Are You Ready to Start Walking?

We’ve been talking about the miracle Jesus performed at the Pool of Bethesda and the lessons God showed me.

If you need to catch up, you can read the first post (Are You Stuck?) and the second post (How Do You See Yourself?).

In today’s post, we’re going to cover the Continue reading “Are You Ready to Start Walking?”

How Do You See Yourself?

Last week we started talking about the Healing at the Pool of Bethesda.

About getting too comfortable in our lack, hanging around people who are also focused on what they need, and waiting for someone else to come to the rescue.

Today’s part of the story shows what happens when Jesus confronts us  Continue reading “How Do You See Yourself?”

Old vs. New

Last week we talked about Jesus’s answer to John the Baptist’s disciples regarding fasting. And about how freeing Jesus’s answer was.

Today I want to look at Jesus’s comments after He answers that question.

Jesus starts talking about something that at first seems totally out of place. But, of course, it’s not.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17 Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” – Matthew 9:14-17

Jesus has just answered JTB’s disciples question about fasting. They were following the Jewish customs that had been handed down for centuries. Jesus was a Jew. In fact, He was the Son of God.

So you would think He would be very careful to follow all the Jewish customs.

But He wasn’t.

And what He says here is, I believe, the reason why.

Jesus talks about how you don’t use a piece of unshrunk cloth to patch an old garment (that has already been shrunk). If you do, the first time you wash it, the patch will shrink and pull away from the garment and it will be ruined.

Then He said you don’t put new wine in old wineskins. You put new wine in new wineskins so they can both expand. If you put new wine in an old wineskin, the wine will expand, but the wineskin has already expanded as far as it can go, so it will burst and the wine will be spilled.

I believe Jesus is talking here about the new covenant He’s bringing and how different it is from the old covenant that was still around at that time.

I believe He was saying that making His disciples keep all the Jewish customs (like fasting) at this particular time did not fit in with the new covenant He was ushering in.

In fact, trying to force the old structure around the essence of the new covenant would be disastrous. And combining the two covenants could create two different scenarios.

In one scenario, the new covenant would pull away from the old (like the cloth example), because it didn’t belong, it didn’t ‘fit.’

The other scenario would be like putting new wine in an old wineskin. The old wineskin (the Jewish religion structure of laws and rules and ancient customs) could never contain the new wine (the new covenant of love and mercy and grace). The old covenant had already gone as far as it could go. It couldn’t go any further. It couldn’t do any more than it already had.

Another way to look at it is the old covenant worked from the outside in. In other words, you had a list of things you did and things you didn’t do and that external structure was fairly easy to see—although not always so easy to do.

The new covenant Jesus brought does just the opposite. It works from the inside out. It can’t be seen until it has affected the believer’s behavior. So this requires an entirely different structure, a totally new paradigm.

And Jesus is saying that if you cling to the old structure of rules and regulations—and try to force that structure on people learning to follow the new covenant—you’re going to lose the new wine and the old wineskins. Because they just don’t ‘fit.’

It was time for a transition—the passing of the old and the entering of the new.

It was a total change in the way people relate to God—a change to a personal, intimate, individual relationship between each of us and our Creator.

And Jesus came to earth to show us how it’s done.

And to pay the high cost to make it accessible to us.

Thank you, Lord.

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What old structures are you hanging on to?

What new wine is that preventing you from experiencing?

Focused and Free

There are two major takeaways from the next section of Matthew 9 that I want to share. I’ll share the first one today and the other one next week.

 

The first is from the first two verses:

 

Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. – Matthew 9:14-15

 

 

John’s disciples (as in John the Baptist, JTB) came to Jesus with a question. The question was why they and the Pharisees fasted frequently (for religious purposes) but Jesus and His disciples never fasted.

 

And Jesus’s answer to them is my first takeaway. And it’s something I really needed to hear right now.

 

In my current life situation, I am involved in a project with several incredible Christian believers. These are people I want to be like when I grow up! Seriously. After spending time with them, I feel so honored and so blessed.

 

And sometimes later on I start feeling not so blessed. Because I try to go after the things some of them are doing – and I can’t do it all. I want to be like them in their area of strength, but I can’t. It just doesn’t ‘fit’ right now. And it may never.

 

And that’s why Jesus’s answer gives me freedom. In essence, what I think Jesus is saying is that at the exact same moment in time, it was okay for JTB’s disciples and the Pharisees to be fasting and for Jesus’s disciples to NOT be fasting.

