Matthew 15

Vs. 2, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”  Seeing is believing.  The Pharisees and teachers of the law were so focused on the external, that they lost track of the internal.  Over the centuries they developed a system of oral tradition (Mishnah) that expounded upon God’s law.  This oral law became so prevalent that it was held to the same esteem that God’s law was on; sometimes even higher.  Jesus masterfully rebukes them and reminds them of what a clean/unclean person really look like (vs. 1-20).  The issue with supposedly honoring the father and mother in their old age by giving the excuse that the adult children devoted their money to God was outright disrespectful on both the parents and to God.  They would use their money and possessions and declare it to be set aside to God, as an excuse to help support their aging parents.  Sadly, they would still be the benefactors of this declared money & possessions.  Jesus and His disciples retreat to Tyre and Sidon (Gentile areas) possibly as a rest before making the long trek to Jerusalem and the cross.  The Canaanite woman encounter is a beautiful picture of persistence and grace (vs. 21-28).  Remember, Jesus’ mission was to first go to Israel to bring salvation and through Israel, the Gospel would be spread to the Gentiles.  But Jesus makes exception to respond to a woman who had such faith.  The crumbs of a dog example impresses me for she was quite witty and spiritually aware of the benefit of being a dog (Gentile) and still getting something from the bread.  And lastly in our chapter, we see Jesus do another miracle feeding (vs. 29-39).  However, this time Jesus does this miracle in the Gentile region.

Regarding application…Are You Clean?  Vs. 18, “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’.”  Certainly, we are reminded that the determination of what makes a person clean is the condition of our hearts.  The religious leaders of Jesus’ time determined what make a person clean was their “righteous” acts.  Sadly, their hearts were clogged with sin.  It is a stark reminder for us in the church, for we can relate to the religious leaders more than we would like to admit.  We have the tendency to fall upon the traditions of man (denominations, church practices, etc.).  As people who go to church faithfully all these years, there is the danger of our hearts hardening.  But it hardens not only from sin, but also from disappointment.  We all know the truth about churches; they are not perfect.  Yet the church is a gift from our Lord.  It all comes down to our hearts response; we can either become part of the solution or part of the problem.  Time to do a heart checkup!

Exodus 25

Vs. 8, “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.”  In the first section of our chapter, we see the Lord begin to give very specific instructions on the building of His sanctuary (vs. 1-9).  The Israelites must have attained such wealthy items from the plunder of the Egyptians before they left Egypt (Exodus 12:36).  Question: What is the purpose of this construction of the tabernacle?  The answer is found in the verse above, so that God can dwell among them.  It is interesting that the first instruction is the building of the ark (vs. 10-22).  The ark would be the symbol of God’s powerful presence with His people.  The building of the table (vs. 23-30) serves the purpose of holding the bread of the Presence.  Most scholars believe this bread is indicative of the meal aspect of fellowship with God.  They were to put out twelve loaves on the table  (Leviticus 24:6) and replaced weekly.  Then they were to build with a talent of pure gold (75 pounds) a golden lampstand (vs. 31-40) .  Aside from giving light at night, we are not entirely sure what the purpose of the lampstand is.  Some scholars speculate it represents a tree of life.  Some of you may be wondering what’s the point of all of this?  With the idea of God dwelling among them gives us the understanding that this is God’s way to connect with His people.  It is symbolic of the detail that God has put in the world He created for us.  Eventually the tabernacle would be replaced with temple and then in the New Testament, we are reminded that we are now the temple of God (I Corinthians 3:16-17).

Regarding application…Offering Freely.  Vs. 2, “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give.”  This was an exciting time for the Israelites as the LORD continued to show them His love for them.  The building of this tabernacle could have been done completely by God in an instant.  But instead, He called upon His people to offer freely of what He blessed them with already.  In fact, the people gave so freely and so much that Moses literally had to tell them to stop giving (Exodus 36:3-7).  What a wonderful problem!  Brothers and sisters, God is continuing to build His temple in our hearts and in our church today.  We have both physically means and spiritual means of giving freely that which God has given to us.  Question: How can you offer freely to your church?  Give with a cheerful heart!

Exodus 7

Vs. 7, “Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh.”  Isn’t that great, two old men taking on the Egyptian powerhouse!  It’s never too late to be used by God.  Moses and Aaron would team up and put their trust in the Lord and His mighty power (vs. 4).  After Aaron’s staff becomes a snake and consumes Pharaoh’s magician’s snake staffs (vs. 8-13), we are now introduced to the ten plagues.  Question: What is the purpose of these plagues?  They served as an encouraging sign for the Israelites, they were evident judgments upon the Egyptians, and prophecies of things to come.  The Nile river becoming blood (vs. 14-24) was significant because the Egyptians revered the river as a god.

