March 16 – Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

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

“He replied, ‘When evening comes, you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,” and in the morning, “Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.” You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.’ Jesus then left them and went away.” (Matthew 16:2-4 NKJV)

These verses struck me because I’ve been looking at the signs of the weather a whole lot recently. My daughter is planning an outdoor wedding, and we’ve been checking the weather reports quite a bit. While our prediction tools are a bit more sophisticated, and we don’t even check the signs ourselves, we check the weather reports online: and the reports don’t look too good. Jesus reminded the Pharisees that they knew a lot about upcoming weather just by the colors of the sky. We have a more modern version of the saying that Jesus used: “Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning; red sky at night, sailor’s delight. The problem was that even though they could read the signs that told them about the weather, they couldn’t understand the signs that God was working among them, and that the signs pointed to Jesus. He promised them one last sign, the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days, Jesus would be in the grave for three days, then rise again. Even with this message, the Pharisees couldn’t understand the truth when Jesus died and rose again after three days.

We’ve gotten more adept at reading all kinds of signs in the world. Not only can we do a pretty good job of predicting the weather a week ahead of time, we can predict business swings, elections, and sporting events with a pretty good reliability. Sadly, we haven’t gotten better about understanding the signs that point us to God. God reminds us of the resurrection in many ways throughout the years. He also shows us His love and grace in the kind actions of others. Still, we seek signs, hoping that God will reveal something to us that’s new and different. Today, recognize God speaking to you in the actions of others. Today, show others God’s love and grace by being an example.

Lord, open my eyes today. Let me see Your goodness and grace as others show Your love. Let me be an example of Your goodness and grace to others.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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March 15 – Do You Have Your List, Yet?

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

“Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.’” (Matthew 15:32 NKJV)

Didn’t we go this route before? A large crowd followed Jesus and dinner time came around, and the disciples were ready to send them away hungry. After all, it wasn’t their fault those people had come to see Jesus. The disciples weren’t very quick learners, if you think about it. One chapter earlier, Jesus had fed five thousand people under similar circumstances. I don’t know what length of time that would be in real life, but I kind of imagine the disciples remembered that Jesus had fed that crowd with five loaves and two fish. Thus, when Jesus said to feed them, they should have been ready. If Peter was on top of things, he would have said, “Oh, yeah Lord, just like before.” Perhaps they looked at the differences. This wasn’t Jewish territory with Jesus re-doing Moses’s miracle of the manna; this was hostile territory with a bunch of Gentiles. We see from the words of Jesus that they’d been around Him for three days. Most likely, any food they’d brought was long eaten, or beyond recovery. They had about seven loaves and a few fish. Yet Jesus, in a foreign land, among people who most likely didn’t like the Jews, fed four thousand people, with leftovers. I think it was only later in life (Around the time of Acts 15) that these disciples would realize the importance of Jesus caring for the Gentiles.

Do you have your list yet? “What list?” you may ask. The list of people that God doesn’t love. Some people have a nice long list of those they are sure God’s ready to zap because He doesn’t love them. My list is much shorter. If Jesus healed the daughter of the Gentile lady who bugged Him; if Jesus fed four thousand mostly Gentile people because He had compassion on them, He probably loves and has compassion on all people. In short, no one ends up on Jesus’s list. While my actions don’t always show it, I know that’s what my list ought to look like also. If you list is longer than mine, let me make a suggestion: take your list and nail it to a cross as a reminder that God loves everyone – even those who would oppose Him.

Lord, I know that there is no one beyond the reach of Your love, but I must admit that there are some people I find hard to love. Give me Your heart to love others as You do. Break down the walls of prejudice I’ve established so that I can love them.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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March 14 – When The Heart is Revealed

Matthew 15:1-20; Leviticus 24-25; Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

“For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” (Matthew 15:19-20 NKJV)

Some people are just wrong. On the outside, everything is perfect. All their hair is in place. Their pants legs are creased just right. Their color match is exquisite. Yet, the more you interact with them, the more your “trouble-meter” goes off, even though they don’t do anything wrong. You’re uncomfortable and, were you to share your sense of discomfort with others they’d call you crazy. Then, something happens: a coworker makes a mistake; a waiter brings the wrong food; someone bumps into them. That’s when your concerns are vindicated because mister or miss perfect suddenly explodes. They overreact and the minor issue results in a stream of abuse that leaves everyone around shaken. That’s the kind of situation I think Jesus was talking about here. The Pharisees were complaining that Jesus’s disciples weren’t following the pharisaic protocol for symbolic handwashing so they could let everyone knew how good they looked, and Jesus pointed out that even if they ate with dirty hands, it wouldn’t be as bad as the evil that flowed from the hearts of the Pharisees.