 

How freeing is that?!? We’re all different. And we’re all in different places. And it’s okay. Jesus meets us where we are and we need to trust Him to take us where He wants us to go . . . when He wants us to go there.

 

Whew. So just because my good friend is spending hours a day praying and fasting, I don’t have to feel guilty because that’s not where God has me right now.

 

Notice that Jesus didn’t say His disciples would never fast again. In fact, He said they would. So it doesn’t mean I won’t go after some of the things my friends are so good at—but it’s just not for me right now. I have other things He wants me to focus on.

 

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Whose gifts are you trying to adopt into your life?

 

What does God want you focused on instead?

 

2016 Challenge

We’re back in Matthew 9. Today’s passage is about the calling of Matthew.

 

Jesus saw Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. He told Matthew to follow Him and Matthew did.

 

The next scene shows Jesus and his disciples having dinner with Matthew and his friends at Matthew’s house. Matthew’s friends are fellow tax collectors and “sinners” – or as the Amplified Version calls them: “especially wicked” sinners.

 

I’m not sure what that means exactly, but Jesus apparently didn’t even blink an eye at it. He didn’t have a problem having dinner with sinners—of any description.

 

But the Pharisees sure did! They had a big problem with Jesus having dinner with tax collectors and sinners.

 

But, like most troublemakers, the Pharisees didn’t go to the source with their question. Instead they chose to ask Jesus’s disciples why he was eating with tax collectors and those “especially wicked” sinners.

 

Jesus heard their question and answered it Himself. He said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Which He may have followed up quickly with one more syllable: “DUH!”

 

And then He insulted the Pharisees’ knowledge of the scriptures. He said, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

 

The Pharisees knew that verse from Hosea 6:6 as well as Jesus did.

 

Well . . . they had read it anyway . . . at some point in time.

 

But apparently they didn’t know what it meant.

 

Let’s take a look at the verse He’s quoting: Hosea 6:6 (AMP).

 

For I desire and delight in dutiful steadfast love and goodness, not sacrifice, and the knowledge of and acquaintance with God more than burnt offerings.”

 

Here’s what I think Jesus is telling these religious leaders (and us by default).

 

I think he was telling them that if they REALLY knew the scriptures, they would know that what God wants is people who are loving and good—not just religious people who are more concerned with following every sacrifice ritual. And that He desires people whose focus is getting to KNOW HIM—not just pious posers fixated on following the letter of the law and not missing one burnt offering.

 

I don’t think God’s wants have changed. I believe He still wants people who do what it takes to get to KNOW HIM and, because of the time they spend with Him, they’ll be more loving and good than the super religious people with their perfect church attendance certificates.

 

 

I challenge all of us to be more concerned with getting to KNOW GOD in 2016 than we are with doing any religious act that will make us APPEAR more pious to other people. And let’s be the loving and good people that God wants rather than people who are known by the world to be church-y or religious.

 

 

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Matthew 9:9-13 (NIV)

9As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

 

Preparing for 2016

This is possibly my favorite week of the year. I love taking a break, reviewing the previous year and praying for and planning for the New Year.

 

Over the past few weeks I’ve read several blog posts and Facebook posts that have shared questions to ask during this reflective time.

 

So I decided to do the same thing. Here are the questions I’m asking myself this week. You may want to take some time and do the same.

 

  1. What was the best decision you made in 2015? What criteria did you use to make it? How will that help you make decisions more confidently in 2016?
  2. What was your biggest accomplishment in 2015? What lessons did you learn in the process? How will you use those lessons to make 2016 a more successful year?
  3. What was the most influential book/blog you read in 2015? What was the biggest paradigm shift it created for you? How are you going to use it to restructure your life in 2016?
  4. What was the biggest answer to prayer you received in 2015? How did it change your perspective of and relationship with God? As a result, how is your prayer life going to change in 2016?

 

I highly recommend taking a few hours this week to answer these questions or at least to review 2015 and plan and pray for 2016.

 

And I pray you and I will all have an extremely blessed and favor-full 2016.

 

Happy New Year!!!

 

 

For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome. – Jeremiah 29:11 (AMPC)

A Christmas Devotional About Joseph

I pray you are having a wonderful holiday season.

Here’s a Christmas devotional I wrote about Joseph that was published in an online magazine in 2010. Enjoy!

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What a Character!

There’s nothing like a Christmas pageant to get me in the Christmas spirit. I think it’s the humanity infused into such a divine story that does it, that brings it down to my level and reminds me that this isn’t just a story about heavenly angels, although they’re included. And it’s not just about God, although He’s definitely the main character. This story is about people. People being invited by God into His Story. And the invitation is repeated every time the story is repeated.

