Nobody Else Can Claim This!

We’re doing something different this year with our church, and I’d like for you, my readers to join us. The goal is as a church family we will read through the Gospel of Matthew by Easter, and the other three Gospels by the end of the year. I will be writing at least one article per week that goes along with the reading…not really a complete commentary on the Gospels, but rather a reading guide. We’ll be reading roughly two chapters per week (four short chapters this week). This is an easy to accomplish reading plan for the year, but at the same time we will spend the entire year focused on the life of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I hope you choose to read with us! Click here to download the Yearly Gospel Reading Plan

This week we’re looking at the first four chapters of Matthew. The Gospel of Matthew was written by a Jew to a Jewish audience, so there are some major Jewish themes, explanations, and topics that Matthew brings up. The major focus of these first few chapters is who Jesus is, and where Jesus came from. The genealogy that many might skim over was very important to Jews, and is full of information that teaches us about Jesus.

Because space is limited I’ll only focus on the women mentioned, which in itself is odd. Women were never included in official Jewish genealogies because during this time they had no legal rights and were considered property rather than people. But notice that God doesn’t see it that way! He includes Tamar the adulteress (Gen. 38), Rahab the prostitute (Joshua 2), Ruth the Moabite (Ruth), and Bathsheba the adulteress (2 Sam 11&12). Here Matthew shows us two things: 1) The barriers the religious elite had put in place are being removed, 2) Somehow God can even use those who have gone through tragic and sinful situations to accomplish His purposes, even bringing His Son into the world through their lineage!

Chapter 2 covers the Christmas story, the birth of Jesus and the fulfilled prophecies that further point to who Jesus was and where he comes from. Because this is January most of us have studied the Christmas story recently, and we’ll not dwell here.

Finally we arrive at chapter 3 where we meet John the Baptist who is preparing the way for the Messiah (another prophecy fulfilled) and we see the baptism of Jesus. (Personally I’ve never understood people wanting to be a follower of Jesus, to be like Jesus, but not wanting to be baptized. Even Jesus said he needed to do this “to fulfill all righteousness.” Shouldn’t we want to follow his example, and command? (Mt. 28:19)) In this passage we see two events we often overlook that would be important to Matthew’s readers: Jesus receiving smicha (pronounced smee-hah), which your Bible likely translates as “authority“, or “one who had authority.” 

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. – Matthew 7:28-29

Great teachers became Rabbi’s, meaning they had the “authority” to interpret,  apply, and create new teachings about scripture when they themselves were granted smicha by other Rabbi’s who had smicha. Apparently John the Baptist had smicha (Mt. 21:23-27). The other grantor of smicha? God himself!

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” – 3:17 

Matthew’s Jewish readers would realize that Jesus was the only Rabbi in history who received his smicha directly from God himself. Jesus isn’t some ordinary teacher. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God!

Our reading this week ends with chapter 4. Jesus faces temptation without sin in the wilderness, begins his ministry, and calls his first disciples. But the chapter ends with a message to Matthew’s Jewish readers, as well as to us today, that Jesus’ message and salvation was for a much broader audience than anyone expected.

“Large crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.” – Matthew 4:25

Here we have a listing of areas that were the home of the most well educated religious scholars, and the common folk.  Extremely traditional and conservative teachers, and extremely liberal and radical ones. But it also includes gentiles from the Decapolis. Matthew is reminding us that even early in his ministry we can see that Jesus came from God to save everybody!

Be blessed as you read Matthew’s story of Jesus this week! – Matt

The Best New Year’s Resolution: Change The World

In the early 1900s, a shoe manufacturer wanted to expand sales, so they decided to send salesmen all over the world in search of new markets for their business.

Two salesmen were sent to the the remote regions of Africa, and had two very different reactions to what they found.

The first salesman telegraphed his employer:

It’s hopeless. They don’t wear shoes down here.

The second salesman telegraphed the same employer:

Wonderful opportunity! They don’t wear shoes down her yet!

