Friday, March 30, 2012

Pictures from the Passover

Scripture: Matthew 26:17-30
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?"  And He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, 'The Teacher says, "My time is near; I am to keep the Passover at your house with My disciples."'"  The disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover.  Now when evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the twelve disciples.  As they were eating, He said, "Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me."  Being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, "Surely not I, Lord?"  And He answered, "He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me.  "The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born."  And Judas, who was betraying Him, said, "Surely it is not I, Rabbi?" Jesus said to him, "You have said it yourself."  While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body."  And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.  "But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."  After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Insights:  Like a photo album, we have looked at four pictures this week.  We have looked at a picture of service when the disciples prepared the upper room.  We have looked at a picture of entrapment when Judas left to betray Jesus.  We have looked at a picture of sacrifice when Jesus explained the new covenant found in the bread and wine.  We have looked at a picture of exaltation as the disciples and Jesus left singing hymns.  Take a few moments today and reflect on the entire passage.  Think about the beautiful gift of salvation offered to you because of Jesus’ work on the cross.  Praise Him today!

  1. Will You take a few moments and reflect of Jesus gift to you and thank Him for it?
  2. Do you have a grateful heart?                              
Prayer: Jesus, my Savior, thank You!  Thank You for the life You have given to me.  Thank You for rescuing me while I was still Your enemy and hostile towards You.  Thank You for never giving up on me.  Amen.  

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Picture of Exaltation

Scripture: Matthew 26:30
After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Insights:  In reference to today’s verse let me quote George A. Buttrick who wrote, “Psalms 113-114 were sung before the meal of the Passover, and Psalms 115-118 after it.  Look at that last psalm: ‘The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me? . . . Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar. . . . O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.’  It was a song of courage.”  Buttricks stated the psalm sung was a song of courage.  Thinking about what Jesus was about to face, don’t you believe Jesus needed to be reminded God was on His side?  Don’t you think He needed to know that He need not fear man because they cannot do anything without the Lord’s consent?  Don’t you think it was a comfort to His heart to know God’s mercy endures forever?  As much as these thoughts of reflection are enjoyable, it is not my main point for having us read today’s verses.  My primary purpose this morning is to have us think about our personal worship to our Lord God.  They left the Passover meal, as was the custom, singing psalms of praise and worship to God.  As Buttrick stated the Passover started with singing and ended with singing.  Singing is absolutely crucial to the health and wholeness of our Christian life.  Unfortunately, there has been a worship war that has been going on for over twenty years now regarding style of worship.  The sad part about this war is the fact it is so subjective.  In other words, it is like the temperature in a room.  You will never please everyone.  Someone will be cold and another person hot.  When it comes to worship, however, there is only One person with whom our focus ought to be placed—God!  God enjoys the old music and He is pleased with the new music.  When God listens to our praise, He is looking at our hearts.  So, does music preference prevent you from worshipping with your entire being?  God forgive us if we are holding back due to personal preference.  It is vital we recognize our audience is an audience of ONE!  Beloved, let us worship God unobstructed.  Let us praise Him for who He is. Let us thank Him for what He has done.  Let us, with reckless abandon, give God our very best worship.  Let’s adore Him, He is worthy!

  1. Do you actually sing on Sunday mornings or are you one of the frozen chosen?
  2. Do you sing praises to God throughout the week?                              
Prayer: Lord God, thank You that we even get the opportunity to praise You.  You are so deserving of our worship and exaltation.  May You be pleased today as we adore You.  Amen.  

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Picture of Sacrifice

Scripture: Matthew 26:26-29
As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat it; this is My body.”  Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said, “Drink from it, all of you.  For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.  But I tell you, from this moment I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it in a new way in My Father’s kingdom with you.”

Insights:  Everything Jesus touches is changed.  He makes the blind see, the sick well, the dead are given back life, and the Passover becomes known as the Lord’s Supper.  The Passover was the meal eaten the night the death angel came into Egypt and took the life of the firstborn.  The Israelites marked their doorpost with blood and when the angel saw the blood, he passed over that house.  It is from this passing over of the house that the term Passover Meal originated.  The blood for the door post was collected from a sacrificed animal.  Hebrews 9:22 reads, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”  Jesus then takes the meal and transforms it into the prophetic picture of what He is about to do in just a few hours.  He personally will become the sacrifice for the forgiveness of all sins.  He is going to become the Passover Lamb that saves humanity from their sin.  The perfection of God’s mercy is He allows humanity the choice to receive or reject this grace gift.  Just as the Egyptians did not put blood over their doorposts and the death angel took their first born; so today, people hear the message of hope and choose not to receive the covering and face eternal damnation in hell.  1 John 1:7 states, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”  What a picture of sacrifice Jesus portrays in the verses we read today.  May we be gripped by this grace and may our lives truly be transformed by the work of Jesus.  May our lives bring Him praise and glory!

  1. Have you received the free gift of eternal life?
  2. What is holding you back from entering into a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ?
Prayer: Jesus, thank You for Your supreme sacrifice.  Thank You for giving to me salvation and allowing me to enter into a love relationship with You.  Thank You for the joy with which You have filled me.  Thank You for the peace I now know.  Amen.  

