Devotions In Matthew

A God Denied

Scripture reading: Matthew 6:19-24.
You cannot serve both God and Money (v. 24).

I remember quoting these words to a college president, who found them unwelcome. He was being pressured by area pastors, trustees and students to bring a popular speaker to campus for a few days. The speaker grossly twisted the Scriptures and perverted the gospel. His god was Mammon. Later he was found guilty of fraudulent operations and penalized by the government.

My real challenge, however, is to apply Your words to myself. I dare not allow money to become of first importance in my life. I must not make it, spend it, or keep it in ways or for reasons that would conflict with Your word and will. I must not allow it to determine how or where or to whom I will minister. I must keep money in its place—as Your servant, not as my master.

Trusting You, I have been well cared for across the years. My gospel has not been altered to please money worshippers in the church or world. I have been in bondage to no one's dollars. You are Lord.

Enough Already!

Scripture reading: Matthew 6:25-34.
Every day has enough troubles of its own (v. 34).

Amen, Lord! I've found it so.

"Why ask for trouble?" (2 Chronicles 25:19). Why indeed? Trouble comes unasked, unsought, unwanted. I am either in trouble or will be soon, so why add to any day's ration of trouble?

Worry increases trouble. Worry reaches back and drags yesterday's trouble into the present. Then it reaches out and pulls tomorrow's troubles into the present. Thus it creates an unbearable load and nerves are strained and relationships are broken.

Your power, Lord, makes worry needless. Your love makes worry inexcusable. You will not forsake me and my troubles cannot defeat You. "My social security number is Matthew 6:33." These were the words of my friend, John L. Knight, and to them my heart says "Amen."

Worry won't lengthen my years but it can shorten them. It won't lessen my troubles but it can enlarge them. It won't supply my needs but it can intensify them. Its whole effect is negative and destructive.

Lord, whatever trouble today brings will have to stand alone. I'm not fetching yesterday's or tomorrow's troubles to make things worse today.

God Answers Prayer

Scripture reading: Matthew 7:7-11.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you (v. 7).

Father, Your readiness to give exceeds my readiness to ask, seek and knock. Evil men give good gifts to their children. "How much more" will You bestow good gifts upon Your children. The relationship into which You take us assures Your abiding interest in our welfare. You bear toward me a Father's heart—loving, concerned, generous, receptive and forgiving always. That "blows my mind" but steadies my feet.

"Good gifts" are gifts that do me good. They meet my needs; they do not indulge my whims. You answer prayer, but not always as I expect or desire. I have learned that Your "no" is as gracious as Your "yes." You are as loving in what You withhold as in what You bestow. I may be a foolish son at times, but You are always a wise Father.

I will come to You now with praise and petition, certain that You hear and care and give. It is not to words about prayer that You respond, but to words of prayer.


The Golden Rule

Scripture reading: Matthew 7:7-12.
In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets (v. 12).

Lord Jesus, each time You summarized the Old Testament You reduced its demands to love. How wrong are they who find therein a hostile, vengeful, capricious God. Such a God would not issue loving commands. Before men can find fault with Him they must first caricature and slander Him.

If the word of God distills to the "golden rule," why is the message so long and diverse? Doubtless because we are slow to learn and swift to forget. Consequently, You show us applications and consequences of love—and its opposite—in many persons and situations. Reading and hearing them we can learn what it truly means to love others as You love us.

No one needs the lessons more than I, Lord. Let me not complain of their repetition. This day, in all my personal encounters and responses, help me to treat others, not as I am treated but as I wish to be treated. Grace my heart to be gracious in all the words and deeds it prompts.


Two Ways

Scripture reading: Matthew 7:13-14.
...the road that leads to destruction.... the road that leads to life... (vv. 13, 14).

Lord Jesus, You were well acquainted with the Old Testament and its doctrine of "the two ways." You were also well acquainted with life around You, and knew how popular the way to destruction was, how seldom sought and traveled was the way to life.

Though centuries have passed, the same truth obtains today. Values are so warped that masses choose the wide gate and broad road, saying, "This is the life." Those who listen to You know that it leads to death.

The "two ways" is not merely doctrine to discuss. It is a choice to make, a choice for me to make each time the wrong gate and road and crowd exert an appeal. I have chosen and now choose the small gate and narrow road. The few who travel there are the salt of the earth. The destination is unimaginably wonderful.

Best of all, You are my companion. The narrow way is broad in love, joy and peace!


Terrible Words

Scripture reading: Matthew 7:15-23.
Then I will tell them plainly, "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers" (v. 23).

You knew about them, Lord. You knew they were "false prophets," "bad trees," and "evildoers." You were aware of their hypocrisy and sacrilege. You knew of their disobedience to the Father's will.

