Archive for July, 2014


Meet Matthew

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Last year my daughter stood in line for 90 minutes to purchase an autographed copy of Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan for me for Father’s Day. There’s something about meeting the author in person to gain a little insight to the content between the covers. So what can we learn about Matthew, the author?

First, he was a tax collector who left all to follow Jesus. (Matthew 9:9) Matthew’s tax booth was probably located along one of the busy trade routes near Capernaum. It was there that Christ met him and called him to leave his business behind in order to follow him. Tax collectors were viewed as Roman sympathizers and traitors to the nation. The Romans would enlist Israelites to serve as tax collectors. Tax collectors, with the backing of the Roman army, would collect what Rome demanded, and then any amount over that they would keep as their fees. Many tax collectors were unscrupulous, demanding far in excess what was required in order to line their own pockets. Religious leaders reckoned tax collectors as among the worst sinners of the day.

Second, he got a new name (Mark 2:14). Mark and Luke both refer to him as Levi, son of Alphaeus. Somewhere along the line, as time progressed, his name was changed from Levi to Matthew, which means, “gift of Yahweh.”

Third, he threw a party for Jesus and his disciples. (Matthew 9:10-13) After his encounter with Christ, Matthew threw a party in order to introduce his friends and co-workers to Jesus. We immediately see his concern for his friends and co-workers. Because of his vocational choice, these may have been the only relationships he had in life.

Next, he became formalized as a member of Jesus’ apostolic band. (Matthew 10:1-4) Simon the Zealot was also a disciple, creating an interesting group dynamic. Zealots were violent resistance fighters who opposed Roman occupation. The word literally means, “blood letter.” Matthew, on the other hand, as a tax collector would have been viewed as a Roman sympathizer. That would have certainly made for an interesting dinner conversation! I can’t help but notice that even in the selection of his disciples, Jesus modeled reconciliation, both to God and to one another.

Finally, he took a pen on his journey with Jesus. Matthew was certainly a humble man. He didn’t self reference, like those who drop their own names or speak of themselves in third person. There is not one quotation attributed to Matthew in the New Testament. Following the ascension and upper room, Matthew goes off the grid. Legend has it that Matthew spent several years in Jerusalem, then moved south to Ethiopia (perhaps with Andrew) where he was martyred.

Learning a bit about Matthew is helpful to our understanding of how his gospel functions. But the Gospel of Matthew is not about Matthew. It’s about Jesus and the salvation he offers. Matthew’s gospel is not about the message of forgiveness that we believe so we can get our sins forgiven and go to heaven when we die. His invitation is to “leave the booth” and follow Christ.

Categories : Matthew
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The Gospel According to Matthew

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What do the following phrases have in common?
Don’t cast your pearls before swine.
He’s the salt of the earth.
She’s been burning the midnight oil.
He waited until the 11th hour.
Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.
It’s the blind leading the blind.
The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.
Each of these well know phrases find their origins from the words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.

For nearly three centuries after the resurrection, the gospel of Matthew was the most highly revered and most frequently quoted work. Its acceptance into the canon of Scripture was immediate and unanimous. Michael Green calls Matthew “the most important single document in the New Testament, providing a systematic account of the birth, life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.” It is widely held that Matthew was written to equip its original Christian Jewish readers with the teachings of Jesus so they could spread the message of God’s reign to the nations. With that being said, Matthew’s gospel has made a tremendous impact on the Church, both ancient and present.

Last weekend I introduced a new sermon series on the Gospel of Matthew. I introduced the book by introducing the author. The Gospel According to Matthew is technically an anonymous work. In fact, all four gospels are technically considered anonymous. The primary reason is that none of the books contain any internal markers that would erase plausible doubt. For example, Paul signed his letters in the opening sentence of each. The authors who penned the gospels did not self identify themselves as such. But early church fathers such as Iraneus, Origin, Eusebius, and Papias all strongly attributed the book to the disciple of Jesus and date it to between AD 50 and AD 60. So for the purpose of this series, I’m going with the testimony of secular history and will present this series of sermons and subsequent posts with the assumption that Matthew, the apostle called by Jesus, is the author. Tomorrow I’ll post more about this introduction by offering a few observations on Matthew himself.

Categories : Matthew
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I can’t think of anyone who has had more influence on my views of spiritual formation than the late Dallas Willard. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, I recommend that you spend some time researching his work. Dr. Willard was a professor of philosophy at the University of South California until his death last year. This book was published posthumously and contains the transcripts of a spiritual formation conference he did with John Ortberg. The book is filled with rich wisdom regarding discipleship and requires slow, deliberate reading. It was released with a companion DVD which may prove beneficial to those of you who are new to Willard’s works.