This year I’ve discovered a character in the Christmas story that I’ve overlooked in the past. He rarely has lines in pageant scripts. He doesn’t have any superhero actions to perform. And I don’t remember the spotlight ever being aimed at him alone.

But this year I’m amazed by how I’ve underestimated this character for so long.

I’m talking about Joseph.

It’s no wonder he’s gone unnoticed. Good grief. He’s married to the Virgin Mary and he’s the temporary, stand-in step-Dad for One-Third of the Holy Trinity. It would be almost impossible to stand out in that family!

But I think he does. At least I do now.

In most of the Christmas pageants I’ve seen or been a part of, any ol’ Joe could play the part of Joseph. As long as you looked good in a bathrobe and could sport a non-descript facial expression and carry a lantern, you could play the part. If the pageant was really in-depth, you might have to say one line: “His name is Jesus.” So even if the ‘first string’ Joe doesn’t show, just about any guy in the audience could step into the role.

But not in the real story.

I’ve been reading the Christmas story again recently. I started in Matthew 1 and Joseph got my attention immediately. Not sure why after all these years I’m focused on him, but I’m beginning to see why God chose this man.

I used to think God chose Joseph because here was a guy who didn’t have a problem playing second fiddle. And I do think that was part of the reason. I’m sure Joseph was humbled that God chose him to play this role. But I think more than likely Joseph was chosen because he was already humble.

And righteous. And just. And upright. And tender. And responsive. And responsible. And brave. And self-controlled. And honorable. And respectful.

Through Matthew’s gospel, I’m starting to get a glimpse of the kind of person Joseph was and possibly some of the reasons God chose him.

You probably know the story. Joseph and Mary are engaged to be married. In their time and culture, an engaged couple doesn’t break up as easily or as often as it happens today. In fact, for them to break an engagement was similar to getting a divorce today.

So when Joseph finds out Mary is pregnant, it’s a HUGE deal. Because Joseph knows it’s not his baby. And if it’s not his baby, then it has to be somebody else’s. Which means that apparently Mary isn’t the person she claimed to be, nor who her friends and family – and Joseph – believed her to be.

So now Joseph has a decision to make.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been betrayed. Let me rephrase that. I don’t know how many times you’ve been betrayed. I believe it happens to everyone who lives very long.

Betrayal hurts. A lot. And I think the basic human response to betrayal is justice. And – speaking for myself here – not necessarily God’s loving justice. I don’t know about you, but when I’m betrayed, I want things made right—for everyone to see.

And I have to believe Joseph felt that way, too. At least for a while. Somewhere deep down inside.

But that’s not how he responded. Even though he had every right to. In fact, based on their laws, Joseph could have had Mary stoned to death in public for her “indiscretion.”

But he didn’t.

His planned response was more toward the other end of the spectrum. Joseph was going to divorce Mary secretly. Privately. He was not going to bring shame or disgrace to Mary by making a public spectacle of her.

Joseph laid aside his rights in order to spare Mary any more humiliation than she would already have to experience.

In the face of seeming ultimate betrayal, Joseph thought of Mary and her predicament above his own desire for retaliation or revenge.

Remind you of anyone?

Say, someone on a cross?

Someone who laid aside HIS rights? Someone who bore shame and disgrace so his betrayers wouldn’t have to?

Joseph definitely has my vote to play his part in The Story. Not only is he a gentle man, humble, and others-focused, but check out what happens next.

God sends a messenger to Joseph. He tells Joseph to not be afraid to marry Mary. That the baby is God’s Son and will be the Savior of the world. And that Joseph should name the baby Jesus.

And Joseph does.

Joseph listens to God, believes God, and obeys what God tells him to do.

No matter what things look like.

No matter what people say.

No matter what it costs him.

And years later, Jesus obeys His Heavenly Father.

No matter what things look like.

No matter what people say.

No matter what it costs him.

Because of the kind of person I’m discovering Joseph to be, I believe Jesus learned a lot more than carpentry in his earthly father’s workshop.

I don’t think God could have chosen anyone better to play Joseph’s role in God’s Story.

This year, I’m shining the spotlight on Joseph. I think there’s a lot I can learn from this character.

© Rhonda Fleming, 2010

 

It’s Christmastime Again

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. At least Atlanta traffic does.

I pray you take some time during the next few weeks to unplug and take a new look at this 2000-year-old Story. It’s the best!!

Here’s a devotion I wrote a few years ago that takes a closer look at an angel who played a big part in this story that never grows old.

