BY JORDAN MAYER
"Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, 'Who do people say that the Son of Man is?' And they said, 'Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' He said to them, 'But who do you say I am?' Simon Peter replied, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' And Jesus answered him. 'Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.'"
One of the activities I enjoy doing with my brothers is going to the movies. Particularly for the big blockbusters, there is much excitement and suspense waiting for that first movie trailer to drop. As the screen fades to color, you get the first sights and sounds of the film. The best trailers earn themselves a rescreening, meanwhile we all begin to build expectations for the full film. Unfortunately, there are occasions where the expectation doesn't quite match up to the real thing.
I see this situation playing out in the book of Matthew. Having just wrapped up my time in the Old Testament, my Bible reading plan has landed me in the opening book of the New Testament. That mere turn of the page in my printed Bible represents around 400 years worth of history for Israel! Seemingly, after all of the encounters, signs, and prophets, God goes silent. They are left to wait for what had been foretold, prophesied, and promised. They had been given the “sneak peak” and now they await the feature film.
Then Jesus comes onto the scene. The nation of Israel has been beaten and battered, helplessly stuck in the midst of falling and rising kingdoms. Now there are rumblings of a Messiah, the nation’s Savior come to rescue His people. But the expectations don’t seem to live up to the reality.
The Pharisees had taken on strict adherence to the Law, even creating additional rules and regulations to follow and enforce as God’s “holiest” of men. At least initially, they may have wondered if this great teacher had come to reinforce their rule keeping.
We have those who see Jesus as their next military ruler. Finally the time had come for them to get out from under the Roman thumb and establish themselves as a strong, independent nation.
For others, their aspirations may not have been quite as high. Jesus was simply a great person to have around. How many people do you know who can stretch a meal like Jesus or heal all manner of illnesses? (John 6:26).
But, we also cannot discount those who faithfully waited, trusted, and rejoiced at Jesus’ arrival. We see one such example in Simeon who rejoiced to see the salvation prepared for all peoples (Luke 2:29-32).
So many groups with so many expectations for one individual.
The fact is that what we expect does not always line up with reality. Expectations are very much subjective, they change from person to person and depend on our own experiences and perceptions. That’s why it’s important to recognize that Jesus is not dependent upon our expectations, neither is He subject to them. On the contrary, it is us who are dependent and subject to Him!
Rather than announcing the advent of a strong nation, Jesus describes the kingdom of God like a mustard seed. Rather than hob-knobbing with the societal elites or reinforcing the dictates of the Pharisees, Jesus breaks bread with the so-called “undesirables”. Instead of merely teaching about Scripture, He declares His fulfillment of it. He calls the poor in spirit blessed, not the strong and proud. While the religious leaders enforced the letter of the Law, Jesus reveals the true spirit of the Law. He speaks in spiritual terms rather than mere earthly ones. He is the suffering servant, the sacrificial lamb. He is the Son of Man and the Son of God.
The fact is that Jesus is who He says He is. And it is Jesus, himself, who says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
We must allow the truth of God’s Word to inform our view of Jesus, rather than our own expectations, wants, or desires. When we seek to know Him truly, we will discover that He is far greater than we can even imagine. And ultimately, we will realize that He is exactly who we need Him to be: our Savior!
BY JORDAN MAYER
“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,”
(2 Corinthians 2:15)
For those that know me well, they know my strong affinity for freshly brewed coffee and freshly baked bread. Apart from the taste, the smell of both these items is next to none (in my humble opinion). On my trip out to Seattle a few months ago, I got to enjoy both these scents, the former at a Starbucks coffee roastery and the latter at a small, local bakery. No sooner did I walk through the door before my nose was greeted by deep, rich, and warming scents.
Smell is an interesting part of our five senses. We have receptors that take in these smells and send them up to our brain. This process alone is amazing to think about and a wonder of God's design. But what also fascinates me are all the other things that are tied up in what we smell. There are memories, experiences, feelings, and emotions triggered by the things that we smell. Often we can attach specific moments in our lives or specific people to a particular smell, some more or less desirable than others I’m sure!
Aromas are powerful. They invite visceral experiences. Before you may see, hear, touch, or taste something, you might smell it first. Smell can also be a potent enhancer for our other senses. That's why I find it interesting that Paul chooses to use the word "aroma" in this passage. Paul is calling two images to mind.
First, the people of his day would be familiar with the Roman victory parades. After a successful campaign, the "heroes" would often be honored with a parade through the streets. Part of these processions included the burning of incense, the literal smell of victory wafting through the air. For us as believers, because of the work of Christ, we walk as victors through this world bearing witness of Him who conquered both sin and death.
It also calls to mind the sacrifices of old. We see this word as part of a repeated phrase in the Old Testament: “a pleasing aroma”. This referred to an acceptable offering given to God, one that is pleasing to His metaphorical “nose”. Though nowadays we are not offering up a ram in our backyard, we are still sending up offerings to God. It is the offering and sacrifice of ourselves and our lives for His honor and glory. The question is, will our offering be a pleasing aroma or a stench before God?