The first thing to note here is that Jesus is not saying, “don’t wash your hands.” If you’re an employee at a restaurant, you probably need to wash your hands more! (I’ve seen those videos for food handler permits.) Jesus is making the point that the outward signs of religion don’t change the heart. If those evil thoughts are dominating your life, you may need to draw closer to God; not wash your hands, not go to church, not take communion, or not get baptized. Our thoughts and our words in dealing with others need to be seasoned with grace so that all who hear us, all who put up with us, experience God’s grace no matter what they do right or wrong.

Lord, let the meditations of my heart and the words of my mouth bring honor to Your name. Let all that comes out of my heart and mouth reflect Your love and grace for others.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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March 13 – Overcoming Character Flaws Related to Poverty

Matthew 14:22-36; Leviticus 22-23; Proverbs 31

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:22 NKJV)

God provides for all people, even those in poverty. Those who are poor, have a different requirement for sacrifices in the Old Testament. It doesn’t take much reading to realize that the sacrifice that Mary offered at the Temple for purification after the birth of Jesus was the sacrifice designated for poor people. In Proverbs 31, part of today’s reading, we are told to plead the cause of the poor and that the godly wife finds ways to care for the poor. The verse I quoted today is an amazing picture of one way that God cares for those living in poverty. Landowners, come harvest time, were to leave a portion of their crops unharvested so that the poor and the alien in the land could find a way to feed their family. This wasn’t charity, in the modern sense of the word, as much as it was an opportunity to provide for daily needs for those living in poverty. It allowed those who might otherwise have no work at all, a chance to provide for their families while experiencing the dignity of productive work. Obviously, that’s not the only way to provide for one’s family, and wouldn’t be practical today, but we must always find ways to help those in poverty while recognizing their human dignity.

Poverty exists in our world today, but to a much larger degree than most people realize. A lot of poverty is invisible because people struggle to avoid appearing to be poor. Sometimes, that struggle exacerbates their problems. Economic poverty isn’t a sign of a poor relationship with God. It isn’t a sign that someone is evil, or dumb, or lazy. It’s not a character flaw. A character flaw would be criticizing someone because they’re poor. A character flaw would be turning a blind eye towards those in need. Want to find a way to help? Look for single parents dealing with kids and find a way to help them that doesn’t look like help. Work with some of the homeless agencies to provide meals. There are so many ways to meet needs and restore people’s dignity, if we’ll just be creative about them. We can overcome our character flaws related to how we treat people in poverty.

Lord, open my eyes to see the needs of people around me. Give me a willing heart so that I’ll find ways to meet needs and empower people who feel powerless.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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March 12 – Keep Your Word by Giving it Judiciously

Matthew 14:1-21; Leviticus 20-21; Proverbs 30

“Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, ‘Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.’ And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her.” (Matthew 14:7-9 NKJV)

Herod had a love/hate relationship with John. He was fascinated by his preaching, but Herod sure didn’t like the part where condemned Herod. He arrested John and put him in prison, He wanted to execute John, and he wanted to listen to John. So John languished in prison because Herod wasn’t sure what to do with him. Then, people threw a birthday party for him and his daughter danced for the crowd. Herod was so delighted, he offered his daughter pretty much whatever she wanted. Her mom hated John because his preaching called Herod out because he had married her. She wanted him dead and her daughter did the dirty deed for her: her request was for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Herod had backed himself into a corner. He could either renege on his promise and tell her no, or he could kill John, which he knew was wrong. Because he’d made his offer in front of the whole crowd and he didn’t want to lose face by backing down, John was executed. If you need a good lesson on being careful what you promise others, this is it. Herod’s rash promise led to John’s death.

Did you ever make a promise you regretted? Ever give your word only to see it backfire on you? Jesus, in another situation gave a great example of how we should respond to open-ended requests that could leave you in a bind. He was asked to do a favor. You know that old question, “Hey, will you do me a favor?” The quick response is “sure.” Jesus’s response was “Tell me what you want first.” (paraphrased) Your word is so valuable because it represents your reputation. Don’t treat it lightly. Don’t give it away without thoughtful reflection. While you’re reflecting, remember that you can always share God’s love with others which is far more important than even your reputation.