Regarding application…Limited Power.  Vs. 22, “But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said.”  I think it’s interesting to note that Pharaoh’s magicians were unable to reverse the plague.  Just like Aaron’s staff/snake consuming theirs….they had limited power.  We should not be surprised that the enemy does have some power on this earth.  God allows the enemy to have limited power.  But it is not something we should be fearful of.  Nor should we be amazed by supernatural things that the enemy can do.  I know it’s hard to relate to evil manifestations in our first world perspective.  But, I just encourage you to begin the process of being more spiritually sensitive to the powers both good and bad that are working in this world.  Let us put our faith in the Lord and know that we are victorious because of Jesus conquering death on the cross!

Exodus 4

Vs. 1, “Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you?”  Moses continues his worries about being the wrong man for the job.  But God patiently calms Moses fears by giving him the ability to do signs and wonders that would help God’s people believe (vs. 2-9).  Yet, Moses in exasperation pleads that he can’t speak well and to send someone else (vs. 10-13).  While we are told God was angry (vs. 14), there certainly was no coincidence that God would happen to orchestrate Aaron traveling to see Moses.  It wasn’t always an easy partnership with Moses & Aaron, but God would work in them.  Upon getting Jethro’s blessings (vs. 18), Moses and his family begin the journey back to Egypt.  It is a bit shocking to see that the LORD nearly killed Moses along the way (vs. 24).  Question: Why?  Moses had not circumcised one of his sons (vs. 25-26).  When God gives commands, we would be quite foolish to not obey them.  Some scholars believe Moses didn’t circumcise one of his sons to appease his Midianite family.   And the latter section of our chapter, we see the hope of God’s promises come true as Moses reveals to the Israelites their deliverance!

Regarding application…A Hardened Heart.  Vs. 21, “The Lord said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.”  Question: How’s the condition of your heart today?  Interestingly enough throughout the book of Exodus, ten times we are told God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and ten times we are told Pharaoh hardened his own heart.   It doesn’t make sense, yet we are given both perspectives.  Did one come before the other?  Regardless, Pharaoh was given the choice, but chose to harden his heart.  God obliged and let it happen.  It is serious business when it comes to our heart condition.  Take time to examine your heart and reach out to God!

Romans 11

Vs. 6, “And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.”  Earlier in chapter 9:6, Paul answered one of the questions that arose, “Has God’s word failed?”  Not at all!  God’s sovereignty and grace is not limited to how we interpret God.  He is in control and thank the Lord that we do not have to make such huge decisions.  But not only is God in control, He is faithful to His people Israel as well as Gentiles.  And one day, God will bring all of Israel back to Him (vs. 26).  Many scholars point to this chapter where Paul is teaching the understanding of Dispensationalism (God working in different ways in the Old Testament, New Testament, End times, etc…)  Dispensationalism is a system of interpreting the Bible as God working through Israel and the Church.  There are different forms of this belief and some have a more progressive view.  But setting aside how we interpret this, Paul’s underlying message is clear: God is ever faithful.

Regarding application…Has God Forgotten?  Vs. 1, “I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.”  Question: Have there been moments in your life where you have felt forgotten?  Where you didn’t feel valuable?  Where you have felt rejected?  I believe if we are all honest with our deep thoughts and hearts, we have felt way this even towards God.  There have been moments in my own life where I have asked myself where I God in all of this?  In the midst of the sadness in the world, has God forgotten us?  Yet, in our deepest heart, God has implanted the knowledge of Him (Ecc. 3:11).  We’ve been taught in Romans how we are without excuse (Romans 2:1).  God has not forgotten us.  Many years ago, we had a Youth Retreat up in Oregon and we had all piled in a van.  We had our activities at a local lake/park and went back to the campsite.  As we pulled out, in the rearview mirror, I saw two of my students running towards the van!  We had forgotten them!  Thankfully, everyone was okay and nothing horrible had transpired.  While we can have forgetful minds, God never forgets us!

Hosea 11

Vs. 4, “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.”  Our Father in Heaven is teaching us how He created us to be relational.  Hosea gives us a picture of the Father’s love for His child (vs. 1-4).  But, like a rebellious teenager, Israel shuns the Father’s love (vs. 5-7).  God had given his children every opportunity to turn back to Him, but He will not force a relationship on those who do not want it.  Yet, despite this decline of love toward the Father, we are given some insight into the heart of God (vs. 8-9).  And lastly, we see God will come like a roaring lion calling His people back to Him (vs. 10-11).

Regarding application…God’s Compassion.  Vs. 8, “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?  How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.”  Question: Do you see it?  The love and compassion of God is amazing!  We see the covenant (promise) that God follows through and remains true and faithful despite our own weaknesses.  The Father in Heaven does not give up on His children.  It doesn’t make sense to our limited human minds why God would be so compassionate to a people who did not deserve it.  But, while it may not make logical sense, I think deep down inside we have realized this in our own lives.  So often we turn away from God, but He is so faithful despite what we do.  Knowing of this type of love should compel us to share it to the world that is dying in sin and loss of hope.  God’s love is not earned on merit, but by grace (undeserved acceptance and love).  Don’t let this truth be contained in your own heart, but shout it out to the world!

