March 29 – The Bigger Picture

Matthew 23:13-39; Numbers 23:27-24:25; Song of Solomon 5:2-6:3

Sometimes as a teacher I get nit-picky when I’m grading. I take off points for missing, or extra, commas. I subtract for wrong use of capitalization. Incomplete sentences get point deductions as well. I spend so much time looking for those issues that I often miss the story a student is telling. The Pharisees had a similar problem. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23) The Pharisees spent so much time worrying about the minutia that they neglected what was important. Rather than taking the time to count out their cumin seeds so that they could give one out of ten to God, they needed to focus on things like justice, mercy and faithfulness – all qualities that would come because of a positive relationship with God. It’s so easy to do that as a Christian, too. We have our checklists of things Christians do. We work hard to go over our checklists and spend so much time focused on them that we overlook needs in our own community. Sometimes we even participate in cases of injustice; we fail to show mercy; or we spend so much time on little things we think we can get away with other sins. Jesus never said to neglect giving to God – what He said was that we need to look at the bigger picture of life. Where do we need to seek justice? Where do we need to extend mercy? How can we show our faithfulness to God?

Lord, so often I think that I’m doing well in my relationship with You because I can check off all the things that I’ve done. Remind me that following You, loving You, isn’t about checking things off a list. Remind me that following You happens as I spend time with You and develop a relationship with You. When I do that, I can see others as You see them and work for justice and show mercy.

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March 28 – When God Says “No!” (Don’t Try Again!)

Matthew 23:1-12; Numbers 22:41-23:26; Song of Solomon 3:6-5:1

I tend to be impulsive. I make my plans, start working on them and then, in the middle of the actions, breathe silent prayers asking God to bless what I’m doing. How much better would it be if I were to actually seek God before I started and listened to Him from the beginning? In many cases, I wouldn’t even plan, knowing that it was against God’s will. Ok, reality check here. If it was something I really wanted, I would probably ask God to change His mind. Balak was like that. The Israelites had finished their exile in the desert and were heading towards the Promised Land. They asked permission to go through Moab and Balak didn’t like that. He sought out Balaam – a prophet of God. God told Balaam no. Balak sent for him again and God told Balaam to go ahead but only speak what God had said. Then we saw the talking donkey that save Balaam’s life. Then, Balak set up the sacrifices for Balaam to make so that he could curse the Israelites. Balaam blessed them and Balak was outraged. What Balak should have done was recognize the inevitable and try to form a union with the Israelites. But… “Then Balak said to Balaam, ‘Come with me, please, to another place where you’ll see them. You’ll see only part of them. You won’t see all of them. Then curse them for me from there.’” (Number 23:13) That’s right, and from this second vantage point, Balaam blessed them again. We laugh at Balak’s foolishness in his persistent attempts to curse the Israelites – yet how often do we get a negative answer from God and keep seeking ways to do what He has already told us no about? As followers of Christ we are to seek God’s will in order to be obedient; not so that we can consider doing it. God has great plans for us and all of those plans begin with obedience.

Lord God, how often I set about to do what I know You don’t want me to do. I desire it. You’ve told me no, but somehow I seek to justify my disobedience by claiming that if You knew how important it was to me You would let me do it. Help me to repent of attitudes like that. Let me seek and follow You in all things.

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March 27 – Love God, Love People

Matthew 22:23-46; Numbers 22:1-40; Song of Solomon 2:8-3:5

How many times have we heard people talk about “the bottom line?” They don’t want to worry about all the details. They don’t want to crunch the numbers. They just want “the bottom line.” The Pharisees tried to trap Jesus by getting Him to go to the bottom line. So they asked an “innocent” question. “’Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22:36-40) An innocent question that was designed to trap Jesus. He either focused on God and left people out or focused on people and left God out. Jesus, when asked to give the greatest commandment included two. This answer is an important message for today. We have some who claim the name of Christ who seek to stand up for God and seem to put people and their needs low on their priority list. At the same time, many who claim to follow Christ look at people and their wants and needs and give their feelings and emotions a higher priority than God and His standards. We need a balanced approach that seeks to love God with all that we are and have and then seeks to love people. We can love people who are different from us. We can love those who rebel against God. Our job is to show people the love of God as we deal with them while we let God work in them. As hard as it is sometimes, we are called to love the sinner just as we love ourselves…and let’s leave it at that while we let God work in them.

Lord God, help me to love You with my whole being. And, because I love You, help me to love others. Keep me from trying to “fix” them – but let me show them Your love. Let me trust You to work in others just as You have worked in me.