Lord, give me wisdom in dealing with others. Help me to be patient when people ask for my word. May I focus on Your desires, not mine, and not the other persons. Empower me so that I’ll be willing and able to share Your word with others through all I do.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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March 11 – Something Evil This Way Comes, Something Greater Shows God’s Love

Matthew 13:24-58; Leviticus 19; Proverbs 29

“ ‘Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ‘ “ (Matthew 13:30 NKJV)

You’ve heard it. I’ve heard it. We’ve all heard it: the church is full of hypocrites. Usually, it’s an excuse to stay out of church – not because the people in church are necessarily worse than others, but because they don’t live up to the high standards that we proclaim about living in Jesus. I’ll be honest with you: there are people who go to church who do it because it’s good for business or their social standing. And the amazing thing is, Jesus predicted that in this parable. According to the beginning of the story, a farmer planted seed, but when plants sprouted, weeds were growing among the desired plants. The servants talked about pulling up the weeds, but the master said to wait until the harvest time. One understanding of the parable is that evil integrates well with the world, even among God’s people. There are those who would wish to rid the world of evil but doing so could harm the good. In the end, God will take care of all those who are evil.

If the evil we see in the world is getting you down, take heart. God sees it. God knows about it. God’s going to take care of it. Until then, the one true point the parable doesn’t make is that evil can change. Those who are evil can be changed by the grace of God. In fact, God’s people are called to share His grace and forgiveness with all people, including the evil ones. And the OK ones. And the not so bad ones. And…well, you get it. Seek ways to share the love of God with the people around you and be used to change those who are evil into children of God.

Lord, as I encounter evil in this world, give me the grace to show them Your love. Lord, only You can change those who are evil. May I be an example of Your love and grace to those who need to know it.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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March 10 – Restoring Relationships Begins with Confession

Matthew 13:1-23; Leviticus 17-18; Proverbs 28

“He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13 NKJV)

There’s a problem with unconfessed sin – it alters how you deal with people, especially those you’ve sinned against. Sometimes, only you know the problem, but you keep wondering if the other person knows and is just waiting to give you grief about it at a more opportune time. Sometimes, it becomes the elephant in the room that everyone tiptoes around while waiting for you to acknowledge what you did and apologize. Too often we don’t apologize because we get this idea that if we don’t acknowledge our sin, people won’t know what we did or that life will go on as if it never happened. The opposite is usually true. People usually know who sinned against them, and even if they didn’t, you would know and that taints your relationship with your friend. You end up living on pins and needles and the relationship isn’t what it once was. Usually, friends have an amazing capacity for forgiveness. If you confess what you did wrong and apologize, you’ll usually get mercy and the relationship will be restored. If a friendship can’t endure those kinds of issues, then maybe it wasn’t such a strong friendship after all.

The message here is pretty clear: if you wronged someone, go and clear the air. Apologize. Let the other person know that you’re sorry and you won’t do it again. Either they’ll forgive you and the relationship will be restored, or they won’t forgive you and you won’t have to walk on eggshells to maintain a pretend friendship. At the same time, if someone wronged you and they ask for forgiveness, be willing to forgive immediately. There is nothing that imitates the love of God more than forgiving others.

Lord, I sure mess up a lot. I thank You that You forgive me. Give me the courage to apologize to those I sin against and give them the grace to forgive me. When someone sins against me, give me the grace to forgive them and show them Your love.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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March 9 – I Continue to be Amazed That God Knows Me and Loves Me

Matthew 12:22-50; Leviticus 15; Leviticus 16; Proverbs 27

“As in water face reflects face, So a man’s heart reveals the man.” (Proverbs 27:19 NKJV)

We’ve all seen our reflection in the water at one time or another; if not there, we’ve used a mirror to look at our own appearance. We fix our hair, clean our faces, or work on makeup as we look at our own reflection. The reflection in water or a mirror reveals what we really look like. Now, we have cell phone cameras that do the same thing and people take selfies, revealing their faces and locations. Sometimes they use that camera as a mirror, making sure everything looks just right in a last-minute checkup. Solomon used that concept in this verse noting that just as a reflection in water reveals all of our physical beauty, and imperfections, our hearts reveal who we really are. Oh, we can fake our way through life so most people don’t realize what we really think or who we really are, but the truth is, we know who we really are and our heart reveals it to us. We usually don’t want people to know the real us, sometimes for fear that if someone really knew our hearts, they wouldn’t like us anymore. Yet God knows our hearts and still loves us. He knows our weaknesses and failures, our sins and foibles and He still loves and forgives us. Our heart reveals who we are and hard as it may be, we need to be able to forgive ourselves like God does.

