Tag Archives: Matthew

This Is My Gift to My King

Today is Epiphany. This morning on our way to church I said to my son, “Yesterday was the 12th day of Christmas and today is Epiphany.” He replied, “Did you just realize that?” Clearly his gift is a quick wit among other creative talents.

Epiphany is the church holiday in which we celebrate the Magi from the east visiting the child Jesus. They brought Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but before they bestowed these gifts on the young Jesus they offered Him their worship. The Magi worshipped Jesus not for what He had done for them but simply because of who He is. The story of their visit is recorded in Matthew 2:1-12.

In church this morning our pastor talked about the significance of the three gifts the Magi brought, and then he asked what gifts we can give to Jesus. I decided I would share the significance of the Magi’s gifts, as well as my thoughts on my gifts to my King.

The first gift of the Magi was gold. This was the customary gift given to kings. This gift points to Jesus as being a king from His very birth. He is the highest of royalty. The Magi sought Him as the King of the Jews. He is ultimately revealed to be King of kings: “On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” Revelation 19:16 (NIV).

The second gift of the Magi was frankincense or incense. It was customary for priests to use incense in the temple as part of their worship of God. It was the priests who presented sacrifices in the temple to atone for the sins of the people. But these sacrifices were only temporarily effective for that purpose and had to be repeated over and over. This gift of incense points to Jesus as the final priest. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” Hebrews 4:14 (NIV). He has been our sacrifice once for all to atone for the sins of the world.

This third gift of the Magi was myrrh. This is a spice that was used in burial. This points to Jesus as a prophet who will be killed for preaching the truth just as the prophets of the Old Testament were killed. Jesus said, “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.” Matthew 23:37 (NIV). Jesus knew that He would be treated just as the prophets were. He was born for this purpose — that He would die and be buried with myrrh to atone for our sins. But praise God, He rose again.

So what then is my gift to my King? What can I give that is worthy of His glory? First of all I give my worship of Him simply for who He is and not for what He has or will do for me. I can give my time and myself. As I listened to the sermon this morning, though, it occurred to me that one of the greatest gifts I can give to Jesus is this blog. As I write to glorify His name and to share His mercy and love with others, I hope that this gift is pleasing to Him so that someday I will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Matthew 25:21 (NIV).

What gift will you bring to the throne of the King?

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Advent and the Second Coming

The season of Advent is about anticipating our celebration of the coming of Christ into the world. But it is also about anticipating His second coming into the world at the end of time. For that reason, our pastor gave a sermon yesterday titled “End Times – A Lutheran Perspective.”

It was a very interesting and informative sermon. He talked about the many attempts of mankind and the church to predict the exact time when the end will come, even though Jesus clearly said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32.

He also talked about the various perspectives on the end times and the thousand-year reign of Jesus written about in Revelation. There is the pre-millennial view that the thousand-year reign hasn’t yet started. There is the post-millennial view that the thousand-year reign has already passed. And there is the amillennial view that the thousand years is a figurative timeframe instead of a literal one.

But the most important thing our pastor said during the whole sermon took up only six little words: “This is not a salvation issue.

Whether you believe the rapture and tribulation are still to come, that the church is experiencing the tribulation now, or something else does not affect whether you have salvation in Christ. What matters is if you believe God came to this earth as Emmanuel and then died on a cross to pay for your sins.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV)

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There You Are, Jesus!

For the past 3 months I’ve been reading through Psalms one at a time at the beginning of my morning prayer time. I’m up to Psalm 65 today. As I came to verse 7 of this beautiful Psalm I paused and reread it, then thought to myself, “There You are, Jesus!”

I love finding Jesus in the Old Testament and seeing how the Old and New Testaments are so intimately connected. Here is Psalm 65:7 in the New King James Version that I was reading:

You who still the noise of the seas,
The noise of their waves,
And the tumult of the peoples.

This verse reminded me of the story of Jesus in the boat with His disciples as recorded in Matthew 8:

Jesus Calms the Storm

23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

What kind of a man, indeed. Psalm 65 answers this question. He is the Living God, the God of our salvation.

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Today I’m Gonna Love My Enemies

Yesterday was the final sermon in our pastor’s sermon series on the essential Jesus. We ended with the challenging, but important, finale to Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. . . . But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.” Matthew 7:24, 26 (NIV).

The preceding verses indicate that the foolish man is one who, on the judgment day, Jesus will say He never knew; but the wise man will enter into the kingdom of God.

