Losing To Win

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Ok. I’ll be the first one to admit this doesn’t make sense. Much of what the Teacher says seems upside-down. That’s because it is!

Lose to win? What in the world is He talking about?

Exactly! The Teacher is not talking about how things are usually done in this world. He is literally bringing heaven’s rule to earth.

What is up has come down, and at first it doesn’t seem to fit very well down here. This is why much of what Jesus says sounds like a foreign dialect to us. It’s the language of the Kingdom of Heaven.

While we can’t always fully grasp the Teacher’s language, thankfully, everything is clear when we simply look at His life.

Jesus lived His message! He offered Himself in service to mankind. He gave up His life on the cross. By all the principles of worldly success – Jesus loses.

Not so fast! Didn’t God exalt Him to the position of highest authority in heaven and earth? Hey, this upside-down stuff really works!

Our Teacher won by losing! He's saying His students will find real and lasting life by losing theirs too.

No, it’s not one way for Jesus and different way for us. That’s why He’s the Teacher. And He says to His students,

Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me….


Be Afraid?

Parents often calm a child’s unreasonable fear – There’s nothing to be afraid of. Mommy and Daddy are right here with you.

God doesn’t want His children to live fearful lives either. Perhaps that’s why the Bible gives so many reassuring messages - Fear Not! Your Heavenly Father is right here.

Here our Teacher encourages His students to be brave in the face of ridicule and pressure.

So do not be afraid of them… Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.

So it comes as a bit of a shock when the Teacher actually turns around and tells us to be afraid!

Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Does the Teacher really want us to be afraid, when in the very next breath He says:
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don't be afraid.

What’s going on here? Perhaps, the Teacher is talking like parents sometimes do.

We warn our children not to do something wrong out of fear of what their peers will do to them. Then we remind them it’s more reasonable to be afraid of what Mommy and Daddy will do if they don’t!

Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

Don’t be afraid! Be afraid! It makes perfect sense.


Tug of War

You'd think doing the right thing would be easy. Everyone would encourage. None oppose.

But Jesus’ life shows this isn’t true!

Our Teacher faced violent hostility from infancy to the cross! Herod tried to kill Him. Religious leaders plotted His death. Pilate authorized the final blow.

He was despised and rejected my men. A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief!

The student will not be above His Teacher in this regard. Here Jesus bluntly warns His students about the kinds of rejection they also must face.

It doesn’t seem fair – this tug of war - as we attempt to do the right thing and others pull in the opposite direction. Isn’t it enough that we sometimes wrestle with our own human nature?

Yet, there it is. He warns that religious leaders may oppose! Hostile governments and even members of our own family may be against us.

Yet with these risks come the Teacher’s comforting promises.

He says don’t be anxious about what to do when you’re opposed. You’re not alone. The Spirit of God is within you!

He reminds us of a reward at the end of life if we don’t give up or give in. He should know. That’s how it worked out for Him.

Finally, the most encouraging words of all! Our Teacher tells us that when we suffer rejection we are following in His own footsteps.

Perhaps in times of rejection it is enough to know – even in this – we are like the Teacher.


Freely Give

Freely you have received, freely give!

Remember Lucy in the Peanuts Comic Strip? Sometimes she would set up a funny little booth with a sign overhead: Psychiatric help – 5 cents!

I’m afraid Christianity may present a similar picture to many today.

It's easy to set up a little booth on Sunday. The sign over the building seems to beckon - If you want spiritual help, come and get it!

But Jesus didn’t merely set up a truth booth. He set out to meet the physical needs of people! This explains why so many were attracted to His message.

Students of the Teacher will pay close attention to this. Teaching spiritual truth should be accompanied by – How can I help you?

Here Jesus is sending out His students with the same mission - preach to the spiritual needs of the people AND meet their most pressing physical needs.

It isn’t easy.

It takes more effort than hiding behind a booth.

But it’s been said…

People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care!


Spiritual GPS

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were
harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Crowds of people without guidance! No spiritual direction!

I wonder how many in the crowd that day would have agreed with Jesus’ assessment of them. Not many I suspect.

Don’t most of us think we are quite capable of directing our own lives, thank you very much! We are in control. We know what we are doing!

Of course, very often things don’t seem to be working out very well for us. That’s ok. We can usually manage to find an outside explanation for that.