Here are some of the top take aways from this meaningful publication.

“(Spiritual formation) is the process of transforming the person into Christlikeness through transforming the essential parts of the person. Spiritual transformation is not about behavior modification. It is about changing the sources of behavior so the behavior will take care of itself.”

“When you find problems in the church…it is always a lack of discipleship that led to it.”

“We need to tell our young people, ‘Follow Jesus, and if you can find a better way than him, he would be the first one to tell you to take it’.”

“Often in churches, we try to get people to affirm right beliefs, the right point of view. The real test of what I actually believe is ‘Does it guide what I do?'”

“There are many people who believe in Christ, but they don’t believe Christ. Further, they don’t believe what he believed. But the progression into the kingdom is coming to believe what he believes, coming to trust it, to live on it, to act on it, to make it count. We do that by fixing our minds on him.”

“Wanting other churches to succeed is one of the most important things we can do.”

“Spiritual disciplines are not a gauge of my spiritual maturity. The disciplined person is not someone who does a lot of disciplines. The disciplined person, the disciple, is someone who is able to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. The whole purpose of disciplines is to enable you to do the right thing at the right time in the right spirit, so if something doesn’t help you do that, then don’t do it.”


Six Signs of Drifting

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Yesterday I posted about the reality of spiritual drifting. The Book of Malachi provides six signs that serve as indicators that we might be adrift.

1. You begin to doubt God’s love (Malachi 1:2-3).
“I have always loved you,” says the LORD. But you retort, “Really? How have you loved us?” And the LORD replies, “This is how I showed my love for you: I loved your ancestor Jacob, but I rejected his brother, Esau, and devastated his hill country.”

2. You offer less than your best to God (Malachi 1:6-7).
The LORD of Heaven’s Armies says to the priests: “A son honors his father, and a servant respects his master. If I am your father and master, where are the honor and respect I deserve? You have shown contempt for my name! “But you ask, ‘How have we ever shown contempt for your name?’ “You have shown contempt by offering defiled sacrifices on my altar.”

3. You take for granted your closest human relationships (Malachi 2:13-16).
Here is another thing you do. You cover the LORD’s altar with tears, weeping and groaning because he pays no attention to your offerings and doesn’t accept them with pleasure. You cry out, “Why doesn’t the LORD accept my worship?” I’ll tell you why! Because the LORD witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows. Didn’t the LORD make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.”

4. You are untroubled by sin and evil (Malachi 2:17).
You have wearied the LORD with your words. “How have we wearied him?” you ask. You have wearied him by saying that all who do evil are good in the LORD’s sight, and he is pleased with them. You have wearied him by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”

5. You have an inaccurate self perception (Malachi 3:6-7).
“I am the LORD, and I do not change. That is why you descendants of Jacob are not already destroyed. Ever since the days of your ancestors, you have scorned my decrees and failed to obey them. Now return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “But you ask, ‘How can we return when we have never gone away?’

6. You become disillusioned in your faith (Malachi 3:13-15).
“You have said terrible things about me,” says the LORD. “But you say, ‘What do you mean? What have we said against you?’ “You have said, ‘What’s the use of serving God? What have we gained by obeying his commands or by trying to show the LORD of Heaven’s Armies that we are sorry for our sins? From now on we will call the arrogant blessed. For those who do evil get rich, and those who dare God to punish them suffer no harm.’”

Malachi’s prophetic word regarding drifting is well taken. But the most helpful word he offers is God’s relentless invitation for us to return to him. Though we may experience spiritual drifting, we are never beyond our Father’s reach.

Categories : Malachi
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When I was in third grade my family took a trip to visit friends in St. Petersburg, Florida. The most memorable part of the trip was my first visit to the ocean. We spent a day at the beach, playing in the sand and splashing in the Gulf of Mexico. I didn’t learn to swim until I became an adult, but that didn’t curb my interest in climbing onto an inflatable raft and wading into the water. I remember laying on that raft, taking in the waves and watching the watercraft speed by. There were larger ships farther on the horizon. It was fascinating. When I turned to say something to my father, I became alarmed because I had drifted from the shore. When I finally got his attention, he swam out to retrieve me and pull me back to safety. On that day I learned a couple of lessons about drifting. First, you never drift toward, you always drift from. Second, you never drift all at once, you drift gradually. The same lessons about drifting can apply to us spiritually.