This particular offering is a life well-lived for Christ and a source of light and influence for the unbelieving world around us. Just like an aroma has a strong pull, like the force of a planet’s orbit, our manner of living should draw in those around us. They should be captivated by the joy, hope, and light that exudes out of our person. They should be entranced by the the things we say and the way we say them. Every aspect of our lives should point back to one common denominator: that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior of our lives.
This verse invites a moment of personal reflection. What is it that people “smell” when they are near me? Is it merely the typical odor of the world or is it the captivating aroma of Christ? The things that I’m giving my time and energy to, these offerings of my life, will Christ be pleased by what I bring?
May the offerings we bring be a pleasing aroma to our Lord and a warm, inviting scent to those around us.
BY DONNA CHURCHILL
“Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?...Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”
(Matthew 6:27, 34)
Jesus addresses many things in Matthew 6:27-34; my focus is on the sin of worry. We often don’t call it a sin because we mostly see worry as something that shows we are concerned and care about someone or a situation, but when we don’t relinquish to God our cares and concern, they most often slide the slippery slope right down into worry and anxiety.
My husband was employed at IBM in Essex Junction many years ago when the company experienced its first major layoff of almost 1000 people. When my husband was hired by IBM in 1978, the company had never experienced a layoff; in fact, it was known for their “no layoff” policy. In the area of Burlington, VT, where the major employer up until the days of IBM, was General Electric, this was a big deal. General Electric (GE) was known for layoffs and picket lines that would often escalate into violence. So to this community, IBM represented job security. It was generally thought if you were hired by IBM, you had a job for life. But after the layoff of 2002, the promise of job security was shattered.
My husband was a worrier. It was one of the things he and God wrestled with – a lot. I was not, by nature, a worrier. God and I did not much struggle with this. After the IBM layoff, my husband’s worrying took on a whole new level. He was 55 in 2002 and he became “concerned” that he would not survive future layoffs to make it to his retirement at age 67. The stark reality is my husband died in 2004 and not a bit of his worrying added another year unto his life. He did not live to see retirement.
I share this story with you, not to berate or belittle my husband; we all deal with besetting sins. I share this with you to drive home the truth of the Scriptures in Matthew. God was in control over my husband’s life; He was always in control over his life. God knew he wouldn’t live to make it to retirement age, so all that time he spent fretting and worrying was for nothing! This very example is why God wrestles with us over besetting sins – to set us free!
How many of our precious minutes, hours, days do we waste worrying about things we have no control over??
After my husband died, I had insurance monies that I needed to invest for my future. Never having had to deal with this type of thing, I sought individuals who could help and advise me as to what to do. For the first time in my life, I was watching the stock market. All of a sudden, I was a worrier and “concerned” about my financial future. For those who might remember, we had somewhat of a stock market “crash” in 2008 and I saw some of my finances wiped out. I was advised well during that time, but what my advisors couldn’t help me with was my worrying. Keep in mind what I stated previously. I was not, by nature, a worrier and never had been. So, this was new, uncharted territory for me and I didn’t like it! I found myself fretful and frustrated. I was checking the stock market daily and always calculating how long my money would last! I had no control over the stock market and there was not a thing I could do about it!
It was then that God gently reminded me of Phil’s worrying and how that worked (or didn’t) for him. I repented and finally relinquished my financial future to the only One who could be trusted with it. God gave me grace for the day because as Matthew 6:34 says, today has enough problems of its own. My prayer each day then became, “God, I have everything I need for today and I trust you with tomorrow.” That prayer and relinquishment became freedom to me. God is, always has been and always will be, my Provider. As I trust Him each day to provide all my needs, not just financially, I trust Him to show up tomorrow, too. In these uncertain times we live in, I sometimes find myself again “concerned” about my future, but as I place it back in His capable hands, I find peace.
How many of you have “cares” and “concerns” regarding certain areas in your life? Your worry may not be for finances; it could be for the trip you’re going to take next week, maybe for a loved one’s salvation, a colleague’s attitude, a child in trouble, job security, the state of the world, a grandchild’s mental health, what someone thinks of you; any number of things that may be weighing on your mind and heart; often many things all at once.
The reason worry and anxiety is a sin is because it negates the Lordship of God. It finds us placing our trust in something or someone other than the Lord. Is He the Lord sitting on the throne of His Kingdom or are you establishing (or trying to establish) yourself as lord over your own little kingdom? Worry cannot add “one cubit to your stature” or add one day to your life, or add one dollar to your bank account or give you any measure of peace. Rolling that worry unto the Lord can bring you freedom and peace because God can be trusted. He is always in control and even when you think you are in control, you’re not. Wrestle with the Lord if worry is a problem for you. Let Him win the fight.