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Gabriel and the Two How’s

Gabriel really racked up the air miles in the first chapter of Luke. He was sent to Earth twice to share special birth announcements. Well, they were actually conception announcements. Both were pretty unusual. And the recipients’ responses to the announcements seem very similar. But Gabriel’s reactions to their responses were very different. Let me explain what I’m talking about.

The first announcement is to Zechariah. Zechariah was a priest who was married to Elizabeth. According to Luke, they both followed all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They were an upstanding Jewish couple. But that was the problem. They were just a couple. No kids. And they were OLD.

One day when Zechariah’s priest division was on duty, he was chosen to go into the temple to burn incense. That’s where things got interesting. An angel appeared to Zechariah and scared him half to death. The angel told him not to be afraid. But more importantly he told him that his prayer had been heard. That his wife Elizabeth was going to become pregnant and have a son!

The angel then goes into detail about what they’re to name him and how they’re to raise him and the role he would play in God’s plan.

Zechariah’s response to all this is a question. A ‘how’ question. He asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

Something about Zechariah’s question doesn’t sit well with the angel. He replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.” He goes on to explain that because Zechariah didn’t believe him, Zechariah wouldn’t be able to speak until everything Gabriel had told him came true.

When he left the temple, Zechariah couldn’t even explain to the other priests what had just happened.

Zechariah went home and sure enough, Elizabeth became pregnant.

Just like Gabriel said.

And Zechariah still couldn’t speak.

Just like Gabriel said.

Now for Gabriel’s conversation with Mary.

Six months after the Zechariah trip, God sends Gabriel back to Earth. This time to Nazareth, to carry a message to a girl named Mary who was engaged to a man named Joseph.

Gabriel appears to Mary and says, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

I think it’s interesting that Mary isn’t startled by Gabriel’s sudden appearance like Zechariah was. However, she was confused by how he greeted her. So he explained it to her. He told her his greeting was a good thing. He told her that God had chosen her for a special assignment. That she was going to become pregnant, have a son, and name him Jesus. And that Jesus would be called the Son of the Most High and that his kingdom would never end.

And just like Zechariah, Mary responds to Gabriel with a ‘how’ question. “How will this be since I am a virgin?”

But Gabriel’s response to Mary is very different than his response to Zechariah. Gabriel actually explains to Mary ‘how’ things are going to happen. ‘How’ she is going to become pregnant even though she’s a virgin. He even goes on to tell her that Elizabeth, who is Mary’s relative, is pregnant.

And then Gabriel makes one of my favorite statements in the entire Bible. He says, “For nothing is impossible with God.”

I have a feeling it became one of Mary’s favorites, too.

Okay. Those are the two stories. And the two ‘how’ questions. And Gabriel’s absolutely opposite responses.

Now I just have one question.

Why?

Why did Gabriel silence Zechariah for nine months for asking ‘how’? But six months later when Mary asks ‘how’, why did he explain everything to her?

Gabriel hasn’t appeared to me recently [or ever!] so I haven’t been able to ask him. But after looking closely at these two scenarios and the two questions, I came up with an answer to my ‘why’ that satisfies my curiosity. At least for now.

I took a closer look at Zechariah’s question. Zechariah wasn’t really asking how he and Elizabeth were going to have a son after all these years. Zechariah was asking for a sign. I think he was saying: an angel appearing to me and telling me that God has heard the prayer I’ve been praying for decades and that He is now going to answer it, isn’t quite enough for me. Telling me that my wife is going to have a boy and that we’re to name him John and explaining the role he will play in God’s plan, doesn’t exactly convince me that it’s really going to happen. I need something more.

Whoa. I think Zechariah had lost sight of something very important.

Faith.

And I think he had forgotten how important faith is to God.

Zechariah was very good at following the rules, but somewhere along the way, he had forgotten that what pleases God is faith—believing without seeing any evidence. And apparently asking for more evidence right after God sends an angel direct from His throne to share good news with you, isn’t a real smart move.

I don’t need to criticize Zechariah. I’m pretty sure I’ve been exactly where he was.

I think Zechariah’s . . . and Elizabeth’s . . . hearts had been broken several times over the years. Probably several times a year . . . for many years. Their dreams of having a family had been crushed. They had lived for decades with the shame of being childless. This upstanding Jewish couple, who followed every command and regulation God had given, lived in disgrace among their friends and relatives because they couldn’t get pregnant.

I wonder how many calluses were on their hearts. Is it even possible to keep a tender heart while living for decades in their situation?