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Picture of Entrapment

Scripture: Matthew 26:20-25
When evening came, He was reclining at the table with the Twelve.  While they were eating, He said, “I assure you: One of you will betray Me.”  Deeply distressed, each one began to say to Him, “Surely not I, Lord?”  He replied, “The one who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl—he will betray Me.  The Son of Man will go just as it is written about Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”  Then Judas, His betrayer, replied, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” “You have said it,” He told him.

Insights:  These verses today shock, amaze and stun me.  The shock comes from the fact that a man who has spent three years, with very few breaks, was about to betray the Savior of the world.  The amazement comes from the fact that Jesus was willing to forgive him all the way up to his departure from the room.  Even in these words, “You have said it,” there is a spirit of forgiveness being extended. The stunned state comes from the disciples themselves.  They do not doubt Jesus’ statement that one of them will betray Him, but rather they begin to wonder if each of them is the betrayer.  I think there is a warning in these verses for us as well.  We must always have the humble spirit of the disciples and be willing to say, “Surely not I, Lord?”  In other words, we need to be willing to recognize the deceptive nature of our old sinful heart.  We need to understand that we are capable of betraying our Lord with our sin at any moment.  It is for this reason we need to put as many safeguards in our life as possible.  We need accountability partners.  We need mentors.  We need to have daily quite times.  We need to worship corporately.  All of these things help us remain faithful in our relationship with Christ Jesus.  What is absolutely crucial in our pilgrimage with Jesus is if we do falter and betray our Lord, we need to quickly repent and turn our face toward Him.  We need to allow Him to restore to us the joy of our salvation and strive with even more devotion after holistic union with Jesus.

  1. Does your heart ever betray your relationship with Jesus?
  2. Have you ever wondered how our betrayal affects Jesus?                 
Prayer: O Jesus, Your forgiveness is amazing and overwhelming.  I do not desire to betray my heart regarding my love for You.  Yet, Lord, I know I do.  So, please convict my heart and bring me quickly to repentance and restoration with You.  Amen.  

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Picture of Service

Scripture: Matthew 26:17-19
On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do You want us to prepare the Passover so You may eat it?”  “Go into the city to a certain man,” He said, “and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My time is near; I am celebrating the Passover at your place with My disciples.’”  So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.

Insights:  In General George Patton’s biography, Patton describes the way in which he selected leaders.  He would assign the men a task, a menial task I might add, and then standoff “hidden,” but close enough to hear them.  Patton then describes the complaining and frustration and the attempt at figuring out his motives and so on and so forth through which the soldiers went.  Finally, one soldier would say, “What difference does it make what [he] wants to do with this trench!  Let’s get it dug and get out of here.”  Patton said that man would be the one to get the promotion.  God too is looking for people to whom He can give authority and responsibility.  Like Patton, God gives us assignments and then watches us to see how we respond to Him.  Do we complain or are we obediently faithful?  In today’s verses we read about a picture being painted of disciples preparing the Passover meal for Jesus.  Another gospel tells us it is two disciples.  The point is they take on the responsibility of serving Jesus by getting the upper room set up for Jesus’ final meal on earth.  Obviously, these disciples did not know the significance of that meal at this moment in history.  For them it was just another year of preparing for the Passover.  They, however, took their assignment seriously.  There is another servant mentioned in these verses and that is the man who opens up his property for the meal.  Theologian Alfred Plummer believes this man to be John Mark’s father.  Whoever this man was is irrelevant to the point.  This man also served Jesus in any way the Master saw fit for him to serve.  In this specific case it was to open up his upper room for the disciple to prepare the meal.  Jesus requires us, as His disciples, to have a servant’s heart.  Servants obey!  Servants do not seek glory or praise, they obey!  Servants do not seek popularity or prestige, they obey!  Servants do not seek their will and desires, they obey!  Beloved, let us obey our Master, Jesus!

  1. What kind of heart do you have: one of service or selfishness?
  2. In what ways are you displaying your servant’s heart?                              
Prayer: O God, we live in a very self-centered world, a world in which people often only serve if it benefits them directly.  Father, I pray this kind of attitude is not my own.  I pray You mold me into a true servant and follower of Your Son, Christ Jesus.  Amen.  

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Warning of the Parable

Scripture: Matthew 21:42-46
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This came from the Lord and is wonderful in our eyes?  Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruit. [Whoever falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whoever it falls, it will grind him to powder!]”  When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they knew He was speaking about them.  Although they were looking for a way to arrest Him, they feared the crowds, because they regarded Him as a prophet.

Insights:  Monday, I mentioned an inference was made about God’s desire for us and that we would discuss it later in the week.  The same inference was made in yesterday’s verses.  The nature of the inference is found in today’s verses when it states, “. . . the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruit (italics mine).”  We had, here at Little River Baptist Church, a pastor, Bob Jackson, who was fond of saying, “If getting saved was all God desired of us, then the moment we got saved He would have taken us to heaven.”  The point Reverend Jackson made was our lives are to be more than just receiving salvation.  Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (italics mine).”  Notice after Paul’s famous words on salvation he then moves to the point of God’s will regarding our lives.  We are workman created to do work that God had already prepared for us to do before we even came to know Jesus as our Savior.  There is a warning for us today in our verses.  Let me quote the key phrase again, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruit (italics mine).”  The Jews were supposed to reach out to those who did not know God and they refused to do it.  As a result, God removed His hand of favor from them and gave it to the gentiles.  I fear the modern day church, with its lack of zeal for the lost, are endanger of having the hand of God’s favor removed from us.  Let us, Beloved, bear fruit and bring God glory.