But You did not know them. You had no fellowship with them. They used your name to deceive and rob, but not to address You as Friend or honor You as Lord. Knowing involves intimate relationship with another, not just awareness of another.

To those "evildoers" You will say, "Away from me." You say to sinners, "Come to me." If they persist in rebellion and self-destruction You will say at last—“on that day"—"Depart from me."

Anywhere away from You is hell. Hell is being alone with one's self in the midst of "many" who are alone in the same way.

Lord, I never want to hear the terrible words of judgment, "Away from me." I want to respond daily to the merciful invitation, "Come to me." I come to You today. Take me and make me as I follow You.


Choose the Foundation

Scripture reading: Matthew 7:24-29.
...yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock (v. 25).

No house is safer than its foundation is strong. Lord Jesus, You are the rock—the living Stone upon whom Your people are built as living stones, as those who share Your life (1 Pet. 2:4-6).

I build upon You, Lord, by hearing and doing Your words. Hearing them is an immense privilege and opportunity, for which I am glad. But hearing is not enough. Unless I "put them into practice" the opportunity is blown and privilege becomes condemnation.

The storms will come to every house. Every life will be tested to its foundation. Those only will survive whose foundation You are.

The solid rock or the shifting sand—those are my options.

Like "the crowds" who heard You long ago, I am "amazed" at Your teaching. Your words are shot through with ultimate authority. But amazement and admiration are not enough. I must choose, choose to hear and obey or merely to hear. I must build upon the Rock or be crushed by it (1 Pet. 2:7-8; Matt. 21:42-44).

Choose, my soul, and choose today!


The Cleanser

Scripture reading: Matthew 8:1-4.
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately he was cured of his leprosy (v. 3).

Your sympathy is immense, Lord Jesus. You could easily have cured this leper by merely speaking to him. But You knew that he had a deep psychological need to be touched while still a leper. He was regarded as a loathsome untouchable, a threat to all who were near him. Law compelled him to cry, "Unclean," warning away any who might have touched him inadvertently. How he must have yearned for the touch of a human hand—placed on him in deliberate compassion. And You reached out and touched him!

Your authority is equal to Your sympathy, Lord—and each is infinite. You knocked the "if" from the beggar's plea, saying, "I am willing. Be clean!" At Your touch and command his transformation was immediate. He was "cured" and could be readmitted to society.

I was that leper, Lord. My sin was consuming me, even as it menaced and repulsed others. Some cared but could not cure. Many did not even care. But in You I found a perfect union of sympathy and authority. I praise You for cleansing grace!


Christ, Astonished and Astounding

Scripture reading: Matthew 8:5-13.
When Jesus heard this he was astonished... (v. 10).

You were not easily astonished, Lord. Here You were amazed at the faith of a centurion. In Nazareth You were amazed at the unbelief of former neighbors (Luke 7:9; Mark 6:6).

This centurion was a man of astonishing love. He loved his servant as one would love a brother, unusual in those days when slaves were plentiful and cheap.

He was also a man of astonishing humility. How often would a Roman officer kneel as a supplicant before a Jewish rabbi? How often would a man of power and wealth confess himself undeserving of a visit from You?

He was, as the passage emphasizes, a man of astonishing faith. He viewed You as a commander over disease as surely as he was commander over soldiers. You had only to "say the word" and illness would salute and obey.

Lord, I don't astonish You, but You amaze me. Your love, Your humility and Your sovereignty never cease to thrill my soul. That I should be a recipient of them is the greatest astonishment of all. Praise Your name! You spoke the word and I was healed.


Healing and Service

Scripture reading: Matthew 8:14-17.

He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him (v. 15).

You are the source of healing, Lord. At your touch the forces of illness are reproved and dismissed. In Your presence they have no power. At Your command they vacate the premises.

How and when You heal are Your sovereign choices. We do not dictate Your actions, for You are Lord and we are servants. Ours to petition and submit—Yours to command and deliver. My heart is content with such an arrangement.

You are the source of healing, and service is the issue of healing. The restored victim began at once to wait on You. You grant health and strength, not for self-indulgence, but for ministry to others' needs.

You are not physically present for me to "wait on." But this same Gospel teaches me that what I do for others is done for You, and what I withhold from others is withheld from You (25:34-45). You are present in those who need the help that I can offer.

Healing from You, service to them—let that be the story of my life.


One of a Kind

Scripture reading: Matthew 8:18-27.

What kind of a man is this? (v. 27).

The storms of life, especially those that come "without warning," test a person's character. The kind of man I am is shown more clearly in a storm than in the sunshine.

Like those first disciples I am too easily afraid. I too quickly despair. I should know that, with You in the boat, storms may come but cannot conquer.

You slept during the storm. How tired You must have been! Jonah slept during a storm at sea; he was exhausted by running from God. You were exhausted from working for God. You were an unselfish man.

