March 24 – Authority

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

When I got a little sassy as a child, my mom might ask me, “Who do you think you are?” When I was really young and didn’t get what she was really asking, I was a bit confused. “Mom doesn’t know who I am?” As I got older I realized that she was reminding me that she was the person who held authority over me, and not the other way around. We like to tell people who we think we are. As a writer, I am beginning the process of selling not only my book, but me. A publisher invited me to submit a query to them, and their submission form had a breath of fresh air: “PLEASE DO NOT INCLUDE ANY PERSONAL WRITING CREDENTIALS, AWARDS, REVIEWS, OR PROMOTIONAL LINKS.” They said that because in their philosophy, if you can write a good story, all the awards and credentials mean nothing – and if you can’t, they mean the same thing.

Some people need an authority for everything. Try writing a doctoral dissertation without showing where you got the information – and it better have come from an authoritative source. As a writer, I am more willing to take advice from a person who has published and won awards than from some guy sitting in a coffee shop who reads a few lines over my shoulder. The Pharisees were big on authority. Any teaching was buttressed with the words and sayings of great teachers who had gone before. Then came Jesus who taught as if He was the authority. So, they called Him out. “Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. ‘By what authority are you doing these things?’ they asked. ‘And who gave you this authority?’ (Matthew 21:23)

The Pharisees probably thought they had caught Jesus on this question. He didn’t quote the authorities of the past. He had no teacher who backed Him up and supported Him. They must have wondered what He was going to say. If He said from God, right there in the Temple, they would catch Him on blasphemy. Jesus didn’t answer their question, He asked His own. “Tell me about John. Where did his baptism come from?” The wheels turned. They knew that if they said from God, Jesus would call them on their hypocrisy for not believing. They also knew that if they said it was man made, the people would rebel since they believed him to be a prophet. So they punted. “We don’t know.” Jesus must have shaken His head and laughed at them. Then He said, (my paraphrase) “If you can’t figure that out, it’s no wonder you can’t figure out My authority.”

There are a lot of people today who might ask Jesus the modern-day version of that question; “Who do you think you are? How do you get off trying to tell me what to do?” Jesus showed up the Pharisees, who were the religious authorities of His day. In a world that thinks that God doesn’t exist, sharing His love can cause those kinds of reactions. Our authority is our desire – we will do whatever our desire leads us to do. If the word of God is contrary to what we want to do, then our authority is our experience. If the word of God lends support in places to what we want to do, we will ignore the authority of all of Scripture and just focus on the Scripture that supports our beliefs. What authority governs your life? Is it your desires? Or a desire to follow God? As much as many people claim to reject authority, especially the authority of God in their lives, that rejection is a symptom of following another authority; one that won’t work out in the long run. So to those who would live by their own authority or any authority other than the authority of Jesus, remember what He did to gain His authority for all mankind: He went to the cross and died so that we might be forgiven and fellowship with God forever.

Oh Lord, I so want to do things my own way. Help me to learn to live under Your authority.

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March 23 – Sorry, No Cookies

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

You’ve probably seen this as a meme, or perhaps on a T-shirt: “Come to the Dark Side – We have cookies.” It’s hard to imagine Darth Vadar doing promotions to recruit new members, but, ya gotta admit that cookies are a good draw! How many times a week do you get some kind of offer to join or support an organization that includes a free giveaway: a hat, a coffee mug, a gym bag, or something like that? Marketing is key, these days. You gotta entice people to get into your group. Then, you use the numbers to make a pitch for influence, or to gain more members because after all, who doesn’t want to join the largest and most influential group around.

Jesus was no marketer. Oh sure, forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation is a nice benefit of “membership” in His “organization,” but as you read His life story, you don’t see Him hawking those benefits often. Instead of a gym bag, He offers a cross. Instead of influence, He offers servanthood. “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28)

Perhaps Jesus understands the idea of truth in marketing. He recognized that following Him would be difficult. He also wanted us to realize that we follow Him for a purpose. We are called to serve others. When we accept the call of God on our life, we commit to following Him in obedience no matter what the cost. We give up all claims on our own lives and surrender those rights to God. Well, maybe not so true in America. We keep looking for the cookies. All jesting aside, our example is Jesus who left the Throne of Heaven to walk on earth, teach people about the Kingdom of God, to wash His disciple’s feet, to heal the sick, to comfort the afflicted. Jesus helped the people who often demanded His time and His power when they should have been falling down at His feet in worship. And if God the Son did that, who are we to worry about the benefits of membership?