When Zechariah doesn’t immediately jump on the baby bandwagon with Gabriel, it may have been out of self-protection. I don’t think Zechariah wanted to get his hopes up again . . . and run the risk of having them crushed again.

And I really don’t think Zechariah wanted to get Elizabeth’s hopes up again. I’m sure he had watched his wife’s heart break more times than he could count. So before he went home and told Elizabeth what Gabriel said, Zechariah wanted to be sure Gabriel knew what he was talking about. And as it turned out, he couldn’t tell Elizabeth anyway. Because Zechariah had been given the sign he requested.

Now to Mary’s question.

I think Gabriel answered Mary’s question because her question was a real ‘how’ question: How is this going to happen?

In fact, I wonder if Mary was asking an even bigger question.

A question I need to ask.

A question you may want to ask, too.

I wonder if Mary was saying:

  • I understand what’s going to happen—I’m going to get pregnant and have a very special baby.
  • Here is my current situation—I’m a virgin and not planning to get married immediately.
  • So, what is my role in this scenario? What, if anything, do I need to do differently in order for God’s plan to be accomplished in my life?

I wonder if that’s what Mary was really asking, because that seems to be the question Gabriel answered.

Gabriel told her how God was going to do something miraculous with her life.

But he didn’t tell her that she needed to do anything differently. Apparently she just needed to keep doing what she was doing. She didn’t need to go ahead and marry Joseph in order to get pregnant. She just needed to keep living her life, believing God, and remaining open to whatever adventure God brought her.

Mary’s role was to continue doing the possible part of the plan. God would take care of the impossible part.

And He did!

And He still does.

I think I need to spend some time with God and ask Him Mary’s question: What, if anything, do I need to do differently in order for Your plan to be accomplished in my life?

And then I need to listen.

And then I need to do my part—the possible part. And watch God do the rest.

For nothing is impossible with God!

© Rhonda Fleming, 2011

 

Master Question Asker

Do you know someone who asks great questions? I love spending time with people like that. I think it’s because I believe asking and answering questions are one of the best ways to get to know a person and to share who you are with them.

 

I also think good questions are a great way to determine what you really believe about something and how you can better apply your beliefs to your life. That’s why a lot of my blog posts end with application questions.

 

I think Jesus was/is the Master Question Asker. And the big question in today’s passage is one of my favorites.

 

Jesus has just told the paralyzed man on the mat that his sins are forgiven. And now the Scribes are thinking to themselves that this man is claiming to be God because He says He forgave the man’s sins.

 

And Jesus knows what they’re thinking. So He asks them a couple of questions.

 

I’m sure the first question caught them off guard, because it revealed that He knew what they were thinking and that He considered it evil.

 

The next question comes quickly on the heels of that one and is the big question.

 

Jesus asks the Scribes which is easier to say: (a) your sins are forgiven or (b) get up and walk.

 

Well, duh. It’s much easier to say your sins are forgiven because there’s no physical way to prove that it really happened.

 

But Jesus doesn’t give the Scribes time to answer. He immediately says, “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”

 

So, to show them that what He says just happened (the man’s sins were forgiven) really happened, He turns to the paralyzed man and tells him to pick up his mat and walk home.

 

And he does.

 

And the crowds are in awe and praise God—which is always one of Jesus’s goals.

 

This story shows that one of Jesus’s top priorities is our spiritual condition: the first thing He did was forgive the man’s sins.

 

But Jesus didn’t leave the man in the condition He found him: spiritually or physically. Jesus went on to heal the man’s physical condition that had him bound to his mat.

 

Jesus cares about our spiritual condition. He came to earth to redeem us through His death. That was necessary because of the sinful condition of our lives.

 

And Jesus also cares about our physical condition. Today’s passage is just one of many examples of that—in the scriptures and in our world today.

 

But Jesus also wants us to KNOW Him. He wants us to know who He is and the authority He has.

 

And He uses physical expressions of His authority here on earth to prove that He is who He says He is.

 

His ultimate goal of these physical expressions is to help us recognize that He is God, that He cares about our individual situations, that He is the only one who can forgive our sins, and that all our praise belongs to Him.

 

And a lot of times He uses good questions to help us get to that point.

 

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What has Jesus recently done in your life (big or small) that helps prove who He is, how much He cares about you, and how much power and authority He has?

 

What situation in your life or in the life of a loved one has you questioning whether Jesus cares about the situation or can/will do anything about it?

 

What can you do to get to know Him better?

 

 

Matthew 9:3-8 NIV

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.