Sometimes we fail to see our surroundings, our circumstances as an opportunity to change the world. (CLICK TO TWEET THIS!)

We all struggle with this. We fail to see being stuck in traffic as an opportunity to call a friend and just talk. We fail to look at difficult situations as an opportunity to grow personally. We don’t see the end of a relationship as an opportunity to form new ones.

I’m not talking about being optimistic in all situations. I’m talking about changing the way we view everyday situations.

What would this world look like if we started using the opportunities we are presented with every day to change the world, rather than gripe on Twitter. What if we decided to not be bitter but instead, as the old saying goes, turn lemons into lemonade?

Did you know the Apostle Paul talked about this same thing? He wrote a letter to the early church in Colossae. They were facing all kinds of challenges, and so was Paul. He was in prison when he wrote this! Look at what he decides to write while he is “here in chains.

Colossians 4:5-6
Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.

Here’s Paul, writing from prison, encouraging Christians on the best way to live their lives. And if you’re not a Christian, and you’re reading this…don’t worry! If you follow Paul’s wisdom here, you’ll see an improvement in your life as well!

Paul says “Live wisely…” When we choose to apply wisdom to situations instead of reacting to the emotions of the moment, we will change the way we handle situations for the better.

He tells them to “…make the most of every opportunity.” No matter what life hands us, good or bad, use those situations as an opportunity to do good instead of evil.

Let your conversations be gracious…” Can you imagine how many problems in our world would simply go away if we could do this one thing? (CLICK TO TWEET THIS!) What would it look like if everyone simply handled every conversation they had tomorrow with graciousness? How many problems would be eliminated?

…and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” This part refers to creating another opportunity with the way we handle everyday situations.  If we handle stressful, frustrating, irritating, or painful situations differently than the way the rest of the world does, we will create new opportunities.

What kind of opportunities? The opportunity to tell others why we can handle these situations differently. To tell them about the hope we have found.

We can tell them about Jesus. The Jesus who loved the outcasts of society. The Jesus who had compassion on those who everyone else ignored. The Jesus who chose to die for everyone, even the ones who hated him and put him to death.

How different would our world look if we could take difficult situations, and instead of showing our selfish, self absorbed inner 5 year old, we would show the world the true, authentic Jesus of the Bible?

Simply put, we could change the world.

So, go change the world today!


Can’t Keep Up? 8 Ways to Simplify Your Bible Reading Plan for 2012

Each year I try to set new goals for myself and one of the goals that I started early this year is to read my Bible daily.  Actually, it’s a goal I’ve had for several years now, but it tends to get off track not long after I start, causing my Bible reading for the rest of the year to suffer.  Knowing my tendencies, I began working on this goal a few months ago and I now have a routine in place that helps me keep up with all of the daily responsibilities of work and home, but still keeps plenty of time each day for reading my Bible.  It has been such a blessing to have the daily reminders and reinforcement of God’s Word in my life.  So much, in fact, that I want you to be able to experience the benefits I have.

So to help you get started, here are 8 Ways to Simplify Your Bible Reading Plan for 2012.

1.     Start with something you want to read.

Reading material or studying topics that you want to study will help you keep interest in reading your Bible.  It’s practically guaranteed that if you start reading something you want to read, new questions and new curiosities will arise, leading to the desire for more reading and study.  Do you like Paul?  Read about him.  Do the miracles of Jesus interest you?  Read about them.  Don’t let the traditional reading plan of starting in Genesis and falling asleep in Leviticus derail your reading goals for this year.  Start with your favorite part of the Bible and go from there.

2.     Start at the beginning of a book. (Not wherever the page opens!)

Would you enjoy reading a murder mystery novel if you started half way through chapter 6?  Maybe…but you definitely wouldn’t be as engaged in the story and you’d miss out on most of the details.  It’s always easier to get engaged in what you are reading if you start from the beginning. Use the guidelines from tip #1, but try to start at the beginning of that book so you can develop some context for what you are reading.  Knowing the context of a particular verse (what comes before and after) will certainly effect its meaning, so be sure you know what a verse means by starting at the beginning and understanding the context!