Christianity isn’t an organization where membership has its privileges. Following Christ means that we find ways to minister to people in need. It means that when we have completed that ministry that we don’t start patting ourselves on the back for a job well done of taking care of people who are less anything than us; we are to count ourselves as unworthy servants who have had the privilege of caring for God, since, what we do for the least of people, we do for God. When you commit to following Christ you don’t need to worry about your relationships, your rights, or your possessions; you commit those things to God at the same time. The first “perk” of following Christ is service and the second “perk” is sacrifice. That being said, when we commit our lives to Christ, we are forgiven our sins. That’s a load lifter in life. Imagine not having to pay the penalty for our sins because Jesus already did that. We have the promise of a home in Heaven because Jesus secures our eternity. And, when we really understand the gospel, we realize that we begin living and serving in the Kingdom of God immediately.

Oh Lord, remind me that You have called me to a life of service. When I want to relax, remind me of those whom I should minister to. When I want to live a life of ease, remind me that You had nowhere to lay Your head. And Lord, remind me that the greatest joy I could have is fellowship with You.

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March 22 – An Unfair God

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

I hear stories of them, but haven’t found anything I can verify through research. You know what I mean: death bed conversions. Every so often a well-known atheist or agnostic dies and rumors are leaked that this person came to know Jesus Christ as their Savior in their last, dying breath, or something like that. There’s a problem with stories like that: they are next to impossible to verify. There may be only one or two people in the room at a time like that and we can’t know the heart of the alleged convert. There’s another problem with death bed conversions for a lot of Christians: it’s unfair.

These conversions are not like the story of the man who had been a life-long Southern Baptist who, knowing he was about to die, called a Methodist pastor and changed his religious beliefs because it was better to see a Methodist die than a Baptist. All kidding aside, Methodists and Baptists are both followers of Christ with a hope of heaven. No, these conversion stories deal with people who worked against the gospel of Jesus Christ, who sought to sway people to leave their faith, who, at the last minute decided that they weren’t right and apparently committed their lives to God. Why should they have the same hope of heaven that those who have lived all their lives for Christ have? Jesus talked about that in a parable: “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’” (Matthew 20:8)

This parable is extraordinary. In the story, a landowner needs people to work on his fields. He contracts with some to start working first thing in the morning for a denarius, He gets others a few hours later, and then some more a few hours later until just before sunset, he gets still more workers. The time came to pay the workers and the landowner made the people who had been working all day wait while he paid off those who came in last. When the landowner paid those who came last the wages that the first workers had contracted for, denarius signs lit up in the eyes of those first hired workers. They must have been thinking, “Wow, if he paid those guys a denarius for an hour’s worth of work, what is he going to pay us?” Imagine then, their disappointment when they got the same wages. Not only is this story unfair, it is a picture of the Kingdom of God, according to Jesus.

As my blood boils over this story, and how unfair God is, it occurs to me that it really does make sense. What do we get for following Christ? Our sins – forgiven. Our lives – changed. Our future – heaven. Our present-day lives – living in the Kingdom of God. When you think about our changed lives and the ability to live in the Kingdom of God while walking here on earth, death bed conversions don’t seem like such a bargain. Billy Sunday understood this idea. One night, after a revival someone asked him how things went. He told the questioner that there were two and a half conversions. When the questioner asked if that meant two adults and a child, Sunday replied with a huge grin: “No, two children and one adult.” The adult had wasted half of his life in living without Christ while the children had a full future in front of them that included living in the Kingdom for most of their lives. Sure it seems unfair for someone who has converted on their death bed to ensure a home in heaven, but never forget what they lost all along the way.

God, if following You were only about securing a home in heaven, I would think You were unfair to let those who came to You at the last minute secure their salvation. Thank You for being a God of the present – the current. Thank You for giving us a full and meaningful life from the moment we follow You.