Interesting isn’t it?

Like men drivers! We are never really lost. We may have gone 100 miles in the wrong direction, but somehow it’s not our fault! We had a poor navigator beside us in the front seat! Sorry ladies.

Of course, we’re never at a loss for direction if we have a GPS. The receiver in the car simply picks up the satellite signal and we know where we are and can easily navigate anywhere we want to go.

You already know where I’m going with all of this. It’s about our need for a spiritual GPS to direct our lives.

Of course, that's our Teacher – the very one who makes the judgment about us that says we’re all lost without Him.

Are we picking up His signals?


Last Option

Now Matthew says – two blind men followed him.

So far Matthew has introduced us to many people for whom Jesus seems to be the last option. What about Jesus is so attractive to us when we are desperate, down and out?

Each in our own way knows the answer...

Imagine the determination required for these two blind buddies to follow along after Jesus. Somehow they kept up with Him and finally came into the house where He was.

Forgive me for the obvious – None of us has 20/20 vision when it comes to following Jesus either. We grope along, run into things, rely on our buddies, and ask for a lot of directions.

We forge on, because in the end, Jesus is our last option too! And just like the blind men, we sometimes cry out - Have mercy on us, Son of David!

And who is the first person they see when they receive the gift of 20/20 vision?

A day like that is coming for everyone who follows after this Teacher!


Dismiss The Mourners!

Somewhere in the press of people, a frantic father searches for an opening. This desperate grieving man has one last outrageously hopeful plan.

There he is!

He pushes through the mass of people surrounding Jesus, falls on his knees and pours out his faith – My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her and she shall live!

Submissive, Jesus and his disciples follow him home.

When Jesus entered the ruler's house and saw the flute players and the noisy
crowd, he said, "Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at

Jesus dismisses the mourners!

After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the
hand, and she got up.

It just has to end this way, doesn’t it? I don’t mean just for this man’s little girl, but for everyone who has faith in Jesus.

In the end, what benefit is a Teacher who can change our hearts to be more like His if it all ends in a grave?

By raising this little girl to life, Jesus foreshadows His intention to conquer death for every one of us. And in this dramatic scene demonstrates His power to do it!

Dismiss the mourners! This story is not over!


Friend Of Sinners

An astonishing choice! Jesus calls a tax-collector to be one of His twelve disciples. He calls him right out of his work station!

Tax men were despised. Collaborators, traitors who sold out their country and their faith for Roman money!

But Matthew just walks off the job to follow Jesus! A celebratory dinner party follows with a bunch of other tax-collectors and sinners!

Wow! The Teacher is not behaving like the typical religious leaders of the day. Such intimate fellowship with sinners – simply unthinkable!

Jesus is somehow guilty by association! This Teacher is condoning their lifestyle and further encouraging their wrong-headed ideas!

His answer …for I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance!

The religious leaders didn’t get it. Matthew certainly did. So did the other sinners at his dinner party.

There is something about Jesus that communicates – You don’t have to be good enough to be in my presence. I love you just the way you are, but I love you too much to leave you that way!

Who am I in this story? At the party or on the outside looking in!

Students of the Teacher know something is horribly wrong when Christians give the impression their fellowship is reserved for people who are somehow good enough.

We learn from Jesus’ example to be exceedingly careful not to give an impression that we and Jesus are friends, but you can only be in this circle when and if you become good like us.

No, if Jesus is our friend it is because like Matthew and his bunch, we know who we are.

Our hope for a changed life is in our ongoing relationship with this Teacher – this friend of sinners.


Demon Possessed

We already read how the devil tried unsuccessfully to tempt Jesus to sin. Now Jesus again demonstrates His power over the devil by freeing two men from demon possession.

Isn’t this what we expect from one who comes to be the Savior of the world? He must be able to personally defeat the devil. And He must also be able to free others from the devil’s power.

I think this is the main truth Matthew wants us to see here.

This story raises many interesting questions, but I choose to focus on one of them: How were the demons able to recognize Jesus as the Son of God?

According to the Bible, the devil and his minions are still very active in this world. Regardless of how you choose to label it, there is a spiritual battle going on today, mostly unseen.

The battleground is the human heart.

There are two forces – known to each other - vying for human allegiance.