  1. How well do you receive the warning of Christ Jesus?
  2. Is your life bearing fruit?                              
Prayer: O Lord, I desire to be an obedient servant.  The early church prayed regularly for boldness of faith.  Lord, grant me such boldness.  Amen.  

Thursday, March 22, 2012

God's Judgment on the Wicked

Scripture: Matthew 21:40-41
Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?”  They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.”

Insights:  I want us to focus on the first part of these verses today: God as a righteous judge.  The psalmist cries out, “Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding so that I can learn Your commands.  Those who fear You will see me and rejoice, for I put my hope in Your word.  I know, Lord, that Your judgments are just and that You have afflicted me fairly.  May Your faithful love comfort me as You promised Your servant.  May Your compassion come to me so that I may live, for Your instruction is my delight (119:73-77, italics mine).”  The psalmist knows God is a relational God and the best way to know God is to spend time with Him in His Word.  It is for this reason he calls God’s instructions his delight.  The psalmist also understands the fear of the Lord and it is for this reason he puts his hope in God’s promises which are found in His Word.  There are two eternal judgments and everyone is going to face one of them.  The first is for Believers and is known as the Bema seat of Christ.  1 Corinthians 3:10-15 deal with this subject matter.  The second is for the Condemned and is known as the Great White Throne Judgment.  Revelation 20:11-15 deal with this subject matter.  It is my opinion that these farmers fell into the later judgment because the parable tells us that God will bring those wretches to a wretched end.  That wretched end is eternal damnation in the lake of fire, otherwise known as hell.  This damnation is known as the second death and is always in reference to those who do not have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.  I think the part of this parable that is the most shocking is that verse 41 is the crowd giving the correct response back to Jesus regarding themselves.  In other words, we know from verse 45, which we will look at tomorrow, that the religious leaders were there in midst of this crowd and more than likely the ones giving the answer back to Jesus.  They recognized their eternal direction and did nothing about it.  As such, they prove God’s judgments are just and fair.  Jesus is giving them opportunity to repent and they reject His offer of grace.  How incredibly sad!

  1. Do you have a proper biblical fear of the Lord and His power?
  2. Are you living an obedient life?                              
Prayer: Righteous Judge, Your ways are perfect and Your judgments are always right.  Purify my heart and mold me into the person You desire.  Protect me from wickedness and be merciful I pray.  Amen.  

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Scandal of the Parable

Scripture: Matthew 21:35-39
But the farmers took his slaves, beat one, killed another, and stoned a third.  Again, he sent other slaves, more than the first group, and they did the same to them.  Finally, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. “But when the tenant farmers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance!’  So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

Insights:  I mentioned Monday how in a parable the characters represent someone or something.  We have already learned the landowner is God.  In today’s verses we get a fuller picture of who the farmers, or renters of the land, are.  We also learn who the slaves are and are introduced to the son of the landowner.  The farmers are representative of both the priests and Pharisees of the past as well as those present at Jesus’ teaching of this parable.  The slaves are the prophets of the Old Testament and would also include John the Baptist.  Finally, the son of the landowner is the Son, Jesus Christ.  These verses display the tragedy of the lost community.  In other words, God, Who has been at work in the world the entire time, has lavishly displayed His grace to His creation.  The majority of humanity has spurned this love gift and has exhibited hostility toward God.  In fact, the religious leaders of the past have literally put to death the servants of God who proclaimed the message of hope to the people.  God the Father, however, never gives up.  From the foundations of the earth, God knew His ultimate plan for redemption was to send His Son to be the penal-substitutionary atonement needed to reconcile a condemned world to Himself.  The scandalous revulsion of God’s Son’s death was the people rejected this merciful gift of grace.  Jesus bore our punishment.  He took our shame.  The Christ felt the rejection.  He endured the wrath.  We today have the same options these first century hearers of the parable had.  We can reject and spurn this amazing grace or we can humble ourselves and receive what Has been offered.  In other words, we can receive Jesus as our Savior or we can reject Him.  Obviously, these farmers in today’s verses rejected the gift.  What will you do?

  1. How have you responded to God’s grace?
  2. Have you rejected God’s grace?
Prayer: Compassionate Father, forgive me for taking Your gift of grace for granted.  Help me to fully understand the cost You paid to bring about my salvation.  Let my life honor You and bring You the glory You so richly deserve.  Amen.  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

God Invites Us to Join Him in His Work

Scripture: Matthew 21:33g-34
He leased it to tenant farmers and went away.  When the grape harvest drew near, he sent his slaves to the farmers to collect his fruit.