On Sunday I did a survey of the Book of Malachi in preparation for my upcoming series on the Gospel of Matthew. Malachi is a small but important prophetic word that comes at the conclusion of the Old Testament. Malachi spoke to a people who were spiritually adrift. They had returned from their Babylonian captivity and rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and the Temple. One would think that they would have learned some important lessons from their time in captivity and that upon their return their gratitude would ignite a passionate faith. The idolatry that had plagued them had indeed subsided, but their spiritual passion soon waned and they became complacent. Malachi’s prophetic word was designed to address their apathy and complacency. They didn’t arrive at that place all at once. They gradually drifted from God, just like we are prone to drift from God.

What are the symptoms of spiritual drifting? Tomorrow I’ll post six symptoms of drifting from Malachi. Thanks for reading today, and thanks for sharing this site.

Categories : Malachi
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Table Manners

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You probably grew up with a parent who taught you how to use good table manners. We had several in our house that were strictly observed, such as wash your hands before dinner, wait for everyone to be seated before eating, don’t sing at the table or talk with your mouth full, “clean your plate,” and push your chair in when you leave the table.

A couple of weeks ago I shared a communion sermon from 1 Corinthians 11 titled, “Table Manners.” I wanted to focus on Paul’s challenge to the Corinthian church to make adequate spiritual preparation for their observance of communion. I developed three questions that I thought you might find helpful as you prepare your heart next time you participate in a communion service.

Question 1: Am I fostering unity in my church? (1 Corinthians 11:17-19)
Those who Paul addressed evidently had some issues with interpersonal relationships. He had already mentioned some conflict earlier in the book (cf. 1:10ff, 3:3ff), so this admonition would not have surprised the original audience. Sometimes its easy to become so focused on having personal faith in Christ that we forget that though our faith is personal, its never private. Who we are in Christ are always believers in the context of human relationships. Perhaps our strongest, unspoken witness to the world is how we treat one another. If the people of God can’t “play nice” together, the impact of our faith in word and deed is negated.

Years ago I heard John Maxwell describe our responsibility in church relationships like this. He said that each of us carries two buckets. In one hand we have a bucket of water, and in the other we have a bucket of gasoline. When we witness conflict or hear criticism or negativity, we can either throw the bucket of water on it or we can throw the bucket of gasoline on it. In other words, we are either fire fighters or a fire lighters.

Question 2: Is my life free from judging others? (1 Corinthians 11:20-22)
Scholars tell us that communion among those second generation believers was part of a larger meal, often called a love feast. As a Baptist, my mind automatically defaults to “church potluck!” The Corinthian congregation, like many of our modern congregations, was a diverse socio-economic group. The wealthy would bring the best food and drink while the poor would bring lesser dishes, if anything. The rich felt entitled to begin eating as soon as they arrived and would consume the best food and drink, leaving the scraps for those who were poor who arrived late.

While we may not be so bold in our contemporary expressions of judgment, we still have to work hard to battle judgments, prejudices, and a sense of entitlement. There’s an old saying that claims the ground is level at the foot of the cross. From God’s perspective this is a true statement. We have a responsibility to make sure that we live that truth our intentionally and practically.

Question 3: Am I honoring Christ’s sacrifice? (1 Corinthians 11:27-33)
How would one dishonor Christ’s sacrifice? By making light of the sin that exists in our lives. At minimal, preparation for communion should include a thorough self examination of the sins in our lives, followed by our humble confession of those sins. When we justify and excuse the sins in our lives we diminish the significance of Christ’s death. One of the best ways we can honor the sacrifice that Jesus made is to live our lives as free from sin as possible. And when we do sin, we claim the promise of 1 John 1:9 and seek his forgiveness and cleansing.

I recognize that different churches have different practices for preparing congregants to observe this meaningful ordinance. But on those occasions when opportunity for preparation is minimal or non existent, remember these questions and make your own spiritual preparation.

Categories : 1 Corinthians
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Weighing in on Mainline Decline

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Here are a couple of articles from Ted Campbell and Tanya Basu regarding the decline in attendance and membership among American mainline denominations. What do you think? Does this resonate with your impression of mainline denominations in your community?

Categories : Uncategorized
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Do We Care Too Much About Sports?

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Today the USA Men’s Soccer Team is facing Belgium in the “knock out round” of World Cup Soccer. Nationalism is at a favor pitch, and those who typically don’t care about soccer are glued to their television monitors. Barna Research released a new study today regarding the American perspective on sports. I found it interesting, and hope you do as well. You can access it by clicking HERE.

Categories : Uncategorized
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