If our trust is in Jesus, we are assured of the power to overcome - Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world!

The flip side of that is if we give place in our hearts to the devil, he will gain a foothold. Take possession. Loot and destroy!

The devil’s desire is to make us less human, as graphically evidenced by the condition of the demon-possessed men in this story.

The devil wants to destroy the image of God within us. Jesus wants to save and nurture it.

The battle is on! God has given us the power to choose sides.


I Want To Enroll

Word is spreading. People are coming from everywhere. They want to see this phenomenal new Teacher and Wonder-Worker!

In the pressing crowd there is at least one other man who recognizes the opportunity of a lifetime. He says to Jesus - Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.

In the language of the day, this man is putting in his application for enrollment in Jesus’ School. He’s actually saying, – Teacher, I want to become your personal student!

In those days students didn’t go to a school building to meet their teachers for a few hours. Instead, they applied to follow one particular rabbi.

If accepted, students left their families to live with the teacher. Then, the students literally followed the teacher everywhere he went. Class was always in session because the teacher was always present.

It’s interesting how Jesus responds to this man’s request for enrollment. He tells him not to expect the usual comfortable accommodations.

Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no
place to lay his head.

A student must endure extra hardship to study with this traveling Rabbi. In Jesus’ School, the classroom will be mobile. Ditto for today!

So, when we read that Jesus calls us to Follow Him, we should understand the Teacher is inviting us to become His students too.

If we decide to enroll, we travel along with Him. We learn to be conscious of His presence. Gradually, we change to become more like Him.

Have you enrolled in the University of Jesus?


He Touched Me

He took up our diseases and carried our illnesses.

You know what impresses me most about the Teacher?

He doesn’t simply teach the truth. He lives the truth!

Our Teacher doesn’t merely sit on the mount and preach. He comes down into valley and ministers to those in pain.

The sick, the possessed, the anxious parent of a sick child!

The Teacher even does what nobody else dares to do. He touches a man with the contagion of leprosy.

I can’t help wondering how long it had been since anyone – except perhaps other lepers – had touched this broken man?

Our Teacher is still one who comes to us today with great compassion. Not only bringing life-giving truth, but touching us at the point of our most pressing need and pain!

He touched me, Oh, He touched me
And Oh the joy that floods my soul
Something happened and now I know
He touched me and made me whole!

These lyrics are the grateful response of every broken heart mended by the Savior who touches.


Because I Said So!

When Jesus ended His sayings, people seem most impressed by the note of authority in His teaching. It was as if what He said was true simply because He said it!

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his
teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers
of the law.

I suppose the teachers of the law taught as most preachers do today - basing their remarks on recorded Scriptures.

However, as people listened to Jesus, they were conscious His teaching was not primarily based on the authority of previously recorded words.

They were right!

In fact, The Teacher was speaking the very words that would become the new message of Scripture!

I suspect the people also felt something else that day. Even as we still do! Something answering within their hearts - This is true!

Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into
practice is like a wise man who built his house on a rock…


Personal Relationship

Apparently, some religious people will be stunned to hear Jesus say - I never knew you. Away from me…

They attempt to defend themselves, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name…

Apparently they aren’t lying. They really had done some very good things during their lifetimes. Jesus doesn’t say - No you didn’t!

Then what’s the problem?

Jesus answers - I never knew you!

Even with all their good religious activity, they never took time to develop a personal relationship with the Teacher!

Perhaps the greatest question we can ask this side of heaven is - Does Jesus know me?

How can we be sure?

I think Jesus gets to know us - and we Him - in the same way any relationship develops. Don’t we listen to our friends and talk to them as well?

Relationship is about communication!

If you don’t believe it, try refusing to communicate with your spouse or friends for six months! Then come back and describe your personal relationship with them.

Taking Jesus as our Savior from sin is only the first step. Making Him our daily companion and Teacher is the rest of our journey.


Judge Denny

It doesn’t have the ring of say, Judge Judy, does it? But I can sometimes be just as withering in my judgments of others.

Why is that?

Is it because they offend my finely-tuned sense of justice?

Maybe, because we all have it from a very early age - Mom, he took my toy and I had it first! Oh yeah, me and judging go way back.

Or perhaps I like being Judge Denny because it makes me feel superior when I slam someone else’s character flaws.