When awakened You heard despairing disciples cry, "Lord, save us! We're going to drown." I can imagine the terror that gripped their hearts. You remained fully self-possessed, undaunted by raging nature and approaching death. You were a serene man.
You rebuked the storm and it subsided. Like a chastened pet it grew suddenly quiet. You were a sovereign man.

Lord, I cannot control the wind and waves. I cannot save myself from the storms. Share my boat, though, and I will share Your triumph.


Visible Faith

Scripture reading: Matthew 9:1-8.

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son, your sins are forgiven" (v. 2).

Biblical faith, like biblical love, does things. It becomes visible in daring actions. These unnamed friends of the paralytic—"some men"—carried him to Jesus. When You "saw their faith" You responded with saving mercies.

The paralytic, too, had faith. At Your command he stood to his feet, shouldered his mat, and went home in great joy to a new life.

How sad that "teachers of the law" had no faith. Their stupid reaction was to accuse You of blasphemy—as if Satan could or would cast out Satan. Those who best knew the written word least knew the living Word.

Faith is more than intellectual assent to Your word. It is courageously acting upon that word. Faith is "doing the truth" because one trusts the Truth.

The unbelievers received nothing but condemnation. The believers were richly rewarded by Your cheering, healing, saving words and deeds.

Grant me such faith, Lord, faith that expects You to act on behalf of those I bring to You.


Go and Learn

Scripture reading: Matthew 9:9-13.

But go and learn... (v. 13).

I read Your words, "go and learn," Lord, and my thoughts flash forward to Your gracious invitation in 11:28-29, "Come ... and learn from me." Go and learn; come and learn.

Those who seek life in You may come and learn. You will teach them, personally and graciously, how to be saved and to find rest.

Those who refuse to come and learn must go and learn. Rejecting You in unbelief, they are condemned to learn from lesser teachers in harder schools.

Matthew and his friends were learning from Your table-talk. "Stomach evangelism" was going on. Your foolish critics, "the Pharisees," were missing the meaning of Scripture and salvation because they haughtily refused to acknowledge Your authority as Lord and Savior.

Jesus, I want to learn from You and about You. I want to come at Your invitation and learn what I need to know in order to live as Your disciple. Long ago, like Matthew, I heard You say, "Follow me." Each day, as I open the Bible, I want to hear You say, "Come and learn." Teach me, O Lord, for I have come today.


Rulers of Rulers

Scripture reading: Matthew 9:18-26.

...a ruler came and knelt before him... (v. 18).

Someday, Lord Jesus, every ruler will kneel before You. At Your name every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that You are Lord (Phil. 2:9-11).

Rulers are accustomed to homage from their subjects who petition for favors. This ruler became the petitioner. He knew that You needed nothing from him. He recognized You as a ruler of rulers who even had authority over death. On his knees he begged You to come and raise his dead girl to life.

And You did! You silenced the noisy mourners and the laughing mockers and summoned the girl back to life. You were Master of the situation.

Lord Jesus, my creaky old knees have long been trained to acknowledge my need and Your power. My stammering tongue joyfully proclaims You as Lord. I am far less deserving than was this unnamed ruler, yet Your amazing love has been lavished on me, Your awesome power exerted for my benefit.

Raise my children to new life who are now dead in sin. Put Your hands on them and they shall live. Amen.


Scripture reading: Matthew 9:18-26.

Take heart, daughter... (v. 22).

How broad is Your love, Lord Jesus! The daughter of Jairus had a wealthy and influential father to plead for her. You were just as concerned for this bleeding "nobody" who had no one to intercede for her. The ruler said, "My daughter..." You said to this suffering woman, "Daughter..." You adopted her on the spot.

If a ruler's daughter could receive mercy, how much more the daughter of the Ruler of rulers! You responded to her faith with priceless gifts of healing and encouragement. She touched You in faith, You touched her in love and power, and she "was healed from that moment."

Lord, You adopt all who trust in You. They become sons and daughters of the King, their humble lives enriched by healing moments.

Knowing our adoption through the witness of Your Spirit (Rom. 8:14-16), we can "take heart" in every menacing situation. You are for us and none can successfully oppose us. The future belongs to the heirs of God!

I am among those heirs. The thought overwhelms me.

Getting in the Harvest

Scripture reading: Matthew 9:35-10:10.

He called...gave...sent... (vv. 1, 5).

Lord Jesus, You had compassion on the lost and hurting multitudes, seeing them "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." In love You reached as many as You could, "teaching...preaching...and healing" in many places.

You wanted to reach more. You urged Your disciples to pray that workers might be sent into the waiting harvest.

Then You made them part of the answer to their prayers. You called them, gifted them with power, and sent them forth to share Your saving and healing ministry. You called them to be involved, to be available, and to be obedient.