John 5

Vs. 16, “So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him.”  Question: What was Jesus doing in Jerusalem?  He was celebrating one of the Jewish feasts called Pentecost (Remembering when the Law was first given).  It’s actually pretty cool to think how Jesus recognized such important events just as we put importance to events in our own lives like retreats or revivals.  While in Jerusalem, visiting the temple, Jesus comes across a paralytic at the pool of Bethesda who He heals by commanding him to take his mat (vs. 1-15).  Many would flock to this pool because it was believed to have healing power (like hot springs of our day).  Jesus saved this man by grace just as He offers healing to us.  Notice how Jesus tells the man to stop sinning and living the way he used to (vs. 14).  However, because Jesus healed this man on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders started to accuse Him.  How sad that they were so blind to the very person that came to save them.  Jesus goes on to share how there is never a day where God isn’t at work for us (vs. 17).  Jesus is working here on earth on behalf of the Father and has been given the power from the Father (vs. 19).  We take this truth for granted, but it’s very important because these truths bring us to the point where we can believe with faith (vs. 24).  Jesus is testifying about himself, but does not need to.  For our sake, God sent people like John the Baptist to help us see who Jesus was.  He does the same for us today too.  When we don’t believe in faith and respond in faith, we have no excuse.

Regarding application…Refusing Jesus.  Vs. 40, “…yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”  Question: Jesus isn’t talking to me, right?  Don’t be too quick to pat yourself on the back because you go to church.  Just because you acknowledge Jesus as God’s son, great…even Satan admits to this.  When we choose to fall into the trap of wanting and loving our own lives, we refuse Jesus.  Just a couple of chapters ago, John the Baptist told us we must become less.  I reminded the youth today of the importance of less is better.  There are so many things that we want in this life.  But we can’t have our cake and eat it too.  We can’t love both God and money (Luke 16), yet when we choose go down any path other than Jesus, we are refusing him.  I know it’s hard to admit to such a thing.  We want to rationalize our decision making and desires, yet still feel like we can have Jesus.  It’s flu season and many get sick this time of the year.  It’s time for us to put the thermometer to our heart and check our temperature.  Are we too hot for the world?  Let’s take the time turn to Jesus each day this week!  Only He can change your heart!

Ezekiel 36

Vs. 8, “But you, O mountains of Israel, will produce branches and fruit for my people Israel, for they will soon come home.”  In times of struggles, a message of hope is quite welcomed.  And this is exactly what God would now instruct Ezekiel to do.  Mountains have been and still are a symbol of turning to God…and God would now speak from the mountains.  As God speaks of the restoration of His people, we too can take comfort in realizing there is a dual meaning to this in our lives.  While God allows consequences to come, there is also the eternal hope we have.  We see one of the most beautiful passages in the latter half of this chapter as we are reminded of God’s grace.

Regarding application…How is your Heart?  Vs. 26, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”  Perhaps this is a question we should be asking ourselves daily.  Israel had lost her way because they had chosen to turn away from God.  I’m reminded of Lot’s wife when she turned to look back and became a pillar of salt (it was immediate).  The moment we start to turn away from God, our hearts can become like stone.  That is why it is so important to turn daily to the Lord in prayer and reading of His word.  Open your heart today and see what God can do with a spirit and heart that beats for Him!

Ezekiel 14

Vs. 6, “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices.”  Not only were the people with Ezekiel earlier deported to Babylon because of their idolatry, they were now repeating their sins by setting up idols in Babylon too.  It may look good that they were coming to Ezekiel (vs. 1-5), but their inner heart had no intention to turn back.  As Ezekiel shared a prophecy of continued sin, they thought that God would save them because they saw Godly people in Babylon that were among the exiles.  However, this would not ensure the salvation of those who hardened their hearts.

 

Regarding application…Where’s Your Heart?  Vs. 5, “I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.”  They had forgotten their first love.  They experienced the promises of God when they reigned with Him in the Promised land…and now they also were experiencing the judgement of God as they were exiled.  Sin seperates us from God.  Their sin seperated them from God and their homeland.  Often times, tough times make us bitter towards God.  Yet, for some people, tough times tug at their heart and they turn back to God.  Question: Which are You?  Where is your heart today?  Open your heart to God and let Him recapture your first love!

Mark 7

Vs. 8, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”  Mark reminds us that it is not the traditions of the Jews that made them acceptable to God (vs. 1-23).  This was a very important fact for any who were Gentile.  While tradition is not necessarily a bad thing, it is when it takes precedence over God.  Jesus would quote Isaiah and remind all of us that it is a heart matter.  In the faith of the Greek woman, we see a Gentile with much faith and Jesus again remind us that He is here for both Jew and Gentile.  And we see snippets of Jesus’ love and ministry in the compassion of healing those who needed His love and healing.

 

Regarding application…A Clean Heart. Vs. 15, “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.” Question: Do you have a clean heart? We think if we do this or if we don’t do this, we will be a good Christian.  While we don’t look at eating unclean foods, we do look at other things that make us think makes us a more holy person.  If our heart is good, it will produce fruit.  If our heart is bad it will produce bad fruit.  Eventually the condition of our heart will show through by our actions.  Let’s find rest this week in the Lord and start with a clean heart!