Funny thing though! Have you ever noticed how very often we most strongly condemn the flaws of others that we struggle with ourselves?

Is this what the Teacher means?

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye
and pay no
attention to the plank in your own eye?

I suppose it looks pretty funny when God looks down at Judge Denny and he’s criticizing some other sinner.

Here’s the part that’s not at all humorous:

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged…


Worry Wart

Is anyone else old enough to remember the newspaper comic strip character, Worry Wart? Oddly enough, Worry Wart didn’t worry. He caused everyone else to worry.

I confess to being a bit of a worrier myself. Over the years I’ve found worry to be an excellent preventative measure, because most of the bad things I worry about never happen!

So what’s wrong with a little pre-emptive worry?

The Teacher says it shows a lack of trust in our Heavenly Father.

Your Heavenly Father knows that you need…O you of little faith?


Come to think of it, I would never want my own children to have such little faith in me.

Actually I remember one such time. For some reason lunch was unusually late and one of the children expressed anxiety - Are we ever going to have lunch?

I remember feeling a bit offended and snapping back - Have you ever missed a meal around here before?

I guess sometimes we don’t have the trust in our Heavenly Father that we expect our children to have in us.

Silly isn’t it?

Worry I mean.


God Or Money

In God We Trust.

The phrase first appeared on the two cent coin in 1864. Then in 1956 a joint resolution of congress made it our national motto. By the 1960’s it was on all our coins and bills.

I’m glad it’s there. Unfortunately, making it a motto doesn’t necessarily mean it is the truth about us.

That seems to be Jesus’ concern when He reduces our heart’s allegiance to two choices: You cannot serve God and money.

I would expect God to be one of the choices – and the obvious right choice! What surprises is that money is the other one.

I would have expected Him to say, you cannot serve God and the devil. Or even, God and yourself!

As always, the Teacher is right. It’s God or money alright.

Only money seems to directly offer the promise of security that rivals what service to God alone can ultimately provide.

I am tempted every day to think if only I have enough money all my needs can be met. Food, clothes, shelter, education, health care, retirement!

It’s true. We all need money to live. But there will be a time when only the treasure we have stored in heaven will matter to us. The Teacher wants us to plan ahead.

Wouldn’t it be ironic, if we had wallets and purses full of In God We Trust, but none in our hearts?


Heaven On Earth

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is it heaven.

Think of it. Somewhere at this very moment is a place where Love can blossom without interruption. Peace and Tranquility permeate the atmosphere. Pleasure beyond imagination and complete Rest!

It’s the ultimate getaway destination.

Ah! You guessed it. It’s heaven of course.

But heaven is heaven, only because God is present and His will is being done perfectly there.

Now here comes the Teacher asking us to pray for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Is this an unrealistic prayer?

No, not for individuals who understand Jesus came not only to get us into heaven someday but to get heaven into us today!

Heaven is the Teacher’s hometown! This makes Him the only one personally qualified to speak on this subject.

This is what the University of Jesus is all about – learning from the Teacher who knows how to live in the Will of God - discovering the very principles that make heaven, well…heaven.

Together with the ever-present Teacher, students experience the constant presence of God. Heaven gradually gets on the inside!

In attentive hearts, the Kingdom comes. God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.


Secret Approval

It’s Sunday. Get dressed. We’re going to church to worship God. Be with other Christians and maybe listen to one of them talk too long!

It’s all good though. Well, except maybe the part about the extra-long sermon. All the restaurants will be full before we can get there!

But the Teacher says all this doesn’t quite go far enough. Church attendance is no substitute for a secret relationship with God - something just between me and Him!

In fact, if our relationship with God is limited to public displays - for the approval of the public – we totally miss the mark.

Don’t get me wrong! Part of being a student of Jesus is becoming an active participant in the public life of a congregation.

Our Teacher went to the synagogue and the temple. He was a regular at the feast observances. And Jesus still goes to church today. He promises His presence anytime two or three gather together in His name.

It’s just that what we do all together for a couple of hours a week is only part of it. Our secret prayers and private acts of service the rest of the week really define our personal walk with God.

Because secret acts of service reveal a heart primarily concerned with the approval of the Only One who sees what is done in secret.

Is it appropriate to ask, how’s your secret relationship with God?


