treasure seeker

always looking below the surface

There’s a New Preacher in Town October 21, 2014

Filed under: Bible Study,Devotional,Matthew — rjfleming @ 3:08 am

There’s been a shift. And Jesus knows that it’s time for Him to take over where John left off. That was the plan all along. John’s role was always temporary. He was never to be the main attraction.

 

None of us are the main attraction. As bad as we want to be some days. At our very best, we’re an entertaining warm-up act that gets people’s attention and whets their appetite for the real STAR.

 

That’s what John did. And now his job is quickly winding down.

 

How well are you doing your job? Are you getting people’s attention? Or are you shrinking back because you’re fearful or you doubt you’ll know what to say?

 

When Jesus first learned John was in prison, He went back home to Nazareth. We’re not told why He went there or why He was just there temporarily.

 

I wonder if He went there to silently say good-bye to the quiet life He had led. To his workshop and the tools He had learned to use instead of just speaking things into existence. To His humble earthly home that had housed the humans He loved so much, filled with memories of family triumphs and tragedies, of laughter and tears.

To his childhood neighborhood. The local temple. The trees He used to climb. The homes of His friends.

To His Mother. Knowing the agony she must eventually endure as His earthly mission comes to an end in a few years. To just enjoy a few more days as mother and son . . . before He is catapulted into the life of a celebrity. A status not much unlike that enjoyed by those in the spotlight today: loved and adored one moment; hated and reviled the next. A life that can so easily derail the best of men. But not Him. Jesus’s perspective is too eternal to allow a few moments–or years–of fame to distract Him.

 

I love the understatement of all understatements in verse 16. “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”

 

The Light of the World has left His cocoon and moved into the neighborhood, uncovering His true identity for those who recognize and admit their desperate need of Him.

 

Today’s world isn’t much different, is it. People are walking around, living their lives, being “successful” . . . not having a clue they’re living totally in darkness.

 

You and I are not The Light of the World. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But we “house” Him. And when we’re connected to Him properly, and living out that connection, people in the dark can’t help but notice His Light in us. I mean it would be kind of impossible NOT to notice a flashlight walking around in a pitch-black cave a mile below ground.

 

One of our main jobs is to carry His light into dark places. And in today’s world, we don’t have to look very far to find some very dark darkness. Instead of being afraid we’re not a good enough light, remember that the darker it is, the brighter the light in you is going to shine. And if you’re connected to Jesus, you won’t be able to stop yourself from shining.

 

When has your light attracted attention lately? Where was the darkness? How did you feel about shining there? What was the outcome?

 

As soon as Jesus moved into His new neighborhood, He hung out His new shingle. He was no longer Jesus, Carpenter of Nazareth. He is now Jesus, Itinerate Preacher.  And He carries the same message John did: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

 

The message of the gospel has always been simple. Not easy. But simple. Not cheap. But simple.

 

By the time Jesus was on earth, the Jewish religious leaders had added hundreds of laws and rules to the original ones God gave the Israelites. Jesus came and basically reduced all of them down to two: Love God; love people (my very simplistic paraphrase).

 

The “Christian” religion hasn’t done much better. It’s amazing the number of rules different denominations have . . . a lot of them not even written down — but expected to be observed nonetheless. For some reason, humans aren’t satisfied with simple. But God is. In fact, I think that’s something He really loves: a person living a life simply focused on knowing God and pleasing Him.

 

How many rules do you follow to try to please God? Do they help you know Him better? What exactly do you need to do to please God? What does He want you to do now that you’ve surrendered your life to Him? Do you think the answer is the same for everyone? For everyone in your denomination? For everyone in your family? For you in every season of life?

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Jesus Begins to Preach / Matthew 4:12-17 (NIV)

12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
    the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
    Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned.”[f]

17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

 

Temptation in the Wilderness October 14, 2014

Filed under: Bible Study,Devotional,Matthew — rjfleming @ 3:16 am

The fourth chapter of Matthew starts out with Jesus’s temptation. I’m sure it’s familiar to you, so I won’t recap it. Here are the main points I see in this passage.