Our pastor started the sermon by reviewing some of the teachings that we had learned about from the Sermon on the Mount over the past six weeks — the teachings that Jesus now tells us to put into practice. The one that jumped out at me is Jesus’ teaching in Luke 5:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Luke 5:43-48 (NIV)

When you put these two passages together, it becomes clear that it is not enough to agree in principle that loving one’s enemies is a good idea. Rather, we must actually do it. It isn’t easy, to be sure, but with Jesus’ help it is possible, for “with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26b (NIV).

But why would God command us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? It doesn’t seem fair and it doesn’t seem logical to us. What good could possibly come from loving our enemies? On my way to taking my son to youth group last night I heard the perfect song to explain why God would give us such a command. The song is One Day Too Late by Skillet. My favorite verse is:

Today I’m gonna love my enemies
Reach out to somebody who needs me
Make a change, make the world a better place
‘Cause tomorrow could be one day too late

We never know what a difference we might make in the life of an “enemy” by treating them as we would want to be treated and praying for them. The commands of God are designed to make our lives and the world a better place. We can’t always expect change and reconciliation to start with the other person. And tomorrow might be one day too late.

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Judge Not – A Poem

In church on Sunday the sermon was based in part on Matthew 7:1-5 (NIV):

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Our pastor made a comment about this passage that I had thought about before, but not in a long time. He said that when it comes to nonbelievers, we Christians should never pass judgment on their behavior. As believers who have the power of the Holy Spirit to guide and correct us we have a hard time measuring up to God’s standards. How can we expect those who don’t even know Him, and do not have the blessing of His Holy Spirit to help them, to follow His truth?

As I thought about this an idea for this poem came to mind.

Judge Not

“Did you notice how Ted’s breath
still smelled of alcohol,
even still this morning?
He must have been really drunk last night,”
gossiped Esther to Melanie.
“He is such a loser and
a sinful alcoholic.
I think the boss should fire him.”

“Did you see Lola last night
with that guy from Accounting?
I hear that’s the sixth guy she’s dated
in as many months,”
Melanie gossiped to Jean.
“It’s no wonder that floozy
doesn’t have a husband!”

“Did you hear about that guy Brad
who embezzled a small fortune
from our biggest client?
They say he’s been stealing for years,”
gossiped Jean to Esther.
“What a terrible, greedy man.
He probably spent it all on fast cars!”

“See you at Bible study tonight,”
said Esther to Jean and Melanie,
after she slipped a pack of post-it notes
and a few pens into her purse.

“See you there; I won’t be late,”
answered Jean,
knowing full well she would be
because she had to drop the kids
at her ex’s house first.

“I’m looking forward to it,”
quipped Melanie,
as she wondered whether
there was still any vodka
in the bottle in her fridge.

Ted sat at the bar again,
lost and alone thinking no one cared.
If only he could find
the true meaning of life.

Lola sat next to her date,
hoping he was nicer
than the last six guys she’d dated.
If only she could find true love.

Brad sat in his jail cell, wanting to die.
Maybe the life insurance money
would pay his wife’s doctor bills.
If only he could find hope.

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There’s Only One Golden Rule

For quite some time I’ve wanted to write a post about the Golden Rule, but it never seems to get written. The idea has been on my mind again lately. Perhaps it’s because I’ve peeked ahead to Matthew 7 that we will be covering in church for the next two Sundays to finish up a sermon series on the essential Jesus. It is in this portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that He shares the Golden Rule. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12 (NIV).

It is often said that the Golden Rule is part of every major religion, but that really isn’t true. Every major religion or philosophy (and probably most minor religions) does have some form of a rule of reciprocity of treatment, but many times it is in the negative form, which is sometimes called the Silver Rule. Just a few of such “rules” are:

  • Judaism – “Do to no one what you yourself dislike.” —Tobit 4:15
  • Buddhism – “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” —Udanavarga 5:18
  • Bahá’í Faith – “Beware lest ye harm any soul, or make any heart to sorrow; lest ye wound any man with your words, be he known to you or a stranger, be he friend or foe.” —`Abdu’l-Bahá
  • Confucianism – “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” – Confucius
  • Ancient Greece – “Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him.” – Pittacus; and “Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others.” – Isocrates
  • Hinduism – “One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behavior is due to selfish desires.” —Brihaspati, Mahabharata (Anusasana Parva, Section CXIII, Verse 8)
  • Platonism – “One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him.” —Plato’s
    Socrates
  • Scientology – “Thus today we have two golden rules for happiness: 1. Be able to experience anything; and 2. Cause only those things which others are able to experience easily.” —Scientology: A New Slant on Life, Two Rules for Happy Living
  • Wicca – “These eight words the Rede fulfill, ‘an ye harm none do as ye will.” —The Wiccan Rede

While each of these rules are all well and good in that they call on their followers to no do any harm to others. But the Golden Rule that Jesus taught was much different. The Golden Rule calls for us to be proactive in our treatment of others. Jesus calls us to do good, not simply to refrain from doing wrong.