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March 21 – More Manna? Anything Else?

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

Shel Silverstein wrote the lyrics to a song that tells of a man who made it all. He was living what our society would call the good life. He could have whatever he wanted. Only, the narrator in the song found him in a greasy spoon restaurant eating beans. So, he asked his rich friend, “What are you doing eating beans here when you can eat in the finest restaurants in the world?” The response was a reminder of dealing with life in general. “After you’ve been havin’ steak for a long time beans, beans taste fine.” We all like a little variety in our lives and the truth is that it’s easy to get stuck in a rut.

Sometimes those ruts come because of circumstances. Usually people without variety in their diets live that way because they are scraping by. I can’t tell you how many people I have met who don’t like a particular food because when they were living during bad times, that was all they ate. Tuna fish, Ramen Noodles, beans and rice are all on the “never again” list for some people. The Israelites were heading towards the Promised Land and God provided manna to feed them. The problem was, that was all they ate for a long time. They remembered the food from Egypt and began to gripe about the manna. “The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!’” (Numbers 11:4-6)

If you ask some people how they’re doing they may sigh and say, “Same ol’ same ol’.” Nothing changes. Life is always the same. We may have more variety in our diet than manna, but nothing changes. We beg for something to happen interesting. You hear it in church when people say things like, “Lord, let something happen that isn’t in the bulletin.” We crave routine, but we also crave variety, not seeing the inherent contradiction between those two desires. We always want something more. Something bigger. Something better. The wandering Israelites were led by Moses who spoke to God face to face. Aaron was the high priest. Miriam was honored among the people. It wasn’t enough for them. (Chapter 12) They rebelled against the leadership of Moses because, well, Moses wasn’t perfect. Look who he married. (As an aside here, I can say I got one up on Moses, there.) There were other cases of rebellion against Moses and against God throughout the journey because, well, things just weren’t good enough, gosh darn it, and change needed to happen.

I’ve heard often that the Chinese people have a curse: “May you live in interesting times.” The truth is that sometimes what makes life interesting are hard times. How often do people talk about “the good old days” and as they go on, you realize that they’re talking about those days of hard times when all they had to eat was manna…er…beans and rice. We look back on times like that as the good old days because we overcame those “interesting times.” The message in all of this is not to settle down to eat manna. In the history of Israel, they only ate the manna while they were wandering in the desert. The key is to get to that point in life when you can deal with the interesting times and experience God’s presence every day in all your ways. When the Israelites got to the Promised Land, the manna stopped and they ate the fruit of the land as they began to live in interesting times. As you live in interesting times, may you always experience God’s presence.

Oh Lord, we don’t want to face troubles, but we don’t want life to be boring. Remind me of how You walk with me through the ups and downs of life. Let me be grateful for Your provision in my life.

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March 20 – Loopholes

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

Michael Larson was an unemployed ice cream truck driver. He had nothing better to do than to watch TV. So, he did that. He enjoyed a game show called “Press Your Luck.” While he was watching, he figured out the patterns on their game board. He got on the show, and, using those patterns, kept playing the board past the thirty minutes planned for the show. He came back the next episode and eventually handed off the board when he got too tired to keep playing right. He eventually won over $100,000 and a trip to the Bahamas by exploiting the loopholes in the games rules. Alas for Mr. Larson, he was whammied when all that money  ended up in the hands of an investment scammer. The game show itself changed the board patterns and refused to air the episodes to keep others from exploiting their rules.

People have always looked for ways to exploit loopholes in the rules. There are some lawyers who seem to do nothing but look for loopholes in the laws that are passed. Ah, if only we could go back to simpler times, like the days of Jesus, to avoid all this foolishness. Apparently that wouldn’t work because the Pharisees were hard at work trying to find loopholes in God’s laws. They asked Jesus if it was ok to divorce a wife for any reason. “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)

Jesus reminded the Pharisees of God’s plan for marriage in the beginning: a man and a woman would become one flesh and united for life. He added the phrase used in most Christian marriages: what God has joined together, let no one separate. That wasn’t good enough for the Pharisees though, and they pressed the matter. Didn’t Moses give us a loophole to escape marriage? We can give a woman a certificate of divorce. Jesus said that this was given because of their sinfulness – “hardness of heart” to be more specific. In this passage, Jesus reminds us of the purpose of marriage and God’s plan from the beginning of mankind. I wonder how He might react to some of the discussions of marriage today.