- Sometimes the wilderness is God’s idea. This time it definitely was. It clearly says the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. But just like in this situation, there is always a good reason for the trip. This particular time it was necessary to secure our salvation. Other times (like with the Israelites), it’s to ‘break off’ things we don’t need or can’t have if we’re going to enter our Promised Land. It can be to change our mindset before we face something we’re not prepared for yet. Whatever the reason, if God takes you there, it’s for your good and His glory. You can always trust Him.

- Jesus fasted. So it’s probably a good idea. Fasting is a great way to hear God more clearly. Choosing to do without food or possibly something else you’re used to consuming regularly, creates a ‘hunger’ that grabs your attention throughout each day. And every time it does, you have to choose whether or not you’re going to surrender that appetite to God and whether you want to know God and His will for you MORE than you want to satisfy your appetite.

- Satan tempts us by getting us to doubt God’s love for us.

—- 1) One of the main ways is by trying to get us to meet our unmet needs in ways that are outside God’s will. I can just hear him now: “But, Jesus! You must be starving! You haven’t eaten in 40 days! You don’t really think God wants you to suffer like this, do you? Just do what you do and fix your problem.”

—- 2) Another way is by getting us to doubt and/or misuse our position in God. “If you ARE God’s daughter/God’s son, just go ahead and do this crazy thing you know you want to do. He’s not going to let anything bad happen to you! He’s your all-powerful Heavenly Daddy. He can clean up any mess you make.”

—- 3) And Satan’s ultimate goal is to capture our praise. He wants us to worship him. His goal hasn’t changed since he was kicked out of Heaven. And he’ll promise you the world . . . or whatever little piece of it he knows you want really bad. And if you’re really following after God, he’ll promise you the piece of the world that God has set as your purpose here on earth–your destiny. But Satan’s way is a shortcut. Or so he says. It’s really a trap that’s extremely costly. The cost is your heart.

- Satan uses God’s word (which he knows very well) — with just a little twist — to try and trap you. Remember in the Garden of Eden when he asked Eve, “Did God really say . . . .” He knew exactly what God said, but he wants us to doubt what we heard. If he can just plant a little seed of doubt, he knows it will grow.

- Speaking God’s word aloud is one of the best ways to escape Satan’s traps and to fight temptation. This means we have to spend time in the word so we know what it says and can recognize Satan’s distortion of it. And we have to know what it says so we can use appropriate verses that speak to our most common temptations.

- If you put up a good WORD fight, Satan will eventually leave you alone — at least for a while. Satan came back and tempted Jesus again. And he’ll come back for you, too. But you can be prepared and you can successfully fight him again.

- One of the jobs of angels is to minister to people on earth. Angels are God’s messengers and He’s still using them today.

 

Application Questions:

- When did you last spend time in the wilderness? Did God lead you there or were you there because of your own choices? What purpose did your time there fulfill? What did you learn? About God? About you?

- When did you last fast for spiritual purposes? What did you hear from God?

- How does Satan tempt you to get your needs met outside God’s will? How often is he successful?

- When has Satan tempted you to do something crazy and expect God to rescue you? What was the outcome?

- What shortcut has Satan offered you? What has he promised you?

- When has Satan tried to get you to doubt what God has said to you?

- When have you spoken God’s word aloud to fight temptation? What verses did you use?

- What do you need to do to be prepared for your next battle with Satan?

- When do you think you may have “entertained angels unaware” (Hebrews 13:2)?

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Matthew 4:1-11 / NIV

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

 

Jesus’s Baptism October 7, 2014

Filed under: Bible Study,Devotional,Matthew — rjfleming @ 3:24 am

In this section of Matthew 3, Jesus comes to be baptized by his cousin John in the Jordan River. John “protests strenuously” according to the Amplified Bible, stressing that he (John) needs to be baptized by You (Jesus).

 

But Jesus asks John to do it so that He (Jesus) can “perform completely whatever is right.”