The Silver Rule looks like people going about their own business with little concern for others, except to make sure one’s actions don’t actively harm someone else.

The Golden Rule, on the other hand, looks like people going out of their way to feed the hungry, to provide shelter for the homeless, to encourage those in despair, to visit the lonely. The Golden Rule causes me to think, “If I was hungry and didn’t know where my next meal was going to come from, what would I want others to do for me?” And would I only want those I knew well to help, or if there were only strangers around would I want them to help so I wouldn’t starve? What I would want those strangers to do to help me is what I need to do for others, whether I know them or not.

The Golden Rule is proactive. When we follow it, we look far and wide for those in need and do what we can to help them, even if it is not convenient for us.

The Silver Rule is all well and good, but the Golden Rule is so much more. It is what Jesus did for us. He looked far and wide, and He found that we were lost and in need of a Savior. He saw that we owed a debt of sin that we could not pay, and He paid it. He saw that we were in bondage and in need of redemption, and He redeemed us. He saw that we were alone and in need of love, and He loved us.

Let us follow Jesus’ lead and do unto according to the Golden Rule.

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It’s About the Heart

In church last Sunday we continued with our sermon series on the Essential Jesus based on the Sermon on the Mount. The scripture reading for the day was Matthew 6:1-18.

There are three things that Jesus talks about in this passage of scripture: Giving to the needy, Prayer, and Fasting. Our youth minister gave the sermon, and she pointed out something I’d never noticed before. In talking about these behaviors Jesus does say “if” you do these things, but rather He starts with the word “when” – as in “When you give to the needy,” “When you pray,” and “When you fast.” He assumes those He is teaching will or already do these things and He focuses on how they should be done.

Giving to the needy, praying, and fasting are all desirable behaviors and they can each draw us closer to God. But Jesus says we should do them all in secret so that only He knows what we have done. If we parade our good deeds in front of men in order to gain their praise then the praise we receive will be our only reward. But if we do these things in secret so that only God knows, then we will be rewarded by our Heavenly Father.

As I listened to the sermon and pondered these words of Jesus, I thought about why I write this blog. I actually had someone ask me recently why I blog.

I have to confess that sometimes I become a bit obsessed with how many page views I’ve had and whether anyone has commented on or liked each new post. And I clearly don’t blog in secret – I don’t think that is even possible.

But as I thought about what is at the core of Jesus’ message – that our giving, our prayer, and our fasting need to be a matter of the heart that are all done to draw us closer to God and not to gain the praise of men – I realized I’m okay with my blogging. I know that in my heart I blog because the writing draws me closer to God and because it is a way that I can bring the Good News of the Kingdom of God to others.

God has gifted me with a talent for writing and rather than bury it in the ground and keep it a secret, He has called me to use it for the furtherance of His Kingdom. I am reminded of a passage from Romans:

But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Romans 10:8-15 (NIV).

So I’ll continue to call on the name of the Lord and to be those beautiful feet that bring the good news of His mercy. I won’t keep His word and wisdom a secret.

Some things are meant to be done in secret so that only the Lord, who knows the heart, will see why we have done them. Other things are meant to be shared with all who will listen so that they will know Him, too. But all things are a matter of the heart and to whom it belongs.

My heart belongs to Jesus. Who does your heart belong to today?

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Who Is This Jesus? – A Poem

Note: The poem is way down the page (after some commentary) and is linked from dVerse Poets Pub Open Link Night. Check out dVerse for more poetry when you are done here.

The other day I watched a segment on Good Morning, America about the Shroud of Turin. I found it very interesting how much debate and study has gone into this piece of cloth that may or may not have been the burial cloth of Jesus, as if somehow whatever scientists might discover about this cloth would solve the mystery of the ages.

There was one “expert” who was interviewed who believed this cloth was indeed the burial cloth of Jesus. But he also believed that the sightings of Jesus after His death and resurrection were actually just sightings of this burial cloth with the image of Jesus on it. This expert found it impossible to believe that Jesus was actually raised from the dead and was seen and touched by His disciples, but had no problem believing that these same disciples would mistake this piece of cloth for a living, breathing risen Christ.

I know that there are many people who refuse to believe that the resurrection of Christ really occurred. Others refuse to believe that Jesus was who He said He was, which is God incarnate. Still others refuse to believe that a person named Jesus of Nazareth ever even existed and that He is but a myth.