Insights:  Yesterday we observed that God is always at work in the world.  Today we are going to recognize another Henry Blackaby point from Experiencing God.  That aspect is God invites us to join Him in His work.  In today’s verses notice the landowner, who is God, leases out the vineyard to be farmed.  In a nut shell this rental agreement is like God inviting humanity to join Him in His mission.  We will touch more on this point later in the week, but notice the landowner’s expectations are already present in today’s verses.  God, the landowner, expects the vines to bear fruit.  How do we recognize God’s work in the world?  Well, we do it by getting to know Him.  The better we know God the better equipped we will be to recognize His activity.  We get to know God by spending time with Him and specifically in His word, the Bible, and prayer.  Other venues we utilize to know God better is worship services and small group Bible studies.  Let me use one example to drive this point home.  Imagine you are at work and a coworker starts talking about spiritual things.  Now, you know this coworker does not attend church and by all evidence his/her fruit does not bear witness to God in his/her life.  Yet, as I stated earlier, they begin talking about spiritual things.  This moment IS your invitation from God to join Him in His work.  Why do we know this to be true?  Because God is drawing on his/her heart right that moment.  The Bible tells us, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”  This verse is found in John 6:44 and it is Jesus talking about how God draws people to Him.  Notice that no one comes to Jesus unless God draws on his/her heart.  So, if your coworker is asking spiritual questions, you know that God is doing a drawing work on his/her heart.  It is now your responsibility to recognize what God is doing and join Him in His work.  One last thought, God never contradicts Scripture.  The more you read the Bible, the better equipped you are to recognize God’s activity.  Strive to know God and then obey Him by joining Him in His work.

  1. Have you observed where God is working in the proximity of your life?
  2. Have you resolved to join Him in His work?
Prayer: Lord, You are Lord!  I desire to be an obedient servant of Your will.  Open my eyes and help me to be sensitive to Your work.  Amen.  

Monday, March 19, 2012

God is at Work in the World

Scripture: Matthew 21:33a-f
“Listen to another parable: There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower.

Insights:  It would not take someone very long to read these blogs or listen to me preach and teach to recognize that Henry Blackaby has had a major impact on my life.  I mention him because the point I want you to gather this morning is straight from his material Experiencing God.  If you have never gone through that material, please take this admonishment to do so seriously.  Blackaby has a picture diagram of the cycle of co-laboring unity between God and His children.  The very first point in that diagram is God is always at work.  In today’s verses we read the beginning of the parable and we have a man who is a landowner.  Now in a parable what we have are parts which represent other parts.  In this case the landowner is God the Father.  I want you to notice that God is working in the world.  He planted the vineyard.  He put a fence around the vineyard.  He dug a winepress and He built a watchtower.  God did not just wind up creation like a clock and let it go.  He is actively involved in the world.  He orchestrates events in such a fashion to bring about glory for Himself.  It is important to recognize God’s activity because it is in our recognition we are able to understand He is inviting us to join Him in His work (we will talk more about this aspect tomorrow).  Another thing to keep in mind about God’s involvement in the world is that no other god is like our God.  For example, Allah is too self-absorbed to even consider the activities of mankind.  He does nothing to let his followers know he desires a relationship with them.  The reason he does nothing relational with his followers is because he is not concerned about them.  Our God, on the other hand, is very much working, displaying and drawing humanity to Himself.  He is a relational God who wants to redeem a people for Himself.  Open your eyes, Beloved, and observe God’s activity in your world.

  1. Are you spiritually sensitive to recognize God’s work which is going on around you?
  2. Do you actively thank God for His involvement in your world? 
Prayer: Mighty God, thank You that You are always at work in the world.  Increase my faith and help me to recognize Your activity and then increase my courage to join You.  Amen.  

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Favor of Forgiven Worshippers, Part 2

Scripture: Mark 11:15-18
And they come to Jerusalem: and he entered into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and them that bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold the doves; and he would not suffer that any man should carry a vessel through the temple.  And he taught, and said unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? but ye have made it a den of robbers.  And the chief priests and the scribes heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, for all the multitude was astonished at his teaching.

Insights:  Today is the final piece to make this big picture clear.  It is my opinion that the reason Jesus was so frustrated and cleared the gentile court of money-changers was because these Jewish people had bought into an erroneous idea that the gospel was for “us four and no more.”  The only place a Gentile could go and worship God was in the gentile court, but because of all the traffic and commercialization going on, people could not encounter God.  God is a relational God.  We have already communicated clearly this week that God is passionate about prayer because it is the communication line between us and Him.  The Old Testament is peppered with passages like Psalm 86:8-10, “There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.  All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.  For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.”  David is actually being evangelistic at heart when he is declaring to the Gentile world that there is no god like God.  He is further expressing this evangelist nature when he declares that ALL the nations are going to worship God.  So, we have to ask ourselves questions about our churches and our personal lives.  Have we become just like the first century Jewish community?  Would a lost person feel welcomed in our worship services?  Would they think there was room for them in our community?  Have we catered so much to our wants and desires that we have grown cold toward the lost?  Jesus was absolutely committed to bursting through religious paradigms that hindered the proclamation of hope and life to dying people.  He cleared a temple court and brought people to the Father in order for relationships to be established.  What are we doing in comparison?

  1. Do you regularly pray for lost people specifically?
  2. Do you actively ask God to give you opportunities to share the gospel?
Prayer: Father, Your heart is for the lost.  Mold my heart to be one like Yours and give me the courage and boldness to proclaim the eternal hope found only in Your Son Jesus.  Amen.  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Favor of Forgiven Worshippers, Part 1

Scripture: Mark 11:15-18
And they come to Jerusalem: and he entered into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and them that bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold the doves; and he would not suffer that any man should carry a vessel through the temple.  And he taught, and said unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? but ye have made it a den of robbers.  And the chief priests and the scribes heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, for all the multitude was astonished at his teaching.