Living Large!

Isn’t the Teacher calling His students to mirror God’s largesse in their own lives?

Largesse - generosity or liberality, especially in spirit or attitude.

This is the Father our Teacher knows intimately and - as He points out – everyone in the world already experiences to some degree every day:

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the
righteous and the unrighteous.

Jesus talks about love to neighbors and even to enemies. Prayers for them and a welcoming heart to everyone! These reflect our appreciation of God’s Largesse to us.

I don’t think Jesus intends to limit His students to the examples He mentions here. Rather, He is calling us to possess a Spirit of Liberality which will permeate all our relationships.

Thankfully, the Teacher always practices what He preaches. His students learn how to live large by observing His life.

The student when fully trained will be like His Teacher.

What example of largesse impresses you most in the life of our Teacher?


Jesus Raises The Bar

You have heard that it was said…But I tell you…

The Teacher seems to be saying it is much more difficult to please God than anyone ever thought.

He raises the bar!

It isn’t just about our behavior, but what’s in our hearts!

Excuse me, but this is counterintuitive, isn’t it? Shouldn’t we expect the One who will usher in the Era of Grace to relax the standards?

After all, nobody ever managed to live up the old ones. Why increase them?

If this is the way it is, who can ever please God?


Precisely the Teacher’s point, I think.

By turning our eyes inward to the evil in our hearts, He undercuts any pretense that keeping a few rules of behavior will be enough to gain fellowship with God.

We see the startling truth. We are much farther from God than we thought. In fact, we are hopelessly distant.

The bar is too high for us. We throw up our hands. We give up.

Mission accomplished!

His students are now open to receive God’s plan – A Savior for sins and a Teacher who can actually change hearts.


Bottom Shelf

Some city folks moved to the country and placed membership in a little church. It wasn’t long before they confronted the old preacher there about the simple and direct manner of his sermons.

He humbly explained. I try to put it on the bottom shelf so everybody can get it.

Jesus covers an array of subjects in today’s reading, but He puts everything on the bottom shelf.

After reading these verses, no comment seems appropriate to me. I almost feel like I’m back in the 50’s in a Bible class at our little church in Fairview.

Someone would read a verse, and after a reverent pause the teacher would ask, Fern, what do you think this verse means?

A moment of reflection followed before the response. Well, I think it means just what it says.

Undeterred, the teacher would call on someone else. Roy, would you like to put this verse in your own words?

Another thoughtful silence and then, No, I don’t think I could say it any better than what’s already written here.

Having an attack of nostalgia? No. I’m just reminded of those days because I don’t have a comment on today’s verses either.

Except of course to say - I think the Teacher means just what He says, and nobody could have said it better.


Our Teacher

To His students, out on a remote unnamed hillside, Jesus tells the truth about someone.

This someone is humble, sorrowful, and meek. He hungers and thirsts for God. He is merciful, pure in heart and a peacemaker. Insulted, falsely accused and persecuted - yet somehow joyous and glad!

Sound familiar?

Is the Teacher describing His own heart and life?

I think so.

This is Jesus!

It is His blessed life we should first see here.

The good news is this. His life isn’t exclusively for Him. The Teacher has students.

Every student’s destiny is to enjoy the same kind of life as they observe in their Teacher.

The blessed life is coming to us as we become more like the Teacher.

That’s right isn’t it? The Teacher’s life gets on the inside of ours. Our life mixed up with His!

His story becoming our life story too!



Don’t you just love how God does things? So unpredictably and yet so obviously right - obvious of course only after He does them!

Surely, by now we are learning to expect the unexpected from God.

First, He is in a manger. Then in the water in the desert and now He starts preaching in some out-of-the-way place in Galilee. Of course! No way would Jesus begin as expected, with the keepers of the light in Jerusalem.

The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in
the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned!

The hardworking fisherman didn’t see it coming either. Yet, they left everything behind at once, immediately. That’s what you do when the greatest Teacher in the world calls you, right?

They couldn’t have known what they were in for. How following Jesus would change their lives! But they had a desire to go wherever becoming more like this Teacher would lead them.

Doesn’t following Jesus lead to heaven? Yes, someday. But where are we going today?

It depends. Have we become His daily students?

