jesus for breaking bread with the tax collectors and sinners.

C.T. Studd

If we want to avoid the bottom of the well, we need to stay away from it. Though we need the fellowship of other believers, we are not called to close our ranks, but rather to go out and find those who most need what we have. Like Jesus, we are the doctors and nurses who need to go out onto the battlefield and pull in those who are sick and dying. It’s time for us to attend to the sick and let the well alone to do the same.

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)