February 14 – Above All Else, Guard Your Heart

Leviticus 15-16 Matthew 27:1-26

“Early the next morning, all the leading priests and elders of the people decided that Jesus should die. They tied him, led him away, and turned him over to Pilate, the governor.” (Matthew 27:1-2)

Such simple, but shocking words. For the Jews to humble themselves and turn to a political solution to the “problem” of Jesus by going before Pilate this way shows the hate they had for Jesus. If Hitler had been a Roman governor, they would have called him Pilate. He antagonized the Jews from the first day he arrived there, figuratively spitting in their faces from his entry into Judea until his massacre of Samaritans ended his reign. As calm and as reasonable as Pilate may seem in this story, there’s no doubt that if he was calm, it was because the Jews were impassioned. If he wanted to release Jesus, it was because the Jews wanted Him crucified. If the Romans had captured Jesus and the religious leaders supported Him, Pilate would have forced them to attend the crucifixion.

The problem the Jewish leaders had was that they had lost the battle of the heart. Rather than listen to, and embrace the message of Jesus, which was the message from God that they’d been waiting for, they focused on their own personal power and used political means to advance that. As Christians, we’ve been guilty of that in the past. We’ve allied ourselves with questionable people on both sides of the aisle to enforce our religious beliefs, rather than seeking to win the hearts of the people to Jesus. So many of the political issues of our day revolve around matters of the heart: racism, hatred, misogynism, caring for the poor, and the list could go on. As Christians, our job isn’t to align ourselves with one imperfect politician or another, our job is to align our hearts with Jesus, do the right things, and bring others into fellowship with God. If we don’t do that, there will never be a permanent solution to the problems in our world.

Lord, You tell us that above all else, we should guard our heart. Help us guard our hearts, and then help us change the hearts of those around us as we deal with the problems in this world. Our only hope is in You, Lord. Help us share the message of Your love.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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February 13 – Stay Faithful to the Call, My Friend

Leviticus 14 Matthew 26:51-75

“When the high priest heard this, he tore his clothes and said, ‘This man has said things that are against God! We don’t need any more witnesses; you all heard him say these things against God. What do you think?” The people answered, ‘He should die.’” (Matthew 26:65-66 NCV)

The verdict was in and the sentence was set. All the Sanhedrin had to do was put Him on trial. They had a real problem, though. The witnesses couldn’t make their lies against Jesus agree. Finally, the High Priest got exasperated and asked Jesus if He really was the Son of God. Jesus let him know that those were his words, but, He’d be sitting at the right hand of the Father and then returning. The response is toned down in this version, but it was obvious that He got their death sentence. So, they beat and mocked Him there while preparing to take Him to Pilate to pass the state’s death sentence since Jews couldn’t put someone to death under Roman law.

Jesus’s behavior during this whole illegal trial is a good reminder for those of us who claim to follow Him. He kept quiet until He was forced to speak. We don’t like silence very much. When we’re alone in the house, the radio goes on. When the world is being unjust to us, we fight back. Sometimes we spend so much time defending ourselves that we don’t see people who need ministry. Are they treating us unjustly? Yep. If we get so worried about that kind of treatment that we forget the needs of others, then we have a problem. We’re called to minister to others, not defend ourselves. As the most interesting Christian in the world might say, “Stay faithful, my friends.”

Lord, keep me faithful to Your call. While I must be sensitive to the needs of the world to minister in the world, never let me lose sight of my call to minister to others.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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February 12 – Nothing But The Blood of Jesus

Leviticus 13 Matthew 26:26-50

“Then Jesus took a cup and thanked God for it and gave it to the followers. He said, ‘Every one of you drink this. This is my blood which is the new agreement that God makes with his people. This blood is poured out for many to forgive their sins. I tell you this: I will not drink of this fruit of the vine again until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’” (Matthew 26:27-29)

It was what the disciples thought was a normal Passover supper. Perhaps the anticipation was high after Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem earlier in the week. They were expecting Jesus’s triumphal ascent to His throne. Then, Jesus jolted them by telling them that one of them would betray Him. After that, this somber commentary on the bread and the wine which wasn’t normally part of the ceremony of the Passover. Later, Jesus predicted Peter’s denial. It wasn’t the supper they expected, the first to bring in the Messiah’s Kingdom; instead, it was the Last Supper, that would begin the process of His kingdom.

This section is a pivotal picture of the gospel. The new covenant began because Jesus shed His blood to pay the penalty for our sins. The wine was a symbol of the blood Jesus would soon shed. The blood itself brings forgiveness. It isn’t the blood AND anything else. I’m forgiven because Jesus paid the penalty and shed His blood for me, and for all who would accept His sacrifice, on the cross. He didn’t give us a half-price coupon for sin forgiveness that we had to find a way to finish paying; Jesus paid it all.