Lord, the harvest is still "plentiful," the workers still "few." Prayer is still indicated and answers are still forthcoming.

I have prayed and You have called me, empowered me, and thrust me forth to help gather the harvest. As I "go" today, help me to be fiercely committed to the message You preached and to the multitudes You love.

I am one of many workmen. I can't do much, but it takes all hands available to get in the whole harvest. Help me to do all I can and to cheer others in all they do.

Go and Give

Scripture reading: Matthew 10:5-10.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ...go...preach...heal...give... (vv. 5-8).

What a contrast to some television preachers and healers of today, Lord. Most of them act like You said, "Preach, heal, take..." They spend more time and energy appealing for money than they do preaching and healing. Several have been exposed as crooks, others as immoral.

They hoard their personal fortunes while urging gullible people with limited means to support their miracle-mongering. Their day of reckoning will come.

Lord, You do expect Your servants to be paid. You have said, "the worker is worth his keep." That's a far cry, however, from amassing personal fortunes by preying upon hurting people who are desperate for relief.

I thank You for providing for me in over sixty-five years of gospel ministry. During those decades I never asked the church for anything and accepted what was given me without complaint. You have been faithful and your people have been kind. The exceptions only proved the rule where their support is concerned. Go and give is better than go and take.

Don't Be Afraid

Scripture reading: Matthew 10:10-33.

Do not be afraid... (vv. 26, 28, 31).

Lord, this is an eye-opening passage of Scripture! You told Your followers they would be hated, betrayed, slandered and persecuted. You told them they would be arrested, flogged and killed. Yet three times You said to them, "Don't be afraid"! Wow!

It certainly sounds like reason for fear, Lord. But You supply three sound reasons for accepting harsh circumstances with courage: (1) They will be witnesses (v. 18); (2) They will be saved (v. 22); (3) They will be like You (v. 25). By enduring such rejection as You yourself suffered, they will enter into such glory as You yourself received.

The witness we bear, the reward we receive, and the image we reflect make the suffering we endure worthwhile. "It is enough for...the servant [to be] like his master."

Suffering that advances the gospel, that terminates in glory, and that refle
cts Your spirit and life is invested with profound value. The world's suffering is ultimately pointless, for without You all is lost. Suffering for You brings eternal dividends.

Let me not seek suffering, as sick minds do. But let me endure what suffering comes without fear or complaint.

To Bring a Sword

Scripture reading: Matthew 10:32-39.

I did not come to bring peace, but a sword (v. 34).

Lord, some of Your words seem contradictory. You did bring peace. Those who trust in You have peace with God, peace with others, and peace within themselves. Indeed, the New Testament declares that You are our peace (Eph. 2:14-18). I have found it so.

You are the great Reconciler of enemies. You do not, however, impose peace by stifling dissent. You do not coerce men to follow You. You respect their freedom even when the misuse of that freedom becomes their self-destruction.

Many choose to reject You, others to follow You. The inevitable consequence of contrary choices is division.

The sword You bring can sever the closest of family ties. It can turn blood kin against one another—that too I have experienced. But Your fellowship is too precious to abandon in order to retain favor with those who disown You. When the choice is You or them I must acknowledge You, follow You, and serve You. The sword may wound deeply, but the consequence is nothing less than "life" itself.

I choose You. I choose life.

A Doubter Defended

Scripture reading: Matthew 11:2-15.

Among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist (v. 11).

This once, Lord, You were wrong. You were "born of a woman" and You are infinitely greater than Your intrepid forerunner. Excepting You, however, none towered over John in the greatness of his character, his courage and his commitment.

Even one so great could momentarily succumb to doubt. His eagle spirit fretting in its loathed cage, this confused man wondered if he had wrongly identified You as Messiah. The faith that usually marches can sometimes wobble.

You are the doubter's defendant. You did not condemn or chide. Instead, You pointed to Your words and works, for they fulfilled prophetic forecasts of the Messiah's ministry. In their light John was called to patience and trust—as we also are; as I am.

John was "more than a prophet"—whatever You meant by that. I am less than a prophet. Is it any wonder that I have moments of doubt? Lord, why do You allow human affairs to continue in their corrupt courses? Why don't You smash Your foes and bring Your final judgment? Your only answer is Your saving mercies and a call to perseverance. I hear that call today.

Learning from Jesus

Scripture reading: Matthew 11:25-30.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me... (v. 29).

Lord Jesus, only those can know the Father to whom You choose to reveal Him (v. 27). Your choice of disciples is not arbitrary and narrow, however. Your invitation to discipleship begins, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened..." (v. 28).

Weary of sin and burdened with failure, hungry to know God and find rest, I came to You, I took Your yoke upon me, I became one of Your disciples.