Insights:  So far this week we have broken down each element of this passage and looked at them separately and know what each does.  Now, like backing a camera picture further back, we are going to see the big picture.  To help us do that we are going to look at the temple geographically today and tomorrow see how this fits into the final piece of the big picture.  The temple mound is on the east side of Jerusalem.  Its east wall is one of the cities exterior walls.  For all practical purposes the temple mound lays north and south and is rectangular in shape.  There are multiple gate entrances into the temple mound and one would have to travel through the court of the gentiles to get to the actual temple.  This gentile court went all around the temple.  The temple itself was located in the center of the temple mound and it faced east and west.  It is also rectangular in shape.  Typically one wound enter the temple mound through the southern gates and go through the money-changers located in the gentile court.  As they were heading to the temple itself, they would move toward the eastern side of the temple mound and enter the temple from the east.  The first court one would walk into would be the court of women, then the court of men, then the court of priests, then the holy place and finally the holy of holies.  The court of the gentiles is a very open area (minus all of the money-changers) and people would often use the temple mound as a cut through from one part of the city to another because it would be faster than working oneself through the city proper.  The court of the gentiles was full of animals to help worship be more efficient.  Everything about this layout points to speed, not relationship.  The people were in too big of a hurry to worship God.

  1. Are you ever in too much of a hurry to worship properly?
  2. Do you ever attempt to be more efficient than effective? 
Prayer: Father, You tell us to be still and know You are God.  Help my heart to know its need for worship and slow down.  Amen.  

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Fear of Faithless Worshippers

Scripture: Mark 11:18
And the chief priests and the scribes heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, for all the multitude was astonished at his teaching.

Insights:  The priests and scribes had turned worship into a manipulative tool in which they controlled people.  Worship for them was no longer about God and His creation, but about their power over God’s creation.  In Matthew’s gospel of this account there is a verse before the above verse of Mark 11:18.  In Matthew’s account he tells us after Jesus cleared the money-changers out the people began coming to Jesus with the sick and infirmed (both physically and spiritually) and Jesus healed them.  People were doing exactly what they were created to do, and that was, going to Jesus.  So, if these individuals were going to Jesus, then who were they not going to?  The priests and scribes—the religious leaders.  Instead of recognizing Jesus as the Messiah and worshipping Him themselves, all they saw was a man taking “their flock” away from them.  After Jesus cleansed the temple courts and the desperate were healed, our verse today tells us these religious leaders were afraid of Jesus.  At this point I am not certain they were afraid of Jesus because He was the Son of God, but rather because He was growing in popularity and influence.  Their fear was Jesus taking their authority, power, money and lifestyle away when the people began to follow Him and not them.  Fear has an amazing way of clouding our vision.  Fear prevents us from seeing our situations clearly.  Fear can be manifest from many different sources.  For these religious leaders the source was their fear of losing power.  For us, our fear could be the loss of a loved one.  It might even be a fear of financial ruin.  Possibly our fear is success itself.  Whatever the fear happens to be is irrelevant.  What matters are they way fear cripples us from seeing Jesus properly.  Fear interferes with our worship.  It is important to remember 1 John 4:8b, “God is love.”  Coupled with that verse is 1 John 4:18a, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”  The point is if we embrace Jesus, like those who were coming to Him for healing, then our fears will be demolished and our worship will not be hindered.  We do not have to live a life of fear as these priests and scribes were.  We can celebrate and worship God freely and unashamedly and bring Him glory.  Let’s not allow fear to hinder our worship of the One deserving of our worship!

  1. What are your fears that hinder your love for God?
  2. Are you trapped in a self-destructive habit because of those fears? 
Prayer: Merciful Father, You are love and the Scriptures tell us perfect love cast out all fear.  Transform my life from one of fear to one of worship.  Amen.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Fervor of Focused Worshippers

Scripture: Mark 11:17
And he taught, and said unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? but ye have made it a den of robbers.

Insights:  Yesterday we learned there were very religious people who were selling doves and so forth in the temple, but their hearts were far from God.  Jesus, then stated in today’s verses that His passion was for a relationship between creation and Creator.  You might be saying to yourself, “Jesus did not say anything about a relationship between creation and Creator.”  Yet that was exactly what Jesus was describing when He declared that God’s house was to be a house of PRAYER for all nations.  Prayer is nothing more than communication with God.  Communication is the very basic element needed in order to have a relationship.  If we do not interact with someone, we have no way of knowing who they really are.  And I believe that may be the very heart of the problem of the modern church.  I think we have a lot of religious people, people like in yesterday’s verses, in our churches, but these very same people really do not know who God is and what He is like.  God wants to let them know who He is and what He is like, but they are unwilling to stop an engage Him in conversation.  Notice that I used the word passion to describe Jesus’ desire for communion with His creation.  Think about it just for a moment.  He single handedly disrupted the market place of buying and selling.  He overturned the money changer’s tables.  He was driven to remove any obstacle that might hinder a person from praying to the Father.  It is absolutely fundamental for us to daily fight for our time alone with God.  Our relationship with God is something that can so easily get pushed out and before we realize it, weeks, months, and possibly years go by before we recognize that we have not spoken to the Father.  What a tragic thought that we so easily dismiss the presence of God in our lives.  Beloved, fight!  Fight with passion for your time with God.  Do not let anything distract you from the relationship that Jesus so passionately desires to have with you.  Make the Lord literally your first thought of the day and your last thought at night and all throughout the day; speak with Him for His guidance and love.  You will be amazed at the adventure God will take you on if you live with this kind of love for Him.