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your cares upon him; for he careth for you.” 1 Peter 5:6, 7
It is humbling to trust God and cast all your cares upon Him; your pride doesn’t want to acknowledge that you are poor and needy (Psalm 40:17). Knowing and believing that He cares for you allows grace to humble yourself and admit your neediness, both to Him and to yourself.
Philippians 4:6-8 gives us a blueprint (not a magic formula!) on how to turn away from worry:
“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
BY JORDAN MAYER
"For 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'”
As a young kid going off to school, there was something my Mom would always say to me. Remember that you are a missionary in your school. The things you say, the way you act, and the difference you make are all part of your witness. You're there, not just to learn, but to be a light for your classmates, friends, teachers, and even the bully and kids you don't get along with. She instilled an important truth into each of her kids that missions was not only for a remote people in a faraway land, but right outside our door.
While it's true that God calls some to minister in remote corners of the world (as we heard on Sunday), we each have a mission field woven into the fabric of our daily lives.
Parents serve as missionaries for their kids, as mine did for me. A doctor, their patients. A teacher, their students. A cashier, their customers. Whatever our “job” may be, we have a higher calling and a deeper purpose: to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20). But wherever we find ourselves, at work, at the gym, in the grocery store, on the phone with a friend, or walking down the street, we carry this message of hope with us.
That’s why this verse is so important. People need to hear the truth and we need to share it! The Gospel is literally “good news”. We carry with us the greatest message the world has ever know. How beautiful it is, then, to see this message spread by those who have been shaped and transformed by it.
The grand adventure of missions work is that you never quite know who you will impact. You may have a brief interaction with someone in the airport or be a lifelong witness to a friend or co-worker. You may give someone the Gospel message or help lead them as they accept Christ into their life. It is the grace of God that saves, but he is looking for workers (Luke 10:2). Those to till the field, those to plant the seed, those to water the ground. What grows is the gift and power of God (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).
Whoever we are, whatever we do, wherever we live, our purpose remains the same: to carry this good news to a world that needs to hear it.
Lord, I pray for the boldness to share the truth of who you are. I pray for your blessing and opportunity over the conversations I have today, with whomever I meet, to share the good news of Jesus. By your Spirit, work in and through me to let your name be known. Amen.
BY JORDAN MAYER
"'For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?'"
Esther is an intriguing book of the the Bible. Though it sits in the middle of Scripture, sandwiched between Nehemiah and Job, you will find no direct mention of God throughout its ten chapters.
The book reads like a gripping and suspenseful TV drama. An ordinary, Jewish girl ascends to the role of queen. A murderous plot against the king is thwarted. The very fate of the Jewish people hangs in the balance.
On the surface, the story looks like a series of happy accidents and fortuitous coincidences. Just as disaster looms, deliverance arrives at an opportune time. Amidst a throng of young women, Esther manages to find favor in the eyes of the king and becomes queen. Her uncle, Mordecai, happens to overhear a plot against the king. Later, Mordecai convinces Esther to reveal Haman's plot to kill the Jews to the king. Though it was dangerous to see the king unannounced, Esther again finds success and eventually unmasks Haman's treachery. In an ironic turn of events, the gallows that Haman constructed for Mordecai is returned on his own head. Through a series of what appear to be random events, God was working, not merely to provide for Esther and Mordecai, but to save His people and further His plan of salvation for the human race.
The book of Esther has much to teach us about the providence of God.
The enemy of our souls is an eager advocate of coincidence, happenstance, and random chance. For to attribute life’s events to these “logical” and “practical” reasonings removes any need for God. Esther is an invitation to reflect on the events of our own lives and take a closer look at the masterful hand of the Divine - working, orchestrating, purposing.
Our lives have been likened to a tapestry. From the backside, you will see a chaotic mess of threads, a wash of colors woven this way and that without any clear order or pattern. Life can be difficult to make sense of in the moment. It often doesn't go how we planned and is filled with unexpected twists and turns. Many moments of our lives feel meaningless and wasted, and often leave us questioning why. In the words of John Flavel, “The providence of God is like a Hebrew word – it can only be read backwards.” As the present fades into the past, we begin to see more clearly the work of His hands. As the artist flips the tapestry around, the messy threads are revealed to be part of a beautiful masterpiece.
A friend of mine has often explained life as something that happens for us rather than to us. This statement is a shift in perspective more than it is a shift in circumstance. What if the things that we perceive as roadblocks are actually stepping stones that God is using to lead us forward? We must remember that we operate within a limited field of view. God on the other hand sees the whole picture. He operates outside of space and time, seeing the entirety of not only our individual lives, but the lives of everyone else as well.
And because of His Word, we are not left to wonder at his purposes or intentions. He is a good Father who delights in blessing his children (Matthew 7:11). He has a plan for our life. Not one of evil, but of welfare, to give us a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). All that happens to us is happening for us, for our good (Romans 8:28). Finally, we know that whatever we face in this life is ultimately preparing us for something far better and more wonderful than we can even imagine (2 Corinthians 4:17).
So the question becomes not, is God working, but rather, are you looking?