Matthew 16:13-18 – He cares what you think

Matthew 16:13-18 – He cares what you think

“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.'”
– Matthew 16:13-18ESV

Here in Colorado, we’re pretty proud of our sports nation. Each season brings fans rolling out their color-combos depending on which major sports team is currently duking it out in the stadiums. Did you know we have a national AND major league lacross team? Yep! The Mammoth and the Outlaws! We can even get pretty passionate about our minor-league sports.

But there’s another competition that is sacred to many Coloradans: the Rocky Mountain Showdown. This is the rival game between the two major state schools in Colorado: the Colorado State University Rams and the University of Colorado Buffalo. Hailing from different championships, they meet for one rabid game a year, often at Mile High Stadium, home of the Denver Broncos.

At once such showdown, I attended with a large group of friends. As we were passing through the gates, each one of us had shoved into our hands some sort of paper advertising. I didn’t want it, but there was not a chance of beating my way back upstream to hand the paper back. So, at the next trashcan I saw, I quickly shoved it in (comeon, they didn’t have paper recycling at the stadium at the time). Almost immediately, I heard someone shout from behind, “Hey you! In the cowboy hat! Al Gore hates you!” Considering I was currently wearing the aforementioned hat, it was clear where the words were directed. For those wondering, this was shortly after Al Gore had released his controversial film An Inconvenient Truth on global warming.

I was devastated.

In this case, by devastated I mean laughing out loud. I can’t imagine caring less about what a complete stranger, wholly unconnected with me or my life, thinks of me. I still tell that story with laughter today.

And that’s just the thing. What a total stranger thinks of me meant nothing. But if someone I love were to hate me…well that would be something else. That would be something devastating…life defining…impossible to get over. To look a dear friend, loved family member in the eye…and to be told they hate me… That is no laughing matter.

So when Matthew records in chapter 16, verses 12-18 that Jesus is interested in what the disciples think of Him, we should sit up and pay attention. Remember, this is the same Jesus who, “was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:2-5ESV). All creation was made through Jesus. His words spiraled out the galaxies, ignited stars, covered the earth with land and water, sprouted flowers, spawned the creatures of the deep and the birds of the air, and scattered life across the earth. And in His arms was gathered the frame of man, into which He breathed His own life. The same life He would sacrifice on the cross, stained with our sin.

You see, this Creator God also calls us “child” throughout the Bible. This Creator God names us inheritors of all He has made. This Creator God granted us His authority to work on earth in His name.

And this God cares what we think of Him..the beings He wove from dirt.

In fact… letting us know Him for Who He really is…that’s everything to Him. To that end He has dedicated His every act in our world, from the very beginning.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” – 1 John 3:1NIV

  1. Think of the people you love the most. What would it be like to discover they actually hated you?
  2. How does it impact your perspective to think about this all-powerful Jesus caring what you think of Him?
  3. Knowing how much Jesus cares about what we think about Him, how do you think it impacts Him to see people lose faith in Him or not believe in Him?
  4. Challenge for the Week: We have a lot of ideas about who Jesus is, and not all of them are actually based in the Bible! Commit to reading through the entire book of John over the month of February and March. Make note of all the things you can know about Jesus from this Gospel account.
Matthew 26:36-42 – Jesus gets you

Matthew 26:36-42 – Jesus gets you

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter. ‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.'”
– Matthew 26:36-42NIV

One of the things that perplexed me as a child was that Jesus went through the big deal of living a life on earth, going through all the betrayal and pain of the cross, rising from the dead…just to save us. Not that I thought saving us wasn’t a big deal, but why did God do it that way? He’s the All-Powerful One, right? Couldn’t he just wave His God-hand and obliterate our sin, then make sure someone told us we were forgiven? It would still have been a free gift to which we could respond in faith. He’d still get to bring us healing and the opportunity to be with Him always. Win-win, right?