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March 26 – Snakes on a Plain

Matthew 22:1-22; Numbers 21; Song of Solomon 1:1-2:7

The Israelites were grumbling again. God sent poisonous snakes to bite the people. As the people started dying, they confessed their sin to Moses and when Moses prayed for them, God gave Moses an answer: one that seems very strange to me. “Moses made a bronze snake and placed it on a pole. If a snake bit someone, that person could look at the bronze snake and live.” (Numbers 21:9) Later, Josiah destroyed the snake because the people treated it like an idol believing in the power of the snake instead of the God who created all things. Now here’s where it really gets strange. When God wanted to describe what would happen to Jesus, He used the picture of the snake. (John 3:14-15) “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” Just as the power of God, as seen in the bronze snake, overcame the poisonous snakes and gave the Israelites life, so the power of God, seen in Jesus Christ on the cross, overcomes the power of sin and gives us eternal life. Whatever sin may be bothering you, you can look to Christ for grace and forgiveness. God’s grace is shown through the cross that lifted Jesus up. If you look to Him in faith, there is hope, there is grace, there is eternal life.

Lord God, give me the grace to look to You in the midst of any trial, in the midst of my sin. Thank You that You have the power to overcome sin in my life and that You continue to forgive me, give me grace and shower me with eternal life.

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March 25 – In Spite of Me

Matthew 21:28-46; Numbers 19-20; Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:14

There is a reluctance, a fear sometimes, when I know what God is calling me to do. There are people God wants to bless and He’s given me the privilege of participating in bringing that blessing to them. But I freeze up. What if I do something wrong; what if I say the wrong thing? Moses had clear directions from God when the Israelites grumbled because they didn’t have water. “The LORD said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.’” (Numbers 20:7-8) How cool would that be? I could just speak to a rock and water would gush out, if I had that kind of direction. Moses had a problem though. The people had finally exasperated him beyond his ability to handle it. So he gathered the people together at the rock. He spoke to them, instead of the rock, and beat the rock twice with the staff. Moses said the wrong thing to the wrong audience. He did the wrong thing by beating the rock with the stick. God still blessed those He wanted to bless. Moses and Aaron suffered because of their disobedience, but God still preserved His people. The lesson should be pretty clear: at least head in the direction that God leads. I know I may do or say something that isn’t what God wanted; but if God’s plan was to use me to bless someone – He will still find a way to bless them in the midst of my mistakes.

Lord, I sometimes worry that I’ll mess up and cause greater problems. Remind me that blessings depend on You, not me. Help me be faithful and obedient. When I do mess up, bless those I sought to share with in spite of me.

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March 24 – Scattering Love

Matthew 21:1-27; Numbers 17-18; Ecclesiastes 11:1-8

You probably know that you’re not supposed to put all your eggs in one basket. That is an Americanism that has been ingrained upon us from birth, or so it would seem. I guess the idea is that if you trip and fall, you would then have another basket with extra eggs. Interestingly enough, that is a Scriptural principle – although the Bible speaks of seeds, not eggs. “Scatter your seed in the morning, and in the evening don’t be idle because you don’t know which will succeed, this one or that, or whether both will be equally good.” (Ecclesiastes 11:6) The person who sows scatters the seeds throughout his land. Jesus even taught using that principle. The message of Ecclesiastes, though is that when you scatter the seed, you work in all the areas you scattered seed. You don’t know which areas of the crops will grow, so you water, fertilize and weed all the areas. Sometimes nothing will come of your work. Sometimes flood or drought will destroy the area that you thought would work – but don’t affect other areas. And so it is true in life, in investing and in spreading God’s word. Areas that we thought were sure to be successful don’t turn out that way for one reason or another. Areas that we had little hope for might blossom in ways that we never imagined. That message is so true in life, and I have seen it prove true especially as a teacher. Sow your seed, and then do the work!

Lord God, remind me that I have many areas to work in. There are students in my school who need to see Your love and grace. There are people that I deal with all the time outside of school who need that same love and grace. Let me scatter Your love to each and every person I meet.

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March 23 – Incompetence

Matthew 20:17-34; Numbers 15-16; Ecclesiastes 9:13-10:20

We’ve all seen those types of movies. The good guys are under attack and the leader organizes them. A defensive plan is created. A perimeter is set up. One person messes it all up by tripping over the warning system or going outside for a breath of fresh air and all the preparation goes for naught. Solomon never saw those movies, but he may have seen things happen in real life. “Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one incompetent person destroys much good.” (Ecclesiastes 9:18) What I find in my life is that even when I show wisdom in developing plans under God’s guidance, I’m the incompetent person who messes things up as the plan is developing. I do things my own way. I take shortcuts even though I know they might lead to disaster. Often I think “it won’t happen this time” and I end up creating difficulties that would never have been if I had stayed true to God’s plan. In short, I am the common link to all my problems. Thank God for forgiveness in Jesus Christ! The key to success in life is seeking God, knowing His way, and then working to follow His way. Shortcuts and laziness won’t create success in God’s eyes.

Lord God, grant me wisdom to know Your will, to follow it and to help others along the way. Keep me focused on Your love and grace and help me to think, speak and act in accordance with Your desires.