Let me guess. You blew it recently. You really messed up. You over-reacted when someone wronged you. You cussed a blue streak with your little one in the car when someone cut you off, and now they’re repeating a few of those forbidden words. You got mad at a customer or a fellow employee when you shouldn’t have. It happens. You opened your heart a little so that others could see what God already knows about you. He knows it and He still loves you. Apologize where necessary and appropriate, but forgive yourself and live in God’s forgiveness, growing closer to Him each day.

Lord, too often I let others see the real me, the me that only You and I know. The me that I don’t like too much. Remind me that You love the real me that I don’t like too much. Help me to love and forgive myself like You do and love others the same way.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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March 8 – No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Matthew 12:1-21; Leviticus 14; Proverbs 26

“Then He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other. Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.” (Matthew 12:13-14 NKJV)

I don’t know if the ancient Jews had a saying like “No good deed goes unpunished,” but the reaction of the Pharisees to Jesus is a great example of the truth of that phrase. Jesus had defended His disciples feeding themselves when they plucked and ate grain on the Sabbath. Then, He walked into a synagogue where the Pharisees brought Him a man with a withered hand and asked Jesus if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. This was a gotcha question, because however Jesus answered He was going to run into trouble. Jesus answered by noting that it was possible to take care of animals on the Sabbath, and people were more valuable than livestock, so of course it was, and He healed the man. Since no good deed goes unpunished, the Pharisees began plotting ways to destroy Him; sinister, evil plotting being acceptable on the Sabbath, apparently. I don’t think Jesus was surprised by their response. I do think that He healed the man with full knowledge of how they’d respond knowing that doing the right thing was worth whatever it cost.

Maybe it’s happened at work. Maybe it’s happened at home. You make a special effort to do something just right for your coworkers and your family and something doesn’t turn out right. You baked a dish and didn’t realize your coworker or family member was allergic to one of the ingredients. Maybe it was some other issue that you had no way of knowing about and when you saw that your efforts caused problems and harm to others, you threw up your hands in despair. Don’t worry. It happens. Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath and the Pharisees began plotting to kill Him. I can’t imagine you had anything worse happen to You. Keep doing good. Keep doing the right thing even if no one else follows along. It will be worth it in the long run.

Lord, let me live by Your grace and care for people first. Help me to understand and live by the principle that you never do wrong by doing right.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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March 7 – Gods Grace Compels Us to Change

Matthew 11:20-30; Leviticus 13; Proverbs 25

“Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent:” (Matthew 11:20 NKJV)

Jesus expected, and still expects, people to respond to His message and His miracles. I don’t know if He was more angry or more frustrated as He rebuked those cities where He’d performed many of His miracles and did much of His teaching. All that teaching and all those miracles, and they didn’t make a difference in the lives of the people who experienced them. He made it clear how He felt when He compared them to “those” cities who had suffered greatly from God’s judgment in the past. Some today would teach a relationship with Jesus based on a grace that calls for nothing to change in our lives because God loves us just the way we are. While God loves us just like we are, His grace compels us to repent from our sins and seek His wisdom in our everyday life. God has expectations. He doesn’t demand perfection of course, but He works by building His relationship with us, and then our lives change because we don’t want to disappoint Him. We can do nothing to bring about our salvation, but we repent and turn from our sins because we love God so much that we want to please Him.

Did you please God with how you lived today? Too often, when we look over our days, we think about our mistakes and the things we did wrong. I could be wrong, but I think God is pleased with progress as we grow in our relationship with Him. Did you learn something new today? Something that helped you understand something you hadn’t known before about God? About His world? Did you sense His presence in a difficult time? Even though He’s always with us, it’s too easy to forget that He’s around, especially in difficult times. Did you avoid those things that distract you from being with God? Those are the things that make God smile. Those are the things that make you relationship with God stronger.

Lord, I’m not perfect, but You knew that when we got together. Thank You for leading me to repent of my old way of life and helping me to grow in my relationship with You.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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