You revealed to me a Father who hates sin but loves the sinner, a Father who delights in mercy but will not dispense it at the cost of renouncing justice. You revealed a Father who entered into the world's deep hurt by sending His only Son to live among sinners and to die for our sins. You revealed a Father who received me, forgave me, changed me, adopted me and keeps me in His love.

I am one of the "little children" to whom You made—in Your life, death and resurrection—this saving disclosure of the Father.

My learning has been slow, not because You are a deficient Teacher, but because I am an awkward student. But what I have learned from You has made me glad and free and holy. I bless Your name, and eagerly await the next lessons.

The Value of Persons

Scripture reading: Matthew 12:9-13.

How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! (v. 12).

Lord Jesus, You were not anti-Sabbath, You were pro-human. You would heal on any day, but especially on the Sabbath, precisely because human lives had greater value than rituals or rules.

The Pharisees would rescue a sheep on the Sabbath but not a man. Like some of today's misguided activists, they valued animals more than humans. You placed persons higher in the scale of values.

A man can reason, a sheep cannot. A man can create art, a sheep cannot. A man can worship, a sheep cannot. A man bears God's image, a sheep does not. A man is immortal, a sheep is not.

You healed the crippled man, defying the murderous hostility of Your critics, who cared everything for their rituals and rules, nothing for hurting humankind. In this story appear the Healer, the healed, and the hate-filled.

Lord Jesus, You valued me, You saved me. Teach me to see persons as You view them. Help me to realize their hidden value. Enable me to care enough to sacrifice myself for their rescue and remaking.

The Overflow

Scripture reading: Matthew 12:33-37.

For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (v. 34).

The Psalmist said, "My cup overflows." Lord, who of us cannot say, "My heart overflows?" We live from the inside out. What is stored in our hearts will surface in our lives.

You did good, releasing once demon-driven men for new and happy lives. Your enemies—religious leaders—looked upon Your good and called it evil. So stored with hatred and jealousy were their hearts that their mouths spoke blasphemy.

Make my heart good that my words may be true, gracious and healing. If the mouth speaks what the heart has stored, help me to store my heart with love, truth, beauty, justice, purity and mercy. Store my heart with Your words, Your spirit, and Your example. I want all that spills from my lips to reflect the reservoir of grace You create in hearts yielded to Your lordship, hearts that are Your residence.

Words flow so quickly, and with such force for helping or hurting! We may bitterly regret the hasty, slashing remarks that wound another, but they can never be recalled. Lord Jesus, even the truth should be spoken in love. Help me! "Create in me a clean heart, O God!"

Christ's Family

Scripture reading: Matthew 12:46-50.

For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother (v. 50).

Your earthly family was small, Lord. A mother, four brothers, and some sisters are mentioned in the Gospels. Apparently Joseph was gone by this time.

But Your spiritual family was rapidly enlarging—all who believed in You, who followed You—Your "disciples."

Your spiritual family is defined by obedience: "whoever does the will of my Father in heaven." It is not defined by the ritual of baptism, or by the acceptance of a creed, or by membership in a church, but by simple obedience to God.

At Your temptation, Satan tried to define sonship to God as privilege. You corrected his subtle lie, defining it as obedience, as living by "every word" from God (4:3-4).

I am Your "brother" if I obey the Father. If I live in disobedience to His words, neither baptism nor beliefs nor church affiliation avails to save me. Empower me today for obedience, however costly that obedience may be.

Speaking God, Hearing Person

Scripture reading: Matthew 13:1-23.

Still other seed fell on good soil.... He who has ears let him hear (vv. 8, 9).

I see, Lord, that two factors make possible the kingdom harvest—the speaking God and the hearing person. The sower may be diligent, the seed may be pure, but the soil must be receptive.

You are a speaking God. In Your loving desire to awaken and save, You spoke and still speak in parables. You mercifully adapt Your method to our condition.

Many, however, are not hearing persons. They do not lack capacity to hear; rather, they stubbornly and foolishly refuse to hear. They close their eyes, blinding themselves. They stop their ears, deafening themselves. Their response is dictated by their callousness of heart, not by Your unwillingness to save (vv. 13-15).

You bless the seeing eyes and the hearing ears (v. 16). O, how You bless them! You bless them with forgiveness and new life. You bless them with glorious fellowship and rewarding employment. The hearing ear is "good soil," where a bountiful harvest is produced. Lord, help me to hear, to receive the word You speak, understanding it and applying it to my daily situation. You are the speaking God. I want to be a hearing person.

"An Enemy"

Scripture reading: Matthew 13:24-30.

An enemy did this (v. 28).

"A man" who sows good seed—that is You, Lord. "An enemy" who sows weeds— that is Satan and those who do his work.

"The servants"—those are all who share Your ministry to the world, who serve "the kingdom of heaven."