If so, we only know what they knew…

We too are going wherever becoming more like our Teacher takes us.

And we know to expect the unexpected along the way. That’s what He does!


Spiritual Warfare

An army marches on its stomach! Napoleon Bonaparte is credited with this insight. He knew a little about warfare.

Why then is Jesus fasting 40 days and nights before one of the colossal confrontations of all time? Maybe because Jesus’ battle will not be with flesh and blood, but a spiritual conflict with the devil himself!

But isn’t it just like the devil to attack at the weakest point? He knows what’s on Jesus’ mind after fasting so long!

If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.

Not a bad idea really. What’s the harm? Later Jesus will multiply the loaves and fishes, no problem.

Sometimes even a reasonable idea should be resisted just because of who suggests it, and why! Jesus gives him no quarter. He knows the devil’s ploy to get Him to go along – compromise - a little at a time.

It never stops with the first harmless suggestion, does it? Soon you’re in over your head. Someone else is calling the shots.

Jesus politely tells him that He will listen to God, thank you very much!

The next clash is over another seemingly harmless idea. Show your power. Jump! The angels will catch you. Isn’t that what the Bible says?

When the enemies of God start quoting Scripture, pardon me if a big red flag goes up! Jesus isn’t outflanked. He will demonstrate His miraculous power only when God leads Him to do it.

Unable to trick Jesus, the devil at last unleashes his true intention with a direct assault. You want a shortcut to world power? Worship me!

No way. Only the Lord my God is worthy of my worship and service.

I love how this battle ends. Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended to him.


This Is My Son

Jesus shows up for John’s baptism too. He doesn’t dismiss it. He wants it.

It’s John who is reluctant. I like his reason. Humility is the right response to perfection! John only consents when Jesus tells him it is the proper and right thing to do.

As Jesus submits to John’s baptism something extraordinary happens. Heaven opens, the Holy Spirit comes upon Him and God announces His approval.

This is my Son, whom I love, in whom I am well pleased.

But why did Jesus join the crowds in being baptized?

Unlike all the others, Jesus had no sin. He didn’t need the baptism of repentance, did He? Why then submit to water baptism?

It’s true. Jesus is beginning His public ministry. But He could have received the empowerment of the Spirit and God’s endorsement for this from anywhere. Why not at the temple in Jerusalem or on a mountain top somewhere?

Do you think Jesus wanted to show public support for John’s message of the nearby kingdom by being baptized by him? Or does Jesus want to enter into the life of the common people who were seeking God by doing what they had done?

I think there may be at least one other possibility.

I think Jesus knew He was becoming a living example for everyone who would later follow Him. I can almost hear the future objections if Jesus refused baptism: I don’t need to be baptized. I follow Jesus and He never was. What’s good enough for Him is good enough for me!

By His baptism, Jesus models what He knew would not be optional for us. Today, when the blood of Jesus makes us clean from sin, we too receive the Holy Spirit and become children of God in whom He is well pleased.


Words And Water

By now everyone knows things absolutely must change. Thousands are running away from a religion that offers form but no substance. It still looks correct but no longer feels right.

So they break out! On the loose for hope!

Matthew says they find it in the desert and in the water with an unlikely prophet. A preacher in camel’s hair and leather who tells them to get ready! Repent!


They’re right. Things must change. The kingdom of heaven is near.

The errant custodians of God come out too. They want to see where their flock has gone. They must have been surprised to get the same offer in sterner language – Repent or else!

But there is something much more important going on here.

John says I am just the warm-up. It’s ok to be excited, but I am just words and water. That’s all I can ever do for you.

But there is something more…Someone more!

One more powerful and more worthy! He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire!

Jesus is not just words and water. He is Spirit and Life. He gets on the inside and changes our hearts. The kingdom of heaven comes, not in the desert, but within us.


Inside Information

Being a parent isn’t easy, is it? So many decisions! Where to live? How to protect our children? What to do about discipline? Which School?

Everything would be perfect if only God would tell us what to do, right?

Well, four times Joseph received dreams directly from God. Where did it take his little family?

Birth in a dirty stable, refugee status in Egypt and a hard life in out-of-the-way Nazareth!

Not exactly places where one would expect to find a family who is trading on inside information. Heavenly information at that!

A temporary guardian of the Son of God might reasonably expect better.