3.     Keep it short.

The last thing you need is for something as beneficial and enjoyable as reading your Bible to feel like a time burden right from the start.  Start by setting a goal of reading for 5 or 10 minutes at a time.  You could also begin with one of the short books of the New Testament, like Jude, Philemon, Titus, or James.  All of these books have tons of information you can immediately apply to your lives, and answer some of the deep questions of faith.  All of the books listed above can be read in one sitting or less.  Almost all of us can find 10 minutes of time right before bed, or first thing in the morning, to read a chapter or two.  The goal is to start small and get hooked on reading.  An additional advantage to this approach is having more time to digest smaller portions of Scripture, leading to deeper understanding.

4.     Read with a highlighter and pencil.

I have always found that I get much more reading done when I’m looking for important information.  But I must confess, I don’t always know what I’m looking for!  I have developed the habit of reading my Bible with a pencil or highlighter so that I can underline, highlight, or make notes about any verses that I find interesting and meaningful. The verse may have something to do with a topic I’m studying, a verse I don’t understand and want to come back to, or a verse I really like and want to remember.  It becomes almost like a game to find the next verse I am going to underline. (By the way, I’m going through a new copy of the New Testament this way right now…it really does work!)

5.     Have a designated reading time.

Sticking to a routine can help you stick with your Bible reading.  Make a plan to spend a few minutes at the same time every day (morning, lunch break, before bed, etc.) and most importantly, stay consistent!  Let’s face it, life happens and our routine will need to be a little flexible.  But if this schedule varies drastically from day to day, it just becomes harder to get into a routine of reading daily.  Try to not read at breakfast one morning, and the next day at lunch, and the next at bed.  Have your Bible reading attached to roughly the same time every day so that it becomes as routine as brushing your teeth.

6.     Have a designated reading location.

This might sound like a strange idea, but keep your reading location the same, and leave everything you use in your Bible reading (see #4) in that location.  Reading in the same place every day has helped me greatly because every time I walk past my reading place, I see my Bible and pencil and I’m reminded that I need to get my daily reading in. Having a designated location becomes a memory trigger throughout the day.  Suddenly the chair I watch TV in is now the chair I read my Bible in. If you are a coffee drinker, then read your Bible where you drink your coffee in the morning (most of my Bibles have coffee stains on the pages.) Having the physical connection of a place that you read will greatly improve your chances of keeping your routine. (If you are a person who likes to read in different locations like the porch in nice weather, that’s fine.  Just have a “home base” for your regular Bible reading that will trigger your memory.)

7.     Let others know your plan.

This tip will help you in more ways than one.  If you let your friends and family know that you are making an effort to read your Bible daily, they will probably be willing to help you remember that you need to complete your daily reading.  Another way this will help is that if you stick to tip #5 and #6, your friends and family will know that you are reading, and where you are reading.  This will allow them to do their best not to bother you while you are reading.  Another suggestion here is to share with your friends and family what you are reading.  This can open up avenues of conversation about God’s Word that you may not have any other way.  Just sharing a little of God’s Word with someone may completely change their lives.  It will probably change your life too!

8.     Increase your prayer time.

Anything worth doing is worth doing with God’s help. Philippians 4:13 reminds us that with God’s help anything is possible.  Through prayer we can reach our goals, especially when they are focused on Him.  Increasing our time in prayer continues to focus our minds on God, and on His Word.  It draws us into a closer relationship with our Creator and Savior and allows us to communicate our deepest feelings of hope, anger, despair, and anything else that life throws our way.  Communicating with God will most likely increase your desire for Him to communicate with you.  And how does he do that? Through his Word, the Bible.

All of these tips can be put to use immediately. So don’t just make it a goal to read your Bible more this year.  Make it an all-out Bible reading routine.

What are some of your Bible reading routines?