"The harvesters" who collect and destroy the weeds, who gather and preserve the wheat, are angels (vv. 39-41).

Lord, I readily understand most of this. That You should have enemies, though, is a terrifying "mystery of evil." You sow good seed. All You do reflects an infinite love. Your deepest wish is our highest welfare. That One so gracious and good should be opposed is a sad commentary on the binding and blinding power of sin.

This teaches me, Lord, that when I share Your work I will have enemies. I can expect opposition, even persecution.

You teach me, also, my responsibility in the face of the enemy's nefarious work. I am to patiently sow and till, helping to produce the kingdom harvest, but I am not to assume the role of judge. My task is not to destroy the enemies' work but to keep on with Yours, leaving judgment to Your angels at the end of the world.

Amazed and Offended

Scripture reading: Matthew 13:53-58.

...they were amazed.... they took offense... (v. 57).

This, Lord, was the reaction of Your home town—and is the reaction of many persons in many places today. They judged You by Your family, Your background, and even by themselves. Nazareth was unspectacular and humdrum. Your brothers and sisters shared its dreary and ordinary ways. The townspeople were carved from heritage and environment, with all the disappointing limitations these imposed. Since they were undistinguished, how could You not be also? In shortsighted jealousy they refused to see You as anything other than "the carpenter's son." Their pathetic unbelief robbed them of countless divine possibilities.

Lord, they were blind to Israel's history and to Israel's God. He had never confined His servants to an elite class. He used the ordinary to achieve the extraordinary. He made prophets of herdsmen and kings of shepherds. Teach me, Lord, to judge no person by where he comes from or by what his father did. Choice and grace, not heritage and environment, are what defines and determines Your people.

To be "amazed" by what You do is not enough. Your words and deeds should have had "converted," not "offended," as their consequence.

Tell Jesus

Scripture reading: Matthew 14:1-12.

Then they went and told Jesus (v. 12).

Lord, if we keep trouble and grief bottled up we become their victims. They make us physically, mentally and spiritually ill. We need to release the pressure by telling someone.

But we can't tell just anyone, Lord. We can't tell the uncaring; that would mock our pain. We can't tell the powerless; they might pity but they can't help. We can't tell the gossipy; that would place private anguish in public domain, attracting charlatans who batten on the misery of others.

The disciples of John the Baptist, shocked, grieved and disoriented by his execution, found the perfect ears. They came to You and poured out their hearts. In You we find the mixture of love, power and compassion that enables us to triumph over trouble.

How often, Lord Jesus, have I come to You with my headaches and heartaches, my confusions, doubts and pains. Always You have listened, have encouraged. You have comforted in the classical sense of that word—giving inward reinforcement. Thank You for a caring heart, for listening ears, and for enabling grace.

The Caring Christ

Scripture reading: Matthew 14:13-21.
They are ate and were satisfied (v. 20).

Lord, You fed the crowd to meet real needs. Your miracles were never showoff entertainment. They were directed at healing or preventing human hurts. "Compassion" was the trait that Matthew most admired in You.

You fed them, too, from limited resources. How inadequate were "the five loaves and the two fish" until the disciples obeyed Your command, "Bring them here to me." In Your hands they sufficed—with leftovers!

You fed them with enduring consequences. This miracle is the only one to appear in all four Gospels. It made a lasting impact upon Your followers. It has continued to inspire caring and sharing across centuries of time.

Your power was not prodigal. The leftovers were saved. On another occasion they would feed people, making repetition of miracle unnecessary. You are opposed to waste as well as hunger.

Lord, I haven't much. Help me to place my resources in Your hands, where they will benefit the most persons for the best reasons. Save me from selfishness while You save others from hunger.

He Comes!

Scripture reading: Matthew 14:22-36.

Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake (v. 25).

Lord, this is the miracle that sticks hardest in a skeptic's craw. Some who accept the other miracles develop ingenuous "explanations" for this one—or deny it outright. Earth is Your "footstool." You can place Your feet on it wherever You choose.

The really significant fact is that You came to Your struggling disciples at the time and place of their need. How You came is a secondary matter.

Lord, in the dark hours when my life is buffeted by contrary winds, I want You beside me to encourage and empower. I don't care how You reach me, only that You reach me. You can walk on water, fly through the air, or ride overland by donkey, train or car. You can arrive by boat, plane or spacecraft. I gladly leave the method to Your choice. Just reach me and rescue me, I pray, for You are my hope and help in time of trouble.

You have faithfully come to me across a lifetime of pain and peril. Your love, Your power, and not Your manner of coming, constrain me to exclaim with those first disciples, "Truly, you are the Son of God."

Teach Me, Change Me

Scripture reading: Matthew 15:1-20.

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand" (v. 10).