Surely an antiseptic birthing room in Jerusalem General, a royal baby shower in the Temple Courts and then an all-expense-paid move into permanent quarters at the Royal Suite in Herod Arms at High Court.

Not even close.

Matthew is just getting started, but makes one thing clear from the very beginning. The life of The Guest from Heaven isn’t going to turn out like anyone expects.

We know things will get worse for Jesus. Much worse! But not before the Teacher opens a treasure of Inside Information to guide our lives!

Don’t you just love this story! It is ours.


No Spin

Today’s is a bittersweet post. This is a part of the story I might have conveniently omitted. Not Matthew. Very straightforward – Jesus is born and innocent babies die!

He doesn’t even try to spin it – you know the Bethlehem area was very sparsely populated at the time. We’re talking ten or twenty babies at the most...

Matthew doesn’t want to spin it. He slaps us in the face with the cold hard truth. Jesus invades the world and evil wants to kill Him. It is a truth that will follow Jesus all His life. We know how it ends.

Neither does Matthew deal with the obvious question: Why did God allow those mothers to suffer the loss of their innocent children while Jesus and His family escape to Egypt? Why doesn’t he?

I don’t know. Maybe because Matthew knew Jesus ultimately suffered the same fate – he saw an innocent man on a cross and a sorrowing mother at His feet. Those babies died on account of Jesus, but Jesus escaped to die and rise for them. In saving Jesus from the slaughter, God ultimately saves them all.

Wendy Zoba wrote in Christianity Today:

How shall we reconcile the glorious birth of the Savior with the bloody deaths of the boys of Bethlehem? The disastrous event that took place in part of the picture of Christmas, too. But we tend to allow sleigh bells, evergreens, and shopping frenzies to push it out of view. Yet it is, in fact, in all its brutality, what Christmas is about: the Savior's invasion...and his confrontation with the forces of evil...Matthew's narrative of Christ's birth juxtaposes noble and wretched characters in stark contrasts: stars and swords; majestic kingly visitations and twisted kingly agitation; Mary rejoicing, Rachel weeping; the children who die, and the Child who gets away…

Jesus had to get away in order to face the day when the angels would not intervene and when Joseph would not whisk him to Egypt; when Mary, not Rachel, wept and could not be comforted. Jesus 'got away' [this time] so that He could later on 'atone for' the blood of those children and their mothers' tears.

And now the world waits for Jesus once more and the final restoration of all things. Only then, I believe we will fully understand this story and why bad things happen to good people.
1 Wendy Zoba, "Mary Rejoicing, Rachel Weeping" in Christianity Today, December 8,
1997, p. 25.


Out Of The Loop

I hate it when this happens. Everyone gets the memo except me.

Ok, will someone please tell me what’s going on? I want to be in on it too!

So who is paying attention to what God is doing? Joseph and Mary hear God’s voice. The wise men from the east see the star. There are a few others.

But what is striking about this story is who is out of the loop.

Almost everyone else on the planet!

Especially troubling is who should have been in the know but seem oblivious. King Herod and the entire religious community in Jerusalem!

Even more unsettling is their reaction when the wise men informed them of the birth of their King. Matthew says Herod was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

Not only are they out of the loop, they are so far out they can’t recognize God’s purposes when they are announced and confirmed from Scripture. Worse yet, Herod hatches a scheme to thwart them.

I don’t think the memo helped.

Really disappointing stuff! God came to be with them and they missed it. Carried on as before or worse!

Today it’s different, right? I’m not so sure.

Forgive me if I wonder where we fit in this story.

Out of the loop? Carrying on as before? Even opposing God’s purposes?

The King is here. The Teacher is ever-present. God’s will is for us to become more like Him!

So, who is paying attention to what God is doing this time?


Every Day Savior

This story is really about Jesus. They all are. Yours. Mine. Joseph’s. Nevertheless, Matthew reveals what a good father Jesus would have growing up.

So here’s Joseph, trying to do the right thing, willing to protect Mary even when he mistakenly thinks she has broken his trust!

Feel it? Joseph’s world is literally caving in around him, but he keeps his head when most would be losing theirs. He doesn’t react out of a sense of wounded manhood or pride and anger.

Matthew says he took time to consider.