 

When Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens opened and John (according to the Amplified Bible) saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on Him (Jesus).

 

And then God HIMSELF spoke from Heaven and identified Jesus — “This is My Son, My Beloved, in Whom I delight!” (Amplified Bible). Wow!

 

Here’s what caught my attention:

- Jesus is all about doing what’s right, doing the Father’s will. He talks about this a lot during his ministry.

- Arguing with Jesus is futile. It’s not that He always wins (because He NEVER forces His will on any of us), but He’s always right. Obey Him and you’ll have peace and contentment. Disobey Him and you’ll lose your peace and end up discontented. Maybe not immediately, but eventually.

- Making the decision to obey God, especially when it’s not an easy choice, comes from having a different perspective, a perspective of trust–believing that God loves you and wants what’s best for you–and KNOWS what’s best for you.

- Sometimes obeying God brings revelation that allows you to see things others can’t and helps you hear and recognize God’s voice more clearly.

- Your obedience brings God joy.

 

Questions to think about:

- Where does God’s will for you fall on your list of priorities when making decisions?

- When was the last time you argued with God? What did you decide to do? How did it affect your life?

- What do you believe about God’s love for you when choosing to obey Him is not an easy decision?

- When has an act of obedience resulted in a new revelation or perspective? What did you start to ‘see’ differently? When has it brought a clearer recognition of God’s voice?

- How does it make you feel to know that your decision to obey God in a particular instance brought Him joy?

==========

Matthew 3:13-17 / Living Bible (TLB)

13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized there by John. 14 John didn’t want to do it.

“This isn’t proper,” he said. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you.”

15 But Jesus said, “Please do it, for I must do all that is right.” So then John baptized him.

16 After his baptism, as soon as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God coming down in the form of a dove. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, and I am wonderfully pleased with him.”

 

Someone Else is Coming September 30, 2014

Filed under: Bible Study,Devotional,Matthew — rjfleming @ 3:08 am

Matthew 3:11-12 TLB

11 “With water I baptize those who repent of their sins; but someone else is coming, far greater than I am, so great that I am not worthy to carry his shoes! He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 He will separate the chaff from the grain, burning the chaff with never-ending fire and storing away the grain.”

 

In these two verses JTB is still talking to the religious leaders, warning them about what is about to happen.

 

He tells them that someone else will soon be arriving on the scene. He’s talking about his cousin Jesus. The promised Messiah.

 

He talks about the differences in the two of them: how He (Jesus) is so much greater, that he (JTB) is not even worthy to untie and carry Jesus’s shoes. This was one of the duties of a slave. I’m not sure what social position was below the position of slave, but that’s where JTB felt like he belonged when he compared himself to Jesus.

 

Then he talks about the difference in their baptism. He reiterates that his (JTB’s) baptism is an outward symbol of what has happened on the inside: the person has repented of their sins. But he says Jesus’s baptism will be internal. He will baptize people with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Again, Jesus is in a totally different realm than JTB.

 

Then JTB talks about one of the tasks that Jesus was coming to earth to accomplish.

 

He doesn’t talk about Jesus coming to preach (which He did), or heal (which He did), or set captives free (which He did).

 

He’s not talking here about Jesus dying for our sins (which He did), or rising from the dead (which He did), or ascending and going back to Heaven (which He did).

 

What JTB mentions here is another one of the major tasks that Jesus did. But it’s not as much fun to talk about.

 

Jesus came to separate. He came to draw a line in the sand. Or maybe it’s better illustrated as a large circle. And He’s inside the circle inviting people to join Him there.

 

Regardless of whether it’s a line or a box or a circle, it’s pretty apparent in this sermon by JTB, as well as in numerous other sermons by Jesus, that the religious leaders of the day were not on Jesus’s side of the line. And JTB has already given a couple of reasons why. They weren’t living like they had ever repented of their sins. And they were depending on their rule-following family legacy to determine their eternal destiny.

 

And neither of those will get you inside the circle.