As an adult…I get it. It’s not for any profound theologically-discerned reason based on an understanding of God’s adherence to justice because of His wholly-just nature. This reason is certainly true…but there’s a reason that hits right into my heart far more than a highly rational explanation like that.

Jesus’ life proves He gets me.

Jesus’ suffering proves He knows me.

You see…as an adult, I have come to understand Jesus’ words in the depths of my soul:

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”
(Matthew 26:38NIV)

Have you ever cried until your were screaming? Have you ever felt like the world was spiraling into an inescapable dark hole beneath your feet? Have you ever looked at your future and saw…nothing? Have you ever faced a moment where you knew the next moment would determine whether you’d ever be able to truly live again? Have you ever roamed the darkness of night in silent desperation and found no hope or comfort at all?

The worst night of my life was the first night in the hospital after my husband unexpectedly collapsed at work and nearly died in the ER. We didn’t know what was wrong with him, yet. We didn’t know if we had a future together. We didn’t know what the next day would be like. We just knew other people’s blood was keeping him alive. We would find out three days later he had leukemia…that we were in a fight for his life.

He was asleep in his hospital bed. I couldn’t hold him…I couldn’t sleep. Everyone I knew was asleep. I was alone.

And that’s why Jesus took the path to the cross.

Because when I read His words in Gethsemane on the eve of His death…I know He understands what it’s like to be me. My God knows me. He has lived through what I am living through. So when the author of Hebrews wrote in Hebrews 4:15, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses”… I know it’s true. I know Jesus’ heart is with me on this road we’re walking.

And if it’s true for us…it’s true for you.

  • “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Describe a time when that was true for you.
  • How did you endure through that experience?
  • How does it impact you to realize Jesus has felt the same as you?
  • Challenge for the week: We all know someone whose soul is in the same situation as Jesus described. Do something small to let them know they are not forgotten.
Ephesians 1:15-20 – What is truth?

Ephesians 1:15-20 – What is truth?

“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” – Ephesians 1:15-20ESV

Truth…how can we even know it in our world? Since the revelation of how prevalent and deep-running “fake news” is, every time I read an article or watch a snippet of news…I feel the worm of doubt eating its way through the back of my mind, unless the news report is on rescued kittens or the latest outfit a female royal wore to a high-profile event. It’s gotten to the point where, unless I actually read the transcript of the entire conversation being reported on, I nearly wholly doubt the truth of what is being reported. The biases are so obvious, even in the most respected sources of world news…how can I even know for sure what is really happening unless I witness it myself? I find myself asking:

“What is true?”

And in so doing, I echo the question an incredulous Pontius Pilate posited to Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38ESV). Ironically enough, in a world where we celebrate “You do you” truth, where truth’s parameters are defined subjectively by the individual without any necessary application to anyone else… we hunger for somewhere strong to stand. We want the things we believe in to not just be our arbitrary stances but to have good reasons for us to believe them. We want to know we are doing well, even if we don’t agree what that looks like. We want our lives to have meaning, not just a chasing after the whims of the moment. When we stand at the end of our lives, we want to look back and say, “Man…what a good ride.”

Interestingly, it seems as though we stand in a world similar to the one in which Pontius Pilate first placed his question before Jesus. A preoccupation with gladiatorial violence and love of dangerous chariot races doesn’t seem that different from some of the reality shows and popular sports we see today. People want their shows to be more and more realistic, barring no content in the pursuit of “authenticity”. Paganism, central to Roman culture, is the on the rise in the United States. Extremely lose parameters on sex and sexuality were common in Rome (at least for men), and we see those same parameters sliding away for men and women today. Political unrest and dissidence are shared between ancient Rome and the modern United States, including a general skepticism of the reliability of political entities. I’m sure a more informed historian could draw even deeper parallels.

So we ask, ‘What is truth?” as Pontius Pilate did two thousand years ago…and shrug.

But the question is: what did Jesus say that drove Pontius to ask this heart-deep question?

“For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37ESV).