Lest we get too judgmental on the issue, we need to remember, Jesus was talking to people who thought they were better than God’s law and could find ways around it. He wasn’t talking to the divorced lady who had no means to support herself in those times. Were He to speak to lawmakers contemplating rules regarding marriage in any state, I believe He would remind them of God’s plan and purpose for marriage as stated in the Bible. It is because of that the I believe that we must speak out about God’s plan and purpose for marriage: one man, one woman, united as one flesh, for life. Were Jesus to be walking on the street dealing with mothers living in poverty because of divorce, or battered spouses, or single mothers who never were married I believe that He would approach them with compassion and grace. How often do we look at divorced women in poverty and wonder what they did wrong? Jesus would look at them and find ways to minister to them. Our call as Christians is to do no less. Our job is to minister to those people who have been victimized by others who have sought to find loopholes in God’s plans for life. When dealing with theory, we focus on what’s right. When dealing with the consequences of someone breaking God’s law, we need to focus on ministry. That’s a premise that would do the church well in reaching out to a world that needs to know God’s compassion and grace.

Oh Lord, remind me that people are hurting because they tried to go against Your law. Remind me that people are victims because others have tried to exploit loopholes in Your law. Help me to minister to all.

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March 19 – Forgiveness

Matthew 18:21-35; Numbers 7-8; Ecclesiastes 6

Dylan Roof is notorious for his murder of nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. He had told people that he was going to kill a bunch of people, but almost didn’t go through with it because the people of the church were so nice. His family was devastated that he would do something like this with his uncle stating that he would “pull the switch” if he was given the opportunity. Family members of the victims responded in a most unusual way. They forgave him. They urged him to confess his sins, repent, and turn to God for forgiveness. I imagine most of us would be more like the uncle; the family members of the victims sought to live the lessons that Jesus taught.

I don’t know if there is anything harder to do than to forgive someone and really mean it. I have a hard time forgiving people who cut me off in traffic. Yet the example of these family from Charleston, South Carolina shames me for my unforgiving attitudes. Peter asked Jesus about forgiveness and thought he had a clue to lavish forgiveness. “Lord, should I forgive a brother seven times?” “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” (Matthew 18:22) and followed that declaration with an amazing parable.

In the parable, a king realizes that one of his servants owes him a fortune – ten thousand bags of gold. There is no way that any normal person would have that amount of money and the king ordered that the man and his family along with all of his possessions be sold to satisfy the debt. The debtor pleaded with the king who ultimately had mercy and forgave him that amazing debt. Imagine the gratitude this man must have felt. Then, he saw his next-door neighbor walking by. The guy owed him a hundred pieces of silver. That’s still quite a bit of money, but not ten thousand bags of gold. No matter. He demanded payment of the debt and when his neighbor pleaded with him, he showed no mercy and had the neighbor thrown into jail to pay the debt. Word got back to the king about this guy’s unforgiveness and he was furious. He said something like, “After all I’ve forgiven you, you can’t forgive your neighbor of a much smaller debt? Your forgiveness is canceled. Pay me what you owe or go to prison.” And the guy who had all kinds of forgiveness lost it all and went to prison.

The families in Charleston understood the message of this parable. Oh, they weren’t worried that God would zap them if they didn’t forgive; they understood the message of this parable was that we have already been forgiven far more than any forgiveness we would ever be required to extend towards others. From a Christian perspective, whose actions make more sense: the forgiveness shown by the families in Charleston or my anger at the person cutting me off in traffic? The message of the gospel is all about forgiveness and redemption. Not only did God grant us forgiveness, He paid any penalty, any cost that might be associated with that forgiveness when Jesus died on the cross. Jesus cried out while on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Oh, but that guy cutting me off, he knows what he’s doing. He deserves all the curses I can muster in my denunciation. Perhaps. But what do I deserve for my sins? I have been forgiven so greatly that I need to be able to grant forgiveness and show others the love of Jesus each day. No matter how much I forgive, I could never out-forgive God.