 

Proof September 23, 2014

Filed under: Bible Study,Devotional,Matthew — rjfleming @ 3:04 am

Matthew 3:8-10

 

We covered these verses in last week’s blog, but there was something that kept coming to my mind about them. So I decided to talk about it this week.

 

When JTB confronted the religious leaders who showed up to be baptized, he told them they should be able to ‘prove’ they had repented. I love the wording in The Amplified Bible. It says, “let your lives prove your change of heart.”

 

It’s not that we have to do certain things or that there’s a list of do’s and don’ts we have to follow.

 

In fact, it’s just the opposite.

 

Jesus came (and JTB came as Jesus’ warm-up act) to de-throne religion. To de-bunk the myth that the way to a relationship with God, and the eternal life He offers, is to follow a list of rules and regulations.

 

That’s what the religious leaders of the day were doing. They memorized books of the Old Testament (it was the only one at that time). They stopped whatever they were doing wherever they were to pray at appointed times. They didn’t miss a Sabbath in the Temple. Or a Holy Day. They wore particular clothing that distinguished them as religious leaders. They only ate certain foods. And they followed all the laws, even down to tithing their herbs!

 

And they thought that if anybody should be candidates for baptism, it was them.

 

Yet JTB wouldn’t baptize them.

 

And then he adds insult to injury.

 

In verse 9 he tells them not to presume that they’re safe just because they’re descendants of Abraham. He says that God could create more descendants of Abraham from the rocks in this wilderness.

 

Which in common folk venacular means, ”You guys are nothing special.” Ouch.

 

These religious leaders were depending on their ancestry and on following a particular list of do’s and don’ts handed down by those ancestors to cement their relationship with God.

 

But apparently God doesn’t think that’s enough.

 

Or maybe He thinks it’s too much. Too much focus on human effort.

 

I think it goes back to the wording in The Amplified Bible: “let your lives prove your change of heart.”

 

A change of heart.

 

Isn’t that what Jesus focused on? The heart? And the changed lives that will always result when hearts are changed?

 

So what are we focused on?

- How someone dresses?

- How many times they attend church?

- How well they pray in public?

- How much we see them drop in the offering plate?

- What they eat or don’t eat?

- Whether or not they fumble around when trying to find a book of the Bible?

- What role their parents/grandparents/children play in the local church/denomination?

 

And what makes us feel more secure in our relationship with God?

- How many days a week we have a quiet time?

- How many scriptures we can recite?

- How many times we go to church in a week/month?

- What we wear to church?

- How many ministries we’re involved in?

- How much money we give away?

- How involved our parents/grandparents/children are in church?

 

It’s so easy for our focus to slip and for us to start concentrating on works more than our heart. Because keeping a tangible list of do’s and don’ts is much easier than digging deep into our own heart and taking the issues we find there to an invisible God for intangible surgery.

 

But until we do that on a consistent basis, we won’t have the changed lives that prove we’ve had a change of heart.

 

Matthew 3:1-10 September 16, 2014

Filed under: Bible Study,Devotional,Matthew — rjfleming @ 3:09 am

John the Baptist. Now there’s a character.

 

He would never make the cover of GQ. I mean who wears a leather belt with a camel hair coat?

 

He didn’t have a church, or a leadership position in the Temple. He probably wouldn’t have been welcome at either one anyway, unless he changed his clothes. And shut his mouth.

 

But he didn’t really worry about being ‘accepted’ before he could start fulfilling God’s call on his life. He just went out in the wilderness, hung up his shingle, and started preaching. I wonder if he even had an audience when he began. He may have started out preaching to the wildlife.

 

However it happened, soon people started heading out to the wilderness to hear him preach. And it wasn’t like he was sharing a feel-good message. He was telling these people–most of whom were probably already involved in ‘religion’–that they needed to repent and be baptized. And that’s just what they did. And they went back and told their friends and family and people kept coming.