  1. How regularly do you pray?
  2. Do you passionately guard your time alone with God?
Prayer: Loving Father, forgive me for taking You for granted so often.  Increase my love for You and let my desire for quality time with You grow.  May our communication together be sweet and refreshing.  Amen.  

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Fixation of False Worshippers

Scripture: Mark 11:15-16
And they come to Jerusalem: and he entered into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and them that bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold the doves; and he would not suffer that any man should carry a vessel through the temple.

Insights:  For a season we are moving away from our subject of unity within the body of Christ and beginning to focus our attention on the Passion of Jesus, otherwise known as, Easter.  Jesus knows it is His final week on earth.  And just like you would, if you knew it was your final week, He wants to share with His disciples the most important truths He has to give.  So, we are going to look over these next several weeks at some of Jesus’ final teachings.  Today we read in these verses just following His triumphal entry (even though in another gospel the indication is this occurred on Monday) that Jesus entered the temple and began overturning the tables and herding out the animals.  Later on in the week we are going to understand the importance of this in more vivid detail, but for today, what I want you to recognize is the erroneous fixation these “servants” of the temple had.  Their story is that they were providing a much needed service for those coming to offer sacrifices at the temple.  Never mind they were gouging people with exorbitant prices.  These money-changers were allowing their greed for financial gain to distract their hearts from true worship, which was the purpose of the temple.  This line of reasoning naturally takes us to the question regarding ourselves.  In our modern day worship centers, what things distract us from genuine worship?  Remember, these money-changers were very religious people.  The Scribes and Pharisees supported and even endorsed these people, but their hearts were far from God.  Do we ever allow our “jobs” at church to take more of a precedent than God Himself?  Are we ever clock watchers and lunch contemplators instead of authentic worshippers?  Are we ever judge and jury as to the format, style and programming of the church instead of humbling ourselves before a mighty God?  All of us are guilty from time to time regarding distractions in worship.  The problem becomes invasive when these distractions become the dominant pattern of our worship and not the exception.  Let us strive to allow nothing to hinder our worship of the One True God.  Let’s give Him the praise and glory He rightly deserves.

  1. On what is your heart fixed during worship?
  2. What do you think you need to do in order to have your heart fixed on God during worship? 
Prayer: Lord, there are so many distractions in my life.  Forgive me when they take Your place.  Let Your Spirit wash over me and let my heart be completely fixed on You.  Amen.  

Friday, March 9, 2012

Members Become Withdrawn

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 14:33
for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

Insights:  This week we have investigated a church that has been fussing and feuding over the use of spiritual gifts, they have been sewing each other in the court system, they have gotten upset with the pastor and stopped giving financially to the church, they dislike what people are or are not wearing to church, they don’t like the food some people are bringing to the potlucks, and we could go on and on.  Now do you think all of this fussing and feuding is going to promote confusion or peace?  I believe the answer is quite clear, it will cause confusion.  Would you like to attend a church like Corinth?  This question is really at the heart of the fifth telltale sign of a church in the midst of a “cold war.”  The fifth sign is that people start to physically withdraw from a church.  For many of these families they begin attending other churches. Still for many families they just drop out of church completely.  The sad part is the church caught up in this “cold war” is then hindered even more and the confusion compounds even greater.  A downward spiral begins to envelop the body and the “cold war” escalates.  The beauty, however, is this cycle does not have to continue.  In chapter four and fifteen Paul gives the answer to peace within the body.  This peace has two parts.  One, we focus on the power of the transforming resurrection we presently experience and dwell on the future hope of glory that our resurrection gives to us.  Two, as a result of turning our eyes toward glory instead of focusing on the “cold war,” we are now able to serve the body of Christ out of love.  When we are experiencing the power of the resurrection and serving out of love, do you think peace or confusion will be the bi-product?  Once again, I think the answer is clear.  Peace within the body will be the end result.  So, Beloved, look to our hope of glory and lovingly serve and let’s watch God bring about an amazing restoration to our churches.

  1. Are you contemplating throwing the towel in and leaving the local church?
  2. Have you decided to stop striving for peace and succumb to the confusion of disunity?
Prayer: Father, how I long for peace and unity within the body of Christ.  Mature us, Your children, with Your grace and let us experience peace and unity among ourselves.  Amen.  

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Certain Members Find it Difficult to Say Anything Positive About Some People or Church Programs

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 14:33
for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

Insights:  Some people have a natural bent toward negativity.  They never see the positive of a situation.  They can usually never even tell you how the situation needs to be fixed.  All they know is they don’t like.  Now there are times, they do give an answer as to how and fix a problem, and it usually has something to do with going back to the way things were.  Some other people, however, do not have a natural bent toward negativity, but their pain clouds their vision toward people and programs to such an extent that they are not capable of seeing the positive aspects of those groups.  In fact, they will begin to go overboard and start inventing things they don’t like about that person or program.  It was no different in Corinth.  Their dysfunction went so great that in chapter eleven we see them getting upset over the attire people were or were not wearing to church.  In chapter eight they a frustrated over the food people are bringing to the potluck dinner.  In this fourteenth chapter they are not pleased with all these people using their gift mix.  Now, in the picture of all eternity does our clothing preference or eating desires really matter?  Not really, but what happens in the life of a church in the midst of a “cold war” is they will focus on anything and everything but what really matters, the Gospel!  We will fuss over carpet.  We will fuss over the greeting time.  We will fuss over the color of the paint.  But we will under no circumstance go and share the love of Jesus with a lost and dying person.  A church in conflict will only see the negative, but Paul admonishes us in Philippians 4:8 to think about these things.  What things are those, well, let’s read Paul’s words, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  Beloved, think as God would have you think.  Focus your attention on what He is doing and the good He is accomplishing and forsake this negative attitude.