Oh Lord, teach me how to forgive more and more each day. Remind me of how much I’ve been forgiven and let me learn to be more forgiving. Let my forgiveness and mercy towards others draw them closer to You and Your forgiveness and mercy.

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March 18 – Enjoying Wealth

Matthew 18:1-20; Numbers 5-6; Ecclesiastes 5

The Chelsea Hotel in New York has been a hangout for artists for centuries. Mark Twain once lived there, as did Janis Joplin. At times, artists were allowed to pay the rent with their artwork. One long-time resident, Bettina Grossman, used her room not only as a studio, but also as storage for her artwork. She created and collected so much artwork that she nearly suffocated in the mounds of work stacked from floor to ceiling and in boxes around her apartment. She got to the point where she lived in the hallway outside of her apartment, sleeping in a chair.

For some people, there’s never enough. It might be art. It might be books. /Looks at rooms in house and wonders where to put the next bookshelf so I can put some of the books that are stacked on the floor away. In many cases, the issue is money. The old joke about Americans asks how much money the average American needs to be satisfied. The answer is “just a little bit more.” No one ever has enough money, we always want a little more no matter what our income level is. Solomon described Americans long ago…or maybe he just understood human nature in all cultures. “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless…. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10,19)

These two verses in Ecclesiastes present a wonderful contrast between people. Some are always looking for “just a little bit more.” They may be billionaires who use money to keep score. They may be people living in poverty trying to scrape together enough to eat. Both want a little bit more money to achieve their goals. Admittedly, we understand those who live in poverty looking for a little more. At the same time, we look at those who are wealthy who are still doing everything they can to amass more wealth. We are aghast when we hear stories of Hetty Green, once the world’s richest woman, trying to get her son to check into a free clinic to fix his broken leg or never turning on the heat to save money. When she died, she left a fortune of over $200 million – never once being able to enjoy it.

Solomon, who wrote Ecclesiastes, was one of the wealthiest kings of Israel. As he amassed wealth, he began to realize the futility of that process. That is why he came to the conclusion that someone who had wealth and the ability to enjoy them was gifted by God. When my wife and I go out to eat, we make it a point to ask our server if we can pray for them and if there is anything specific in their life that we can pray for. While traveling recently, our server asked us to pray for world peace. He later felt the need to clarify his request by saying, “I have enough in life. I’m just concerned about others.” Compare that attitude to people who win big in the lottery. Often, they go on spending sprees and do such a terrible job of handling their money that they end up broke. Perhaps the lesson that we need to learn is what Solomon seeks to teach us: blessings in life do not come from the abundance of wealth; blessings come from contentment with the wealth God gives us and the ability to enjoy that wealth. So, whatever your wealth status may be, enjoy what God has given you. If He has given you more than you need, ask yourself if there is some way that you can give it away to help others and increase your own joy.

Oh Lord, I have more than enough money in life. What I don’t have is more than enough contentment and joy. Help me to be satisfied with what You have already given me. Help me to enjoy that wealth. Most of all, make me willing to give away some of my wealth to help others, and experience that joy.

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March 17 – From the Mountain Top to the Mundane

Matthew 17; Numbers 3-4; Ecclesiastes 3:16-4:16

Jury Duty. It’s one of those civic duties that we all should participate in, but very few seem to like it. Larry is a guy that got his first summons to appear for jury duty on January 21, 2015. He had a conflict, though and the court agreed that fulfilling a constitutional duty to be sworn in as governor that day meant that he should be able to reschedule his jury duty. So, on June 10, 2015, Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland reported for jury duty, went through the security screenings that we’ve all come to know and love, watched an orientation video, and waited for his name to be called. He did one thing most of us wouldn’t do, though – he took selfies with anyone who wanted one. After about three hours, he was dismissed and went back to his regular job.