You see…Jesus is the source of truth we are hungry for.

In Ephesians 1:15-20, Paul prays for the Church at Ephesus to:

  • receive “the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” – v. 17
  • have “the eyes of your hearts enlightened” v. 18
  • know what is the hope to which he has called you” – v. 18

If you look at the bolded words in this passage, all of them have to do with someone coming to know something in deep, life-changing ways. The Spirit referenced in verse 17 is the Spirit of God, whose whole job is to help us know and understand God’s voice and will. To have your heart’s eyes enlightened is to have them come to see the world through the eyes and love of God so you desire what He desires. To know God’s hope is to know the hope revealed in Jesus’ victory over death, sin, and the Devil when He died on the cross and rose from the grave.

You see, in a world where everything seems suspicious and uncertain, fearful and dangerous and hopeless…Jesus gave Himself so we could know truth. The kind of truth immune to the twisted words and judgment of this life. The kind of truth that never buckles under scrutiny. The kind of truth we can turn to when we are pounded with lie after lie. The kind of truth we can stand firm on when everything else is stripped away.

And He is not a truth buried in mystery that we have to hunt down. He is truth revealed. Revealed freely out of love for us.

  • When you look at our culture today, what discourages you?
  • When you try to define what is true, how hard is it for you to do so? Why?
  • Do you sense the desire for firm truth in our culture, even as we reject it? Where?
  • Challenge for the Week: If Jesus is the truth, then His words shape reality. Review His words in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and ask God to guide you to live into His truth this week. Pray this prayer every morning.

 

Ephesians 2:10-21 – Uniting the Divided

Ephesians 2:10-21 – Uniting the Divided

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called ‘uncircumcised heathens’ by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.”
– Ephesians 2:10-21NLT

When I started working at a church, I found that in some ways…it really isolated me from the everyday people of my community who may never step foot inside a church. I felt convicted I needed to know these people and their world if I was going to dare to claim I loved them and cared about them. What this led to was a practice of spending at least half a workday every week doing my work in a coffee shop near my church. Over the years, this has led to some amazing conversations and relationships with people I would never have met otherwise.

In this practice, I’ve also heard a lot of varied political perspectives. Coffee shops during the workday are an amazing hotbed of political discussion. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to hear the heated opinions of an active Communist. In the past I’ve listened to disenfranchised Democrats and Republicans hash out what is wrong with the American political system.

In our American society, politics are one of the deepest divides we face right now. It seems like we can’t even have healthy, useful conversations about our political views because people become so emotional and hostile over their political values. Inevitably, it seems like political debates devolve into criticisms of the other side’s intelligence and morality.

In Ephesians 2:10-21, the Apostle Paul writes something incredibly controversial in his political environment. He wrote in verse 14NLT, “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people…”

Stop. Right. There.

Jews looked down on Gentiles because they were “outsiders”, not observing the laws and rites of the Jewish faith. At best, Gentiles observed a “corrupt” version of Judaism not centered on the Temple in Jerusalem. At worst, the term “Gentiles” composed any other person in the world who did not worship Yahweh, including Roman and Greek peoples with their multiple gods and sometimes questionable worship practices, such as temple prostitution. In return, Gentiles despised the Jews for their self-righteousness and absolute refusal to bend to popular culture, which included observing the worship of Caesar as a god. The divides could not be deeper. Jews would often refuse to even enter a Gentile’s house or share food with them.

What you can draw from this is Jesus uniting these two groups as “one people” was scandalous for everybody. Yet that didn’t even slow Him up. On the one hand, one of His own disciples was “Simon the Zealot” (Luke 6:15). Zealots were essentially “Jewish terrorists”, seeking to forcibly remove Roman rule from Israel. They frequently worked to assassinate Roman leaders and inspired revolts against Roman rule. Yet on the other hand, in Luke 7:1-10, Jesus encounters a Roman centurion asking for healing for one of his servants. After meeting this man, Jesus says to the Jewish audience around Him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9b).