  1. What is your natural bent toward, being positive or being negative?
  2. Are you willing to start small and begin looking for at least one positive aspect in the person with whom you are in conflict?
Prayer: Father, I know that no child of Yours is as evil as I might think they are and I am not as good as I might believe I am.  So, Lord, move within my heart and give me the proper perspective by which to evaluate this life.  Give me Your sight and help me to see with love the positive aspects of other peoples lives.  Amen.  

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Some Members Give the Pastor, Staff or Other Members the "Cold Shoulder" Treatment

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 14:33
for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

Insights:  Another example of the disunity found among the Corinthian believers is located in chapter nine.  Again, we do not have to image very hard to realize that some people have stopped supporting the ministry of Paul and are withholding their financial approval.  People’s pocket books, more often than not, speak loudly to a person’s values, beliefs, and desires.  If someone does not support the same things you do, you are more likely to hold back your giving and be reserved around such an individual.  Now, this is not the same as yesterday’s point about not speaking with someone.  No, this reserved attitude is often times described as the “cold shoulder” treatment.  We have all experienced this at some point or another in our lives.  A person is giving us the “cold shoulder” and as their words come out we feel the ice sickles forming on our eye lashes.  They often times share their disapproval of our lives and our choices, but they don’t do it from the vantage point of love’s warm glow.  Rather, they rebuff us with the cold chill of judgment.  A church that has that kind of atmosphere is going to be stiff and formal.  What do you think that kind of energy will do to a person visiting a church of that nature?  Do you think they will feel loved and welcomed?  Or will they feel cold and not well received?  A visitor may not even be able to tell you what the problem is, but they will know that one exists.  If a lost person came into that kind of atmosphere, do you think they would want the hope we have to offer them?  Would you personally want to be a part of that kind of body?  Believed of the Lord, it is for this reason we must strive for unity.  We must strive to forgive each other and work toward peace and love.  Do not let our “cold shoulder” treatments cause confusion to a lost and dying world that is heading to hell.  We need to model and display the forgiving love of Jesus and proclaim His hope and let Him bring ultimate peace into their lives as well as our own.  Let God be glorified in our unity.

  1. Are you giving people the “cold shoulder” treatment?
  2. Are you withholding your tithes and offerings because of disagreements? 
Prayer: Father, You have called Your children to be one.  Do not let me be an instrument that causes people to feel as if I am giving them the “cold shoulder.”  Let my life exhibit the warmth of love and joy.  Amen.  

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Some Members Barely Speak to Certain Other Members

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 14:33
for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

Insights:  Yesterday I mentioned that chapters five through fourteen are full of examples of disunity found within the church of Corinth.  In chapter six we find that some of these church members were in a legal battle against other church members.  As with yesterday’s telltale sign of a church in “cold war,” it does not take much of an imagination to realize these people were not speaking with each other.  In modern day court situations opposing sides maybe instructed by the court to not even have contact with each other.  The situations maybe come so adverse that an intermediary may be called on to help work through the conflict.  Opposing council may in fact become the voice for their clients and this often times just to prevent each side from speaking with each other.  Now it is doubtful that we have people sewing each other within our churches today.  The refusal to speak, however, is very much alive and well.  There are church members in various bodies of Christ that have refused to converse civilly with each other for years.  What do you think that kind of heart attitude does to the freedom of the Spirit of God within a body of believers?  In 1 Thessalonians 5:19 Paul instructs us not to quench the Holy Spirit.  When we refuse to forgive our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are indeed quenching the Holy Spirit.  This attitude will perpetuate the “cold war” syndrome we have been discussing.  Unity of the body will be affected.  Evangelism will be affected.  Encouragement will be affected.  When believers stop speaking with each other and even possibly avoid each other the body is adversary hindered.  Beloved, reconcile with your family and let us dwell in the peace of God.

  1. Are there people with whom you refuse to speak?
  2. Do you even go so far as to orchestrate your path so you don’t even have to come in contact with them?
Prayer: Father, help me heart to be one that longs with the affection of Jesus for these people that I have so often avoided.  Amen.  