The Governor got back from what must have been an exciting 12-day Asian tour to work on trade for his state in time to report to jury duty and possibly sit on a case involving anything from a parole violation to a DUI. While both activities are important to the state, it really was a case of moving from the sublime to the ridiculous. Peter, James, and John witnessed the most amazing sight when Jesus took them with Him to the mountain where He was transfigured. They saw Him in the company of Moses and Elijah, and then, God put Him in a class by Himself. It must have been an amazing experience. Then, they came down from the mountain top. “When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. ‘Lord, have mercy on my son,’ he said. ‘He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water.’” (Matthew 17:14-15)

As Christians, we crave those “mountain top” experiences. As younger people, we went to camp or on mission projects. We really felt God’s presence during those times. We came back to church and testified to how God worked in our lives and how we could sense His presence when we were alone and with our friends from church. As adults, we travel to conferences or retreats. We grow in our relationship with God because we focus all of our being on drawing close to Him in those times. But youth come home from camp and mission trips; adults come back from conferences and retreats; real world stuff hits us like a ton of bricks. It happened to Jesus. There He was on the mountain top experiencing the presence of the Father like no one else ever has, and then, He came down from the mountaintop and before He even had time to write His blog about the experience, a father came to Him with a tale of woe about his son who needed healing.

Let’s face it, real world experiences that hit us in the face after an amazing experience with God are a pain. It’s hard to do the mundane, everyday things of life right after we’ve experienced such joy and peace. When you really think about it, though, those special times with God are designed to prepare us for the mundane tasks of life. We are called to be in this world as ambassadors for Christ. It’s in making a reasoned, compassionate decision on jury duty; it’s in ministering to a sick child; it’s in caring for the single mother; it’s in comforting a grieving person that we display the love of Jesus Christ to others. If you claim to have a relationship with Jesus Christ and you would testify to that because of a special experience, then you are called to show your special relationship with Him in the mundane, the dirty tasks of caring for His people, being reminded that what we do for the least of these, we do to Him.

Oh Lord, if only I could live on the mountaintop with You all the time and experience Your presence. I still live on earth, though, and while I’m here, You have work for me to do. Help me to experience Your presence in the mundane tasks of life as well as on the mountain top and show Your love to others.

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March 16 – Ask the Expert

Matthew 16; Numbers 1-2; Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

The joke among educators about experts is that they carried a briefcase and flew in from out of town. These were the people who were going to tell us how to make our classroom better. In many cases, they had good ideas. There is a stubborn streak in educators and quite often the outer response is to smile and compliment the expert and his/her ideas while thinking inwardly “there is not a chance in the world that I would try something like that.” Often, “experts” in the educational field are imposed on teachers, and their guard is usually up. Isn’t it true, though, that we often seek out experts in their field, and then ignore their counsel. We think we know better. Perhaps we sought that expert just to validate our own opinion, only to see that expert tell us something different.

Jesus was querying His disciples. He wanted to know who people thought He was. After hearing what others thought, He confronted the disciples with the same question and Peter aced the exam by declaring that Jesus was the Messiah. After Jesus complimented Peter for understanding, Jesus got intense with them. He began to talk about His upcoming crucifixion and resurrection. You would think that Peter would realize that Jesus, as the Messiah, might be the expert in the situation. But, he had other ideas about what the Messiah would do. So he let Jesus have it. “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’” (Matthew 16:22)

If Jesus were conversant with today’s movies, He might have looked at Peter and said something like, “Messiah. You keep using that word but I’m not sure you know what it means.” Peter’s problem was the he “knew” what the Messiah would be like and do. The Messiah would reveal himself at the front of an army that would throw out the Roman invaders and bring back the glory days of David. Or should I say “good old days.” I’m sure that Peter was getting ready for a good old-fashioned revolution that would include lots of battle scenes. In retrospect, he was the only one who swung a sword for the revolution and all he accomplished was cutting off a servant’s ear. And Jesus healed that. All that Peter knew and understood about the coming Messiah was all that Jesus wasn’t. As the old saying goes, “It ain’t what you know that causes problems, it’s what you know that ain’t so.” The message of Jesus broke down Peter’s misperceptions and Peter was slow to understand the message and purpose of Jesus the Messiah.