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March 22 – Small

Matthew 20:1-16; Numbers 13-14; Ecclesiastes 9:1-12

I wonder why it is that I don’t remember the many different ways that God has protected me when I encounter a difficult situation. Trouble comes to me and I start whimpering, wondering why God won’t deal with things. The amazing thing is that God sees me through those times and still loves me. The Israelites were getting ready for a defining moment in history. They were preparing to enter the Promised Land. They sent spies out to find out what was ahead of them. Ten of the twelve spies saw the dangers. Two of them saw God’s promise. In the discussion, the ten described the situation like this: “We saw there the Nephilim (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We saw ourselves as grasshoppers, and that’s how we appeared to them.” (Numbers 13:33) Grasshoppers may be small, but God had used locusts, about the same size as grasshoppers as well as lice and gnats to overthrow Egypt – one of the greatest powers of the Ancient world. They may have felt small in comparison to the Nephilim, but they had seen God use much smaller beings in a greater way. I am so much like the Israelites here. I come before problems and begin to feel small and worthless. I let God know that I can’t do what He wants because I’m so small compared to the great problem in front of me. Maybe I need to realize that God doesn’t want me to overpower a problem; He wants me to be small enough to let Him deal with the problem.

Lord God, make me small today. As I face problems let me be small enough not to get in Your way. Let me have enough faith and trust in You to deal with any problem I might face.

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March 21 – Using Wealth

Matthew 19:16-30; Numbers 11-12; Ecclesiastes 8

What do I have? I mean, what do I have that’s really important? My house? My wealth? (Ok, in America I wouldn’t consider myself wealthy, but compared to the rest of the world, I’m fantastically wealthy.) If I were to approach God, what would I have that would be really important? A wealthy guy came to Jesus. With all of his wealth, he was still unsatisfied and pressed Jesus about eternal life. He claimed to have done everything that Jesus told him to do and asked Jesus what he was still missing. “Jesus said, ‘If you want to be complete, go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come follow me.’ But when the young man heard this, he went away saddened, because he had many possessions.” (Matthew 9:21-22) I don’t imagine this verse is preached by many of the so called prosperity preachers. That being said, it is not a command for everyone: this command was given to someone who trusted in his wealth, but was still unsatisfied. If Jesus had told him to sell half of what he had and give to the poor he would probably have declined that as well. This story teaches us that Jesus is concerned about those who are poor and need help. It also teaches us that Jesus is concerned about those whose wealth gets in the way of their relationship with God and need help. The key is that the only way to inherit eternal life is through a relationship with Jesus Christ. He paid the penalty for our sin on the cross. This rich man thought his relationship with God was wound up in his riches. In truth, we should use our wealth to help others. Does it mean selling everything we have and giving to the poor? Maybe. Does it mean using what God has given to us to help others? Always. Our call, as followers of Christ, is not self-enrichment. Our call is to care for others.

Lord, please remind me that nothing is as important as my relationship with You. Let me use whatever I possess to help others come to know You. Let me find ways to help lift people out of spiritual poverty into a relationship with You, even as You do the same for me. Let me use any material goods to help people in material poverty.

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March 20 – Marriage and Divorce

Matthew 19:1-15; Numbers 9-10; Ecclesiastes 7

I remember a Bible Study we had for young men in college. We were taking about marriage and finding the woman that God had in mind for us. One of us asked an interesting question: “What if you get married and find out that it isn’t the right woman?” Our leader smiled and said, “Then you start praying for God to make you the right man and her the right woman.” It’s amazing to me that people enter into what should be a life-long commitment with a plan for failure. The Pharisees, recognizing that Jesus believed in godly commitments challenged Him on the issue of divorce. As the conversation continued they put Him to the test. “The Pharisees said to him, ‘Then why did Moses command us to give a divorce certificate and divorce her?’ Jesus replied, ‘Moses allowed you to divorce your wives because your hearts are unyielding. But it wasn’t that way from the beginning.’” (Matthew 19:7-8) Their argument was that divorce wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, because God made provision for it. Jesus pointed out that God’s provision was due to their hardness of heart. The way women were treated, especially unmarried and formerly married women, it was important to protect them. What was happening with some was that these men were using the divorce certificate for their own convenience instead of seeking ways to build and strengthen the most important earthly relationship we have. God’s plan for marriage from the beginning was one man and one woman together for life. He provides grace and forgiveness when marriages break up; but His plan remains the same. Seek God before marriage; continue to seek God during the marriage; and if things start going badly in the marriage seek God and godly counseling before lightly giving up on it. If a marriage still fails, know that God still loves and forgives the people involved.

Lord God, I am so grateful for my wife. You have blessed me for many years with an amazing woman as my wife. I pray for marriage now. I pray for those who are considering marriage, that they may seek You and follow Your guidance. I pray for those who are already married: strengthen those marriages that are already strong and bring help and healing for marriages in trouble. I pray for those who are in the midst of divorce and who have been divorced. Let each of those people recognize Your presence, Your grace and Your love. Bring healing to all.

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