Monday, March 5, 2012

Church Members Basically Retreat To Common Corners

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 14:33
for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

Insights:  This week I preached a very unusual sermon from my normal style.  I did an overview of the entire book of 1 Corinthians as it dealt with the subject matter of “Cold War Congregations.”  Corinth was one of the most dysfunctional churches of the first century.  Paul starts chapter one with an appeal for unity and chapters five through fourteen are full of examples of this disunity.  After giving the summary I tied it into the five telltale signs of a church experiencing a “Cold War”.  In chapter fourteen you have this disagreement and chaos showing up in Corinth over the subject of speaking in tongues.  It does not take much sanctified imagination to picture two differing camps at this church forming over this hotly debated topic.  One group wants to speak in tongues every chance they get.  The other group does not speak in tongues and does not understand what is being said.  Frustrations begin to arise and disunity is the fallout.  You can quickly imagine how this church began to form little cliques regarding this issue.  The result, they would come to church and fuss, bicker and fight.  They would then leave and confer with their corner (like in a boxing match) and get patched up and ready for the next round in the worship war.  The bell would ring and they would go back to church and fight it out again.  This vicious kind of cycle could potentially go on and on.  Churches today do the exact same thing.  The issue may not be speaking in tongues, but an issue none the less will arise and the fighting begins.  More often than not these issues have no real kingdom impact.  These factions normally form over something trival like whether we ought to have a “greating time” in the worship service or not.  If a church begins forming up these kinds of lines, then they may very well be in a “Cold War”.  The verse we are going to read all week does not condone wars of this nature which cause confusion.  Rather, we ought to strive for peace with each other, especially over issues regarding desire or preference.  Beloved, let us learn to love in the midst of our differences.

  1. Do you ever associate with other people who think differently than you?
  2. In what ways can you be a bridge builder and help others associate with people of differing opinions? 
Prayer: Father, You are a vast and creative God.  One who loves variety and beauty.  You work in the life of humanity and bring us together.  Lord, help me to strive for unity with those who differ with me in opinion. Amen.  

Friday, March 2, 2012

Strife Over Peace

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 3:3
for you are still fleshly.  For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?

Insights:  I titled the sermon Sunday, Personality and Politics Over God and Kingdom.  I got that title from Gregory Frizzell and it was in relation to this quote, “There is a tendency for some members to be against decisions simply because they oppose the pastor or committee that recommended them. . . . they perceive key church leadership is for it so they are automatically against it.  In essence, people with an angry, bitter spirit are opposed simply because the pastor or certain committees are for it.  While they may ‘say’ they have reasons for opposition, the truth is they just don’t like who proposed the course of action.  If someone they supported had proposed the action, they would have been all for it.”  Frizzell’s words are pointing to the very nature of jealousy and strife Paul is mentioning to the Corinthian church.  So let me try to put everything from this week into perspective.  The reason many churches are disunified is because they are full of strife and jealousy.  The reason they are full of these dissentions is because they are choosing personalities and politics over God and His kingdom.  The root cause for their wrong allegiance is because they are still drinking spiritual milk instead of spiritual meat.  The reason they are still drinking spiritual milk is because they are infants in Christ and not mature spiritual men.  So, because they are spiritual babies, they strive after the things they want and not the things God commands.  The cycle then starts over.  There is, however, hope!  We don’t have to remain in this vicious loop.  We can go to the Father and ask Him to work on our hearts.  We can ask Him to give us a hunger for His word.  The Psalmist tells us to “taste and see that the Lord is good (34:8)!”  God will answer this kind of prayer.  It is in the heart of God for His children to know Him and the fullness of His grace.  Paul instructs Timothy to “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).”  Solomon tells us “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out (Prov. 25:2).”  Beloved, search out the things of God and allow Him to mature you as you eat of His spiritual food.  It will result in unity and peace, not strife.

  1. With whom did you give allegiance, people or God?
  2. What steps are you taking to mature and be feed by spiritual meat so that your allegiance is with God? 
Prayer: Lord, open my heart to peace and bring unity between me and those with whom I live in strife or jealousy.  Amen.  

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Milk Over Meat: The Mature Christian's Service

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 3:2
I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it.  Indeed, even now you are not yet able,

Insights:  The third characteristic that defines a mature Christian who eats meat is SERVICE.  There are a few times in the gospel where Jesus over hears His disciples talking about which one of them is going to be the greatest in Jesus’ newly formed kingdom.  One day Jesus stopped and said these words to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all (Mk. 9:35).” In fact, Jesus went so far to engrain this truth into His disciples that on His last night he put on the servants towel and washed their feet.  The apostle Paul wrote, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another (Gal. 5:13).”  We have the freedom to obey God or the flesh.  Paul tells us to obey God and the way we display that obedience is in service.  Jesus is so profoundly set on this concept of service and obedience that He equates it with love.  He said in His final teaching to His disciples before His death, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments (John 14:15).”  But just like yesterdays thoughts on love, today’s thoughts on service are the same.  It is not always easy to serve those that act like they don’t want to be served.  It is hard to serve those who are different from us.  You know the types of people I am talking about, those that smell differently than we do, those whose income is less than ours, those whose lifestyles are subject to suspicion, and those whose ethnicity is not the same as ours.  But what does Jesus say, “Serve!”  Jesus is using those difficult situations and purging us of our old selfish and sinful nature.  He is maturing us and turning us into meat eaters.  The more we serve the more deeply we are able to receive the rich truths God wishes to dispense into our lives.  Let me draw today’s devotional to a close with a short quote from Gregory Frizzell.  He wrote, “We cannot truly walk with Christ and take the easy way out.”  Beloved, let us take the hard straight road and follow after Jesus with a servants heart.

  1. In what arena are you serving the Lord?
  2. How much effort are you relinquishing to the Lord’s will?
Prayer: O God, Your are Master and Lord.  Your will is all that truly matters.  Forgive my heart which is so often wayward and so frequently fails to obey You.  Continue to purge my life of self and bring me to the place of humility so that I may serve You freely and wholly with great joy.  Amen.