One of the things I like about Peter is that he is so much like us. Ok. He is so like me. I don’t really know about you as you read this. Peter has big dreams and great ideas and he isn’t afraid to tell you what he thinks. When he fails, which he does often, he fails gloriously. Ok, maybe my failures aren’t so glorious. Peter’s mistakes stem from the fact that he is ready to step out on faith, but he doesn’t wait for God to show him what that means. He had the faith to see that Jesus was the Messiah, but instead of understanding what the Messiah would do by listening to him, he started sharpening his sword. In a story to come soon, Peter sees Jesus in the company of Moses and Elijah and Peter geeks out thinking about how wonderful it is that Jesus could be mentioned in the same breath as those two, only to discover that God puts Jesus in a class by Himself. The lesson we learn from Peter’s mistakes is that we need to put aside our pre-conceived notions and listen to God’s plan. Rather than telling God what to do about an issue, you know you do that, we need to present our concerns to God and then listen to Him.

Oh Lord, remind me not only that You are the expert, but also why You’re the expert. Thank You for loving me even when I reject Your counsel. Thank You for drawing me back into Your mercy.

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March 15 – A Disturbing Story

Matthew 15:21-39; Leviticus 26-27; Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:26

My daughter has accused me of being a “softy” when it comes to her dog. Sometimes, I think she thinks I do nothing but feed her dog table scraps. I don’t. That doesn’t quell her dog’s optimism, though. There are some days that she doesn’t so much answer to her name as to the crinkling of what might be a food wrapper. A trip to the kitchen to get a quick snack that includes any kind of wrapping noise is sure to end up with me turning around and seeing this cute chihuahua staring me in the face, demanding that I share my plunder. The family joke is that her picture is on the definition of “optimism.”

Last night, her optimism was rewarded. Most of my family was with us while we ate pizza. Someone started feeding her bits and pieces of their crust. After a while, someone else joined in and she was in dog heaven eating a few table scraps. It’s hard to believe that this story reminded me of a Bible story. Amazingly enough, that story was in my reading today. A woman was seeking healing for her daughter. She wasn’t Jewish and Jesus ignored her until He finally explained why He was ignoring her.  “He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’ ‘Yes it is, Lord,’ she said. ‘Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’” (Matthew 15:26-27)

I’m going to be honest with you. There is a lot about this story I don’t understand. I can’t understand why Jesus ignored this lady for so long. He ignored her for so long that her continuous pleas for help annoyed the disciples. I can’t understand why the disciples, who had been with Jesus for so long, thought Jesus should send her away, rather than send healing first. I can’t understand why Jesus played the “I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel” card when He explained why He was ignoring her. He had healed many people who were not Jewish previously. The hardest part for me is Jesus calling her a dog. Yeah, that word came to mind, too. Her response, though, pleased Jesus and He healed her daughter. I guess all’s well, that ends well.

I do have a theory about the rationale for the unexplainable parts of this story. I don’t know if it’s right, but check with me in 150 years. I think this woman was notorious for her bad attitudes towards Jewish people. Perhaps she owned Jewish slaves. Perhaps he knew her heart needed this spiritual jiu-jitsu to come to terms with her own prejudice. When Jesus ignored her, He forced her to confront those attitudes. When Jesus talked about giving the children’s bread to dogs, perhaps He was echoing some of the very things she had said either privately or publicly. When she humbled herself, Jesus was willing to deal with her concern. As I said, that is my theory. It may not be correct. Whether or not I’m correct in any way about this troubling story, though, there is some truth in the understanding that we need to confront our own sins and attitudes before Jesus will deal with our concerns. It’s easy to start thinking too highly of ourselves, especially if we compare ourselves to others. Comparisons are fun, because I get to choose the criteria, and those criteria usually involve looking at the weakest sin areas they have and comparing it to my strongest areas. “Look at them. They commit sin A. I would never commit sin A.” Of course, I would never mention how comfortable I am with committing sin B. Nor that I had now added the sin of pride into my life, thinking that I was better than another person. God has reminded me again and again to be careful of my thoughts, attitudes, and words. How would He confront your sin? Are you willing to let Him do that?

Oh Lord, I like to think that my sins aren’t as bad as those of other people, but I know the truth. My sins sent Jesus to the cross also. Help me to confront my sins, confess them to You, and live in Your mercy.

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