 

Then one day the local religious leaders showed up and asked to be baptized. You KNOW there’s a story behind that trip! My idea is that Temple attendance started falling off drastically because the congregation was all out in the wilderness listening to JTB. Or maybe the congregation was growing, but all they could talk about was JTB and his message and their baptism and their changed lives.

 

Anyway, when the religious leaders showed up, instead of rejoicing over them, JTB called them a bunch of snakes and told them he wouldn’t baptize them unless they had evidence of a changed life. How embarrassing that they didn’t!

 

I have a feeling they went back to town with as many questions as they left with. Maybe more. I don’t think they ‘got it.’ I think they went out there looking at JTB’s methods. I think they were trying to figure out what he was doing that was drawing such a crowd. Maybe they were checking out his logo and his mission statement. Maybe they even thought about having services outside every fifth Sabbath.

 

The sad thing is I don’t think they had a clue that they weren’t even in the same hemisphere as JTB, much less in the same ballpark.

 

JTB was sharing TRUTH. Life-changing truth. And they were still stuck in their religion.

 

There was no way they could compete because once you’ve had a taste of life-changing truth, you can’t go back to mere religion.

 

And if the religious leaders thought JTB was a handful, they were in for a surprise. Because he was just the warm-up act for the real religion-bashing, Life-Changing TRUTH.

 

======

 

Questions:

- When is the last time you heard life-changing truth? Where did you hear it?

- Where do you go to be challenged to repent?

- What is your calling? Are you waiting to be ‘accepted’ or are you moving forward to fulfill it?

- In what wilderness could you hang up your shingle and start fulfilling God’s purpose for your life? Why aren’t you there yet?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Matthew! September 9, 2014

Filed under: Bible Study,Devotional,Matthew — rjfleming @ 3:17 am

I’ve decided to take a trip through the book of Matthew. At some points on the journey I’ll slow down and really take a close look at the territory and other times, like today, I’ll just hit the high points and keep moving.

 

Today I want to share the 4 principles I saw in chapters 1 and 2.

 

Chapter 1 is mainly the genealogy of Jesus and a little background on the situation surrounding his conception and birth.

Chapter 2 covers the first few years of his life, which covered a lot of miles–literally.

 

Here are the principles that made an impression on me.

1. No matter what the current politics or the local culture, God has and always will value females as much as he does males. This is evident in the genealogy in chapter 1. Several women are listed–something that normally wouldn’t have happened.

2. Jesus is “God with us.” Near the end of chapter 1, it mentions one of the names that Jesus would be called–Immanuel. The meaning of this name is “God with us” and it’s one of my favorites. It doesn’t make sense that “God put skin on and moved into the neighborhood” — which is one way I’ve heard it described. But He did. And He did it because He loves us and wants to be with us . . . FOREVER. And He was willing to do whatever it took for that to be possible.

3. God uses dreams to speak to and guide people. He used dreams several times in these two chapters. Earlier this year at my church, we had a missionary couple who serve in the Middle East come and speak. They serve in a very dangerous area of the world and do some very brave things when God asks them to. They shared some unbelievable stories of Muslims who have been converted because Jesus appeared to them in their dreams and they became curious enough to talk to these missionaries or to ask for a Bible. If you don’t already, you may want to pay close attention to your dreams and ask the Holy Spirit to show you what they mean.

4. Sometimes the path we have to take to follow God is not a straight one. Look at all the travel Joseph had to lead his young family on during the early years of Jesus’ life. First Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem before Jesus was born. Then they had to flee Bethlehem and go live in Egypt for a while to keep Jesus safe. Then they came back to Judea but had to leave there and ended up in Nazareth. I think sometimes we believe that if we’re following God, everything will be simple, straightforward, and sensible. And yet often it is complicated, convoluted, and makes absolutely no sense to our logical brains. I’m so glad we have these examples in the Bible so we can know this is the normal life of a God-follower.

 

Application Questions:

1. What do I need to change about the value I place on males versus females?

2. How often do I realize how close God is to me?

3. How has God used dreams to speak to me lately?

4. What does my path look like right now?

 

 
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