I, however, believe that Jesus walked this earth as the incarnation of the One True God; that He died on a cross to pay for the sins of all mankind; and that He physically rose from the dead and was seen by His disciples as a living, breathing person after His resurrection. That is what I believe, but each person must make their own decision as to what they believe. I am reminded of when Jesus questioned Peter:

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ,
the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”
Matthew 16:13-17 (NIV).

Just as He asked Peter, Jesus asks each of us, “Who do you say that I am?”

Who Is This Jesus?

Who is this Jesus?
Some say He’s no one
His very existence they do shun
They do not know God’s only Son

Who is this Jesus?
Some call Him Christ
The Resurrection and the life
He is the answer to all my strife

Who is this Jesus?
Called King of the Jews
The One who brings Good News
He has become my writing muse

Who is this Jesus?
Prophets say Emmanuel
He came to earth with us to dwell
We’re no longer under Satan’s spell

Who is this Jesus?
Whose life was cut short
He was condemned by the high court
The truth of His rising some still distort

Who is this Jesus?
Who came as Prince of peace
His love and mercy will never cease
My devotion to Him will ever increase

Who is this Jesus?
My Savior and friend
My innocence He promised to defend
He will stand by me until the end

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Nobody Told Them

I’ve been meeting on Monday nights with a small group in conjunction with our pastor’s sermon series on the Christian toolbox. It’s a short-term small group and will last only three more weeks. But it has been great to get to know people I’ve known for a long time a lot better, and to hear other people’s perspectives on the scriptures that we hear on Sunday.

The past Monday one of our group members made a comment about our reading on grace. The passage we were studying was Matthew 20:1-16, the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Although the discussion primarily centered on how this is a parable about the grace of God’s Kingdom, there were a few side topics. The comment I want share started one of those side topics.

Matthew 20: 6-7 says:

About the eleventh hour he [the landowner] went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

The comment was about the answer of these eleventh-hour workers. No one had hired them. In other words, no one had told them about the opportunity to work in the landowner’s vineyard.

When it came time to be paid, the first workers hired grumbled because it was unfair that these eleventh-hour workers got the same pay. But how could they have come to work earlier if no one told them about the opportunity?

Those who come early to faith in Christ sometimes think it is unfair that someone who accepts Christ on their deathbed after a life of sin and debauchery receives the same grace. But perhaps that deathbed convert was never told about the opportunity to be a part of God’s kingdom until that late hour? Rather than grumble that it is unfair, shouldn’t we rather rejoice that they finally heard of this wonderful opportunity?

And perhaps we should look in the mirror and ask whether we bothered to tell them earlier. Makes me wonder who I’ve failed to tell, and to think about being more intentional about telling others about God’s grace in the future.

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Mad Is Easier than Sad

As we enter the Lenten season, and I ponder the sins I struggle with, a thought occurred to me that encapsulates my struggle: mad is easier than sad.

In other words, when someone hurts me and I feel sad, it is easier to decide to be angry or mad about what they have done than to feel sadness. If I decide to be mad, then I can cling to the illusion of control that is absent in the midst of sadness.

But the control I feel really is only an illusion. When I choose anger instead of sadness, I have given over control to the devil because it is the devil who wants to see me angry and unforgiving.

As I opened my Bible to our scripture readings for the Ash Wednesday service last Wednesday, my eye fell upon a passage that preceded our reading. We were reading from Matthew 6, but my eye was drawn to these words of Jesus:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Matthew 5:21-22 (NIV).

This is not the only place in scripture where we hear Jesus telling us to not be angry. In fact, He says that if we do not let go of our anger and forgive others then we will not be forgiven. See Matthew 6:15. He also tells the wonderful parable of the unmerciful servant who is forgiven a huge debt by his master, but then refuses to forgive his fellow servant’s debt owed to him. Matthew 18:21-35 (NIV).

It is clear from scripture that as easy as being mad may be, it is not what our Lord wants for us or from us. Anger and unforgiveness are serious sins that need to be repented of. I must turn to God and ask His help in overcoming this sin.

As I thought about how much easier it is to be mad than to be sad, it occurred to me that the latter is not a sin. Nowhere in scripture (that I am aware of) does God tell us not to be sad and to turn from our sadness. In fact, in the beatitudes Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 (NIV). In Romans 12:15, Paul tells us to “mourn with those who mourn.” Mourning and sadness are not a sin, but an acceptable response when we encounter trials and tribulation. Even “Jesus wept” and mourned. John 11:35 (NIV).

During this season of Lent, my goal is to turn to God and turn away from the sin of anger; to seek His help in being more forgiving. I want to not take the easier path, but to take up my cross and follow Christ.

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