Lord, I bring nothing to You that’s worthy. I claim the forgiveness You offered through the blood of Jesus. Remind me that I can come before You because Jesus paid my debt. Help me to show others Your great love.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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February 11 – No Secrets From God

Leviticus 11-12 Matthew 26:1-25

“Then Judas, who would give Jesus to his enemies, said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, surely I am not the one, am I?’ Jesus answered, ‘Yes, it is you.’” (Matthew 26:25)

The Pharisees were fed up. They wanted Jesus killed and they wanted it to happen immediately. His teachings were exposing them to be the whitewashed tombs He had accused them of being. And so they plotted, and Judas, in a moment of disgust joined them in their plots. After accepting the contract on Jesus, he rejoined the disciples just in time for the Last Supper where Jesus predicted that He’d be betrayed. Since all the other disciples were questioning if it was them, he asked as well, only to hear that Jesus knew that he would betray Him. That must have shocked Judas.

Let’s face it, most of us have our “secret sins” that we don’t want anyone to know. We do a great job of hiding them from others and we fool ourselves into thinking that they’ll stay secret. Then God reminds us of His presence, His knowledge, and His grace. I believe that Jesus still loved Judas, even knowing his secret sin. I know that God loves us even knowing our secret sins. Perhaps we keep our sins secret because we don’t love ourselves in the midst of committing them and wonder how anyone else could. Still, we come before God only to find out that He knows, but more importantly, He still loves us and gives us His grace.

Lord, thank You for loving me even though You know me better than I know myself. Thank You for giving me grace when I’m at my worst.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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February 10 – A Time to Serve

Leviticus 8-10 Matthew 25:31-46

“Then the King will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, anything you did for even the least of my people here, you also did for me.’ … “Then the King will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, anything you refused to do for even the least of my people here, you refused to do for me.’” (Matthew 25:40,45 NCV)

These verses come from a picture of the last judgment that Jesus paints for us in this story. People are separated into two groups: sheep and goats. The sheep have made a habit out of looking for ways to serve people; the goats have made a habit out of looking for God so that they can serve Him. The message of Jesus is very clear. Too many of us are looking so hard for God that we don’t see Him when He shows up in front of us. We don’t serve God by going to a royal palace and bowing before Him; we serve Him by kneeling to help those who seem least like God.

In one of Jesus’s teachings He noted that when you do things to be recognized by men, you get your reward. If you want to serve God, don’t expect or hope for public attention. Find those who can’t return the favor, look for those who are overlooked by society, serve without thought of recognition. Our job is to meet needs. Our job is to love people like Jesus did.

Lord, lead me to people I need to serve. Let me show them Your love as I meet their needs.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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February 9 – How Much Will You Risk?

Leviticus 6-7 Matthew 25:1-30

“Then the servant who had been given one bag of gold came to the master and said, ‘Master, I knew that you were a hard man. You harvest things you did not plant. You gather crops where you did not sow any seed. So I was afraid and went and hid your money in the ground. Here is your bag of gold.’” (Matthew 25:24-25 NCV)

This passage comes from an interesting, and perhaps disturbing, parable. Jesus tells the story of a man who gave three of his servants money to take care of. One servant got 5 bags of gold (we’re used to talents being used here), another servant got two bags, and the third only got one bag. The first and the second servant double their master’s money, while the third one hid it to avoid losing any of it. He called the master hard to his face as an excuse for not doing anything with the money. Obviously, the master wasn’t happy with that, took the money from that servant, and gave it to the one who already had ten bags of gold.

I have a hard time with this parable. Why did one guy get 5 bags of gold (talents – which would be worth a minimum of $50,000 today, probably more) and another guy get two bags? We can see that the master understood the character of the third guy, because his actions showed he couldn’t be trusted. Perhaps the guy with two bags was just learning. While money is the vehicle in this parable, I believe that this speaks more about our relationship with Him. Those who trust and love Him will work willingly and take appropriate risks to see the kingdom grow. Those who see God from a legalistic perspective, or who don’t believe at all couldn’t care less about seeing God’s kingdom grow. They won’t risk anything, including their reputation, to see God’s kingdom grow. Where do you fall? Would you risk everything to serve God or are you so afraid that He’ll punish you for doing wrong, that you don’t do anything? Trust God and serve Him. It’s worth any risk.

Lord, help me to leave my safe zones and be willing to follow You and take risks to show others Your love and grace.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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February 8 – The Biggest Surprise of All

I planned to have this done yesterday and been caught up. Then, we had a family emergency, wife fell and broke her wrist. Barring any more emergencies, I should be caught up today.

Leviticus 4-5 Matthew 24:29-51

“In those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving their children to be married, until the day Noah entered the boat. They knew nothing about what was happening until the flood came and destroyed them. It will be the same when the Son of Man comes.” (Matthew 24:38-39 NCV)

As Jesus focused on the cross, He taught a lot about His eventual return. Christians talk about the Second Coming of Christ. Jews talk about the Day of the Lord or just “The Day.” In this passage Jesus tells the disciples two important truths: 1) no one knows when that day will be, and 2) there will be nothing remarkable about the days leading up to that time. Later, He compared His return to the issue of a thief breaking into a house. If you had known the day the thief was coming, you’d have done something to prevent the burglary. No thief sends a message letting you know the day he’s coming.