In the most embarrassing and hurtful time of his young life, Joseph is still listening for the voice of God. That’s why he is able to hear through the pain and allow God to change his life’s story and play a part in changing ours.

He takes Mary as his wife and names the child Jesus - Savior from sin!

I suppose most of us want to be saved from our sins. At least the penalty of them someday, if not the practice of them today!

This is where we might miss out. We may only see Jesus as a Savior who will be needed in the future. What to do in the meantime? Be a church member in good standing? Keep the fire insurance in force? See you next Sunday Jesus!

And yet…what about that thing the Teacher said about being with us always.

Does it really make sense that Jesus would give His life to save us from the future penalty of sin without saving us by His presence from the practice of sin? Not sinless but sinning less.

For many years I lived in faith that heaven would be my future home. Only recently I realized that though I was saved by the grace of Jesus, I hadn’t made much progress in becoming very much like Him.

Together with others, I learned our destiny is not only to be saved in heaven someday but to become more like Jesus now.
(Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; I John 3:2)

Like the first disciples, we enter the University of Jesus. We become serious daily students of the Teacher. We don’t do this to secure our place in heaven. Only the blood of Jesus can do that. It’s about becoming who God predestined us to be.

We begin to practice the presence of the Teacher and seek His counsel. We cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He produces His fruit in our hearts, love, joy peace…

As students, we find Jesus to be an every day Savior. A living ever-present Teacher who is saving us from the persons we would become without Him!

In what ways are you moving beyond nominal church membership to a daily relationship with the Teacher?


Roots Tracer

In recent years there has been an explosion of interest in genealogies. Thousands dig through courthouse records, old censuses and Ellis Island Immigrant Records to trace their roots. They traipse around country cemeteries risking heat exhaustion, poison ivy and ticks.

Recently my friend Stan told me he is a descendant of Daniel Boone. I must confess to a tinge of ancestral jealousy at the time. Ever felt like that? How about a little forefather inferiority when someone proudly announces they are descended from royal blood?

Me Royalty? Not a chance. The nearest to royalty I might find is a court jester or two. If I am any indication, they kept trying even though they weren’t very funny. Risky business when you’re not funny and the King wants to laugh!

If not humorous they were obviously clever. Somehow they managed to stay alive long enough to father at least one child or I wouldn’t be here. Me? I’ve lived long enough to see two children grow to adulthood, but only because Christians don’t kill corny preachers. They just don’t laugh. And that really kills me.

Anyway, from today’s reading it is evident Matthew was a Roots Tracer too. Matt had it much easier though. He could have simply gone over to the temple and copied the extremely accurate family records stored there. Maybe the Holy Spirit spared him even that.

Either way, he begins his story about our Teacher with a record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.

In the very first verse, Matthew places two names after Jesus’ - David and Abraham. So, what is Matthew up to? Is he setting up what the rest of his story will prove – Jesus is the Everlasting King promised to David and The Blessing for all mankind promised to Abraham? (Ok, so I read ahead.)

Scanning the list of Jesus’ physical ancestors I notice some pretty colorful characters. Most of the names don’t sound familiar, but their sins sure do. Unfortunately, I can identify with some of their stories related in the Old Testament.

What name underscores for you that Jesus really became one of us?

Of course, the Teacher didn’t make any of the mistakes of His ancestors. Talk about breaking the cycle of addiction, abuse or, well…you fill in the blank. He shattered each and every one of them for each and every one of us! A perfect life to become a perfect sacrifice for our sins!

And why is Jesus the only one truly qualified to be our Life-Teacher? Simple! He became human and did human perfectly. That’s why I want to be his student. He knows me and he knows how to make a better me. One more like Him! And what is more, He keeps me saved throughout what must necessarily be a lifetime process. A better arrangement I cannot imagine.

Come to think of it I made a big mistake when I said I am not related to royalty. In fact, every Christian is because while Jesus had physical ancestors God was His Father. And since Jesus is my brother that must mean we are all Bluebloods in the only way that ultimately impresses – children of the Most High God - born again from above.

(Ok, I know you want to share some famous or infamous ancestor. Go ahead if you have any. I can deal with it. Actually, I’m a little curious. While you’re at it share something about the Teacher from today’s reading. And sorry for posting more material than the verses from Matthew, but hey, he was inspired.)