When You call, Lord, I want to come, for You always have something of value and urgency to say.

You called the crowd to yourself, not to the "teachers of the law" (v. 1), for these professionals were substituting their "traditions" for "the command of God." I want to learn from You, not from men with greater interest in their pet "doxies" than in my soul.

Coming to You, in this portion of Your word, I learn of the essential inwardness of true Christianity. The sins of word and deed that defile the outward life spring from within. They come "out of the heart" (v. 19). Traditions and ceremonies that cannot change the heart will not save me. Ritual hand washing is vain in the absence of actual heart washing.

Lord, You can radically change and cleanse my heart! Sin is accidental to human nature, not essential to it. It is a plant the heavenly Father did not plant, and He will pull it up "by the roots."

Lord, I come today to be taught and to be changed. I do not come to defend doctrines or to justify practices. I come to learn from You and to become more like You.

Hard Silences

Scripture reading: Matthew 15:21-28.

Jesus did not answer a word (v. 23).

Sometimes, Lord, You say things hard to accept. You never flatter, never deceive, and it's hard for sinners—or saints—to hear unvarnished truth about themselves. I know!

But harder to endure than Your speech is Your silence. When we cry to You from the depths of anguish and hear no answering voice our pain escalates. I know!

This I have learned from Your word—Your silences are broken in decisive victories for those who petition Your mercy. In this anxious mother's case, silence was followed by intriguing dialogue and miraculous healing. "Your request is granted."

Her faith in Your love and power persevered throughout the puzzling silence and speech. You rewarded that faith with deliverance.

That unnamed "foreigner" teaches me a lesson in faith. The cry for mercy that does not collapse into my silence will be answered beyond Your silence. You delight in mercy. Whatever the reasons for Your baffling silences or disturbing speeches, lack of mercy is never one of them. When You do speak I will be saved.

A Better Answer

Scripture reading: Matthew 16:13-20.

"But what about you," he asked. "Who do you say I am?" (v. 15).

Lord, You evidently expected another and better answer from Your followers than from the world. The world called You "one of the prophets." This was no slight matter, for the prophets were "servants of God," possessing rare honesty, courage and faith. But that designation fell short of Your true identity. Peter gave the correct answer—"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." The Son is vastly more than the servants, both in His relationship to God and to men.

How sad, Lord, that in so many churches, from so many pulpits, the world's answer is echoed as final. Unless we listen to the Father's testimony, what may have been high praise from the world becomes polite blasphemy from the church.

I want to know who You are. If I listen to the world, or to world-dominated churches, I will always remain ignorant—and unsaved. If I learn from the Father, I will know You as His only Son and my only Savior. At stake here is more than exegetical debate or theological nicety. What is at stake is my place within the church You are building, against which "the gates of Hades" cannot prevail.

I have chosen to echo Peter's confession.

Coming as Judge

Scripture reading: Matthew 16:21-28.

For the Son of Man is going to come... (v. 27).

Lord, You came in the glory of Your Father as Redeemer. In Your death and resurrection You revealed the love and power of God as a Savior. You showed how much He cared for lost persons, to what astounding lengths He would go to rescue us from sin and death.

You are coming again! You will come in the glory of Your Father as Judge. A Christ-rejecting world of unbelievers will discover that Your love has never condoned sin, never degenerated into indulgence. You do not sacrifice truth and justice to love.

Much is said these days about Your coming, but little is said about Your justice. You will "reward each person according to what he has done."

We are saved by faith, not by works. But saving faith "works by love." Unbelief also works. Rebellion against You is the parent of every kind of evil deed.

Lord, help me to work in faith by love. Keep me from supposing that Your love is soft and that sin doesn't matter. “Well done, good and faithful servant" is the reward I seek.

Listen and Learn

Scripture reading: Matthew 17:1-13.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them... (v. 9).

Wonderful things happened on the mountain. Lord, I can understand why Peter said, "it is good for us to be here"—emphasis on "here"—and not down "there" in the valley where trouble and death awaited.

You were transfigured, heavenly visitors appeared, and the Father's voice was heard. That is incredibly wonderful.

But if I follow You, Lord, the mountain of glory must be forsaken for the valley of misery. The Father's love did not keep You from sacrifice and suffering. Your love does not exempt me from them either.

The Father said, "Listen to him!" And as they descended the mountain You "instructed them." Your lesson concerned death and resurrection. You do not teach us how to live on Cloud Nine, but how to survive and to serve in a world filled with pain and hatred.

The mountain of glory must yield to the valley of misery. Teach me to make the descent and render the service without self-pity or self-sparing—just as You did. Then will I find glory in the midst of misery, not in escape from misery.

Increase My Faith

Scripture reading: Matthew 17:14-21.

I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, "Move from here to there" and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you (v. 20).