I’ve always been amused by people talking breathlessly about how our days are like the days of Noah and we’d better be ready. While they’re right that we should always be ready for Christ’s return, the description of the “days of Noah” is that people were eating and drinking, marrying and arranging marriages: in short, they were living normal, everyday lives. What should cause us to take notice about the days of Noah, and prepare for the return of the Lord, is that there is nothing special about those days. They’re normal. We have no more warning about the future. Preparation began yesterday.

Lord, thank You that because of my relationship with Jesus, I’m prepared for His return. Help me to show others Your grace and mercy so they can be prepared also.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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February 7 – It’s The End of the World As We Know It

Up to date later today….

Leviticus 1-3 Matthew 24:1-28

“There will be more and more evil in the world, so most people will stop showing their love for each other. But those people who keep their faith until the end will be saved. The Good News about God’s kingdom will be preached in all the world, to every nation. Then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:12-14 NCV)

Everybody wants to know about the end of the world. The disciples joined in that discussion by asking Jesus when the end would come. Jesus’s answer is classic. He listed all the things the people thought would bring about the end of the world, and then said that it was only the beginning of the process. The two signs that Jesus pointed to were that evil would abound in the world and that the gospel would be proclaimed in all the world.

I don’t spend too much time worrying about the end of the world. I’m amused, and somewhat horrified by those who set dates, or talk breathlessly about those things Jesus said were the mere beginnings of the end. I can’t do anything about those things, and even if they were the portent of the imminent end of the world, that wouldn’t make me want to start wars or cause earthquakes. I’m concerned about the idea that people stop showing love fore each other, but that’s been happening forever. The one thing I can do is work to proclaim the gospel to all people. But, I don’t do it to hasten the end of the world, I do it to make each person’s world a better place by helping them find the joy of a relationship with God.

Lord, help me to share Your love with people wherever I go. I don’t know when the end of this world will come but let the only part I play in it come from sharing Your love.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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February 6 – Following God With All That I Am

Exodus 39-40 Matthew 23:23-39

“How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You are hypocrites! You give to God one-tenth of everything you earn—even your mint, dill, and cumin.[a] But you don’t obey the really important teachings of the law—justice, mercy, and being loyal. These are the things you should do, as well as those other things.” (Matthew 23:23 NCV)

As Jesus railed on the hypocrisy of the Pharisees He noted how they were so lost in the tiny details that they missed the big picture. They were following the law and tithing. They were so careful in their tithing that they were setting aside every tenth mint leaf and cumin and dill seed. While they focused on these small things, though, they didn’t even think about practicing justice, showing mercy, or acting faithful. They had codified life so that they could follow the letter of the Law and missed the Spirit of the Law. Rather than showing God’s love for the ordinary person on the street, they lorded their religious credentials over them. Rather than practicing justice or showing mercy, they treated common people harshly. They were dutiful in their religious practices, but not faithful.

Our relationship with God changes who we are. We are no longer to think only of ourselves, but also about others. The commendation for the Pharisees amid this rebuke was that they tithed. As followers of Christ, tithing should be the beginning of our giving, but not the end. Most of all, we should give ourselves in service to others. We should work for justice in a society that promotes favoritism and cronyism. We’re to show mercy in a revenge driven world. We’re to be faithful to God’s call on our lives, remembering that God’s call involves showing our love for Him by caring for others. If Jesus were to comment on my life, would He commend my giving and chastise the rest of my life, or would I be found truly faithful in all areas of my relationship with God?

Oh Lord, let my whole life: everything I say, think, and do, bring honor to Your name.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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February 5 – Family Keeps Us Humble

Exodus 36-38 Matthew 23:1-22

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.” (Matthew 23:8-9 NCV)

Have you ever realized that the only people that Jesus criticized harshly were the religious leaders, especially the Pharisees? Think about it. This passage of Jesus’s teachings was his harshest commentary on the Scribes and Pharisees. He began by attacking their demand for respect and honor and then blasted their hypocrisy. Before He attacked the hypocrisy, though, He instructed His followers to avoid seeking honorifics and titles because as His followers, they were all brothers; as His followers today, we are all brothers and sisters. At the same time, as brothers and sisters, we have one Father: God.

The man most instrumental in my early years as a Christian was my Baptist Student Director: Paul Jones. After years of study, he was granted a doctorate. When that happened, at the next gathering of those involved in the work of the BSU, he told us to greet him by saying “Hello, Dr. Jones.” We did. Then he said, “Good, now that we’ve done that, don’t call me Dr. Jones again. I’m still Paul.” He understood Jesus’s message here. He didn’t consider the title important; more important to him was the relationship we had in doing God’s work on the campus.

Lord, keep me humble by reminding me that I’m Your child and that others are either brothers and sisters in Christ, or people that I would love to see as brothers and sisters. Thank You for our family.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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