Christians…we are loved by an incredible God. “Once [we] were far away from God, but now [we] have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13NLT). Note the language here: we did not somehow bring ourselves close to God. Jesus, through His death, laid bloody hands on us and drew us into relationship with the God of the universe. He gave us a Family based on shared blood with the Creator.

That family is not just for those who are already in it.

Look at that sexuality or gender questioning neighbor: Christ is drawing them.

Look at that Islamic coworker bowing toward Mecca: Christ is drawing them.

Look at that radical feminist broadcaster: Christ is drawing them.

Look at that sky-high driver you’re trapped behind: Christ is drawing them.

What if He is drawing them through you? What if He intends them to be adopted as your brother or sister by working through you?

As Reverend Matt Popovits of Our Savior New York stated, “People should reject you because of Christ, not reject Christ because of you. There is a difference.”

  1. Who are the people you have the most difficulty making peace with?
  2. Why are these people such a challenge for you?
  3. How do you feel when you read Jesus may want to draw them into His family through you?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Whenever you find yourself thinking negatively about someone, think of them in terms of someone Christ died for that He wants to bring into His family…your family. When you have the opportunity to bring peace in His name in our divided society…do it.
Psalm 139:13-16 – Wonderful

Psalm 139:13-16 – Wonderful

As a child, I spent a lot of time with chickens. Not only did my parents, for a time, raise them for meat, we also raised hens throughout my childhood for eggs and sheer entertainment value. Those of you familiar with chickens know they march to the beat of their own drum, and I often found myself watching the antics of our little flock for twenty minutes at a time, amused throughout.

Growing up with chickens, one thing you learn pretty quickly is not to mess with momma-hen. You might say that’s nothing surprising, as most animals are fiercely protective of their young. However, the protectiveness of a hen doesn’t start when the chicks hatch but long before. As soon as she commits to sitting a nest, her protective instincts kick in hard. We call this being “broody”. A broody hen will fight to the death to protect her little clutch of eggs. I have seen a bantam cochin hen, weighing in at a whopping pound-and-a-half, fly out to attack a ninety-pound Labrador in defense of her nest. I have seen hens starve themselves nearly to death, refusing to leave their eggs even for a moment to eat. As the chicks grow within the eggs, the hen will make soft, tender clucking noises to her eggs as she rolls them over carefully, already establishing communication with the chicks growing within. Before they are born, chicks become familiar with the unique voice of their mother, and the mother will be able to pick out their chirping from any other chicks born in the barn. They are hers.

In Romans 1:20ESV, Paul writes, “For [God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” When I read this, I often think of mountains and oceans and sunsets and all the beauty of the created world. But even in the a little, momma hen, we can see the fingerprints of the creator in her fierce love for her children, even unborn.

In Psalm 139:15-16ESV, the Psalmist writes, My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Before you were born, God knew you. You weren’t a mystery to Him. Your days were not yet to be revealed, but He knew every moment of every day of your life before one of them came to be. He knew your failings, your successes, your gifts, your faults, your loves, your regrets…the deepest parts of all you are.

And He didn’t recoil.

He didn’t sign in regret that He hadn’t done better.

He didn’t roll his eyes, shrug, and mutter, “Oh well…”

Rather, the Psalmist writes you are, “Fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works”. Wonderful. Not just wonderful, but fearfully wonderful. In other words… incredibly, awesomely, overwhelmingly wonderful. No matter how you feel. No matter what you are told by others. This is the declaration the CREATOR of the UNIVERSE makes over you:

Wonderful.

  1. Why does your life often seem less than “wonderful”?
  2. Why is it so difficult to believe God’s word’s about you, compared to your own inner dialogue or the criticisms of others?
  3. How often do you look at others as wonderful works of God?
  4. Challenge for the Week: God affirms His love for you in every day. Pay attention for those moments and little gifts He gives you. When He does, write them down and spend some time reflecting on them instead of dismissing them with negativity.