Lord, when I read these words I wonder if I have any faith at all! My faith would have to grow to reach mustard-seed and mountain-moving size. I am doing the things that I've always been told would increase my faith. Was I told wrong? Or am I just a retarded case? Lord, increase my faith.

If men with even small faith could achieve the impossible, why were apostles jailed, beaten and killed? Why did Paul endure shipwreck, floggings and martyrdom? Could not faith move these mountains? What are "mountains" anyhow?

This must be true: No man can pray with faith for what You do not will. Your purposes for our lives must be fulfilled, whatever we wish, ask, or try to believe to the contrary.

Sometimes, too, faith must meet with faith to be effectual. In Nazareth You did few miracles because of the people's unbelief. Your faith was not defective, but theirs was, and short circuited the miracle process.

I'm feeling better about all this, Lord, but I must not allow those "exceptions" to become a cop out. I still say, "I do believe; help me to overcome my unbelief" (Mark 9:24).

The Greatest

Scripture reading: Matthew 18:1-9.

Who is the greatest in the kingdom? (v. 1).

The concern of Your disciples to be the greatest intrigues me, Lord. Over sixty-five years in the ministry, watching and listening, convinces me that their question is the longest continuing quarrel in church history. It goes on today, rearing its ugly head in general, district and local meetings. It is the unwritten agenda of multiplied committee meetings. Persons eager to dominate others, persons lusting for prestige, have grievously and persistently disrupted the purpose and peace of Your church.

Too many are childish, too few childlike. The humility that asserts no rights and makes no claims is rare.

"Little" is a key word in Your reply, I think. It doesn't take even children long to become arrogant, domineering and self-promoting. How many homes are ruled by child monarchs!

The question was not resolved for Your first disciples until Calvary shamed them and Pentecost cleansed them. Then mission became more important than position, and You were preeminent in their lives. As Massillon said at the funeral of Louis the Fourteenth, "Only God is great."

Getting Ready for Heave

Scripture reading: Matthew 18:10-14.

...their angels in Father in heaven... (v. 10).

Lord, Your words remind me that heaven is populated by a caring God and by creatures who share His concerns and do His bidding. Love and obedience form the "atmosphere" of heaven.

This speaks with power and challenge to my heart, Lord. I am drawing ever nearer to heaven, but I will only fit in there if I reflect its spirit here.

The Father in heaven is unwilling for "little ones" to be lost—even after they become big ones. How can I be comfortable in His presence unless I share His compassion for the lost and straying?

The angels in heaven behold the Father's face, ready to speed on missions of mercy at His direction. How can I enjoy their company if I do not share their prompt and glad submission to His will?

Lord, help me to get ready for heaven. Help me to have a heart like the Father's and a mind like the angels'. Create in me a larger compassion and a prompter obedience. Teach me the value of Your "little ones" and enable me to find my joy in serving them. Grant, Lord, that heaven may reach my heart before my feet reach heaven.

Winning Sinners Over

Scripture reading: Matthew 18:15-19.

If he listens to you, you have won your brother over (v. 15).

It's sad, Lord, that instructions on what to do "if your brother sins against you" are necessary. But this is earth, not heaven, and the bald truth is that Christians do sin against each other from time to time.

When it happens to me, I am to win my brother over, not plow him under. All my actions have one purpose—winning my brother. I am not to seek vindication or sympathy or revenge, but to win my brother over. I bring others into the matter only to win my brother over.

If all efforts fail, I treat him as "a pagan or a tax-collector"—and these are persons for whom I am to pray, persons I seek to reach for You. It seems, Lord, there is no point at which I can refuse to love, cherish and seek to gain for the kingdom a brother who sins against me.

This tells me that the sinning brother is valued by the holy Father and could be useful again to the church. I must not despise the object of Your love and the purchase of Your blood.

Help me to have Your attitude toward all who sin against me.

Together in Prayer

Scripture reading: Matthew 18:19-20.

For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them (v. 20).

Years ago, Lord, I read somewhere that this text defines the simplest form of a local church. That's not what You were talking about. The context relates to prayer, not to worship.

Through prayer we seek the lost (vv. 12-14). Through prayer we win back the sinning brother (vv. 15-17). Through prayer we exercise authority in Your kingdom (v. 18).

I've heard these words quoted frequently on rainy Sundays when church attendance was down. I do not doubt that You are present when small groups gather for worship. But You are teaching something here about intercessory prayer.

When two or three "come together" to pray, You are there, not as a spectator but as a participant. To come "in your name" is to recognize Your authority and emulate Your example in prayer.

Agreeing on what we ask and receiving it from God is not carte blanche for the greedy or the needy. We can only agree in faith on the things that You will and for which You pray. Burden our hearts with what burdens Yours. Bend our requests to Your petitions. Then will we agree, ask and receive.