Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Tuesday, 16 Jan 18:
1. Genesis 31:3 – “Then the Lord said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.’” To remain with God, Jacob had to go where God was leading. If Jacob had chosen to stay, if he had delayed, he would have remained outside of God’s plan for his life. What Jacob didn’t realize is that God was leading Jacob to a confrontation with Esau; He was leading Jacob back to the roots of Jacob’s deception. He was going to bring Jacob face to face with the reality of his infidelity. God had to deal with Jacob’s lack of integrity, and Jacob had to trust God through the process. When we know we have sinned terribly against another, the last thing we want to do is face them in our guilt, especially if we know they are resentful. When we know we have sinned terribly, the last thing we want to do is shed light on that sin, to expose it, to acknowledge it fully. However, unresolved sin and guilt is a barrier to relationships with God and with others and is a barrier to our spiritual growth. God doesn’t want us to carry that hidden burden but rather to surrender it to Him, to accept His total forgiveness and to walk in repentance and the confidence of His grace. We must no longer drag the chains of continued sin but must walk in the freedom of Jesus, in obedience to Him out of love. Jacob was still trapped in the sin and guilt of deception, and the consequences were closing in around him – Esau wanted to kill him, and he had worn out his welcome with Laban’s clan. God will lead him into crisis so he is forced to face the truth of himself, but more importantly, the truth of God’s love, mercy, and grace.
2. Genesis 31:5 — “I see that your father does not regard me with favor as he did before. But the God of my father has been with me.” In your sin, others may be done with you, perhaps never being able to forgive you again, but God will not forsake you and will continue to draw you closer to Him. He will forgive, but He will also deal with your sin, but in love, always hoping to reconcile you to Him.
3. Genesis 31:6, 7 – “You know that I have served your father with all my strength, yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times. But God did not permit him to harm me.” In conflict with others, we tend to give ourselves more credit than we deserve and cast all the blame on others. We also tend to believe that God is on our side.
4. Genesis 31:9 – “God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me.” God is in control of your future, not others. God knows what is happening to you and will intervene for His purposes and in His way to do what most brings glory to Him and best provides for you.
5. Genesis 31:14 – “Then Rachel and Leah answered and said to him, ‘Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house?’” Rachel and Leah were motivated by self-preservation rather than simple obedience to God.
6. Genesis 31:14-16 – “Then Rachel and Leah answered and said to him, ‘Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house?… Now then, whatever God has said to you, do.’” Rachel and Leah’s decision follow God’s plan was based upon personal self-interest rather than love. They were willing to go because it made sense to them, not simply because it was what God directed. If we only obey instructions with which we agree, we will be disobedient, and our obedience won’t be virtuous. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey me,” but we are not perfected in love and disobey Him when we prefer what we want over what He wants. Obedience is hard because it goes against our desires. For example, abstaining from sex outside of the covenant marriage is not hard until it wars against our desires.
7. Genesis 31:19 – “Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household gods.” This is a very revealing statement – not only can we see how deception and greed had been passed down to the next generation, we can also see that idolatry had been taught to the family. Here, the idolatry involved an actual idol; but idolatry is anything that threatens our fidelity to God. If in reality, you prioritize anything over God in your life, it is an idol. What idols have we passed to our children? See how God took the initiative to work in the lives of terribly sinful idolaters, unlikely suspects in God’s master plan. Through these people, God was revealing His righteousness, mercy, and grace as well as our total dependence on Him. He is teaching that we are all totally unworthy apart from Jesus. The only righteousness we can demonstrate in our lives is that of Jesus flowing through us, Christ in us being revealed in our surrender to Him.
8. Genesis 31:19, 20 – “Rachel stole her father’s household gods. And Jacob tricked Laban the Aramean, by not telling him that he intended to flee.” The Bible does not conceal the sins of its ‘heroes’ but records them for posterity. This transparency directs all glory to God and reveals His incredible mercy and grace. God calls us to be open and transparent concerning our sins in order to remove all pride from us and to direct all glory to Jesus Christ who saved us wretched creatures for the wrath of God which we deserve.
9. Genesis 31:22— “Jacob had fled.” Do you avoid relationships with certain people because of “what happened”? God has given us the mission of reconciliation. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:8) Living at peace doesn’t involve avoiding loving confrontation when there is no peace within your heart or theirs. Leaders take the lead in reconciliation and don’t just leave things unsettled. If reconciliation means you pay the price of their sin, then pay the price – it is a far less price than Christ paid for you when you didn’t deserve it.
10. Genesis 31:24 – God can influence the thoughts of your adversaries.
11. Genesis 31:31 – “Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them.” Secret sins in marriage are highly destructive, ungodly, and prevent the two from truly becoming spiritually one.
12. Genesis 31:32 – “’Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live. In the presence of our kinsmen point out what I have that is yours, and take it.’ Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them.” Concealed sins between husbands and wives not only divide their spirits, but the consequences can be catastrophic to the family. A marriage must be completely transparent that the two may truly be one and that real issues can be resolved as quickly as possible.
13. Genesis 31:36 – “Then Jacob became angry and berated Laban.” Be very careful in your ‘righteous’ indignation because in reality you are guilty.
14. Genesis 31:36-43 – An offense caused Jacob and Laban to rehash a long history of unresolved resentment between them. As always, this resentful review of history was unproductive and did not support reconciliation.
15. Genesis 31:42 – “God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands and rebuked you last night.” God can work on the hearts of your adversaries in ways that you can’t.
16. Geneses 31:44-55 – Jacob and Laban could not bring themselves to reconcile, which resulted in a broken family – tragic.
17. Genesis 31:50 – “God is witness between you and me.” Covenants, such as the marriage covenant, are promises before God that recognize God as the mediator. When we break a covenant, we invite God’s punishment into our lives.
18. Genesis 32:10 – Fear has a way of removing our pride and enabling us to see our true unworthiness. What added to Jacob’s fear and humility was that, deep inside, he knew he was guilty. Christians should not have pride issues because the realize that they are worthless sinners, deserving of no honor, who have been saved only by the blood of Jesus Christ.
19. Genesis 32:10 — “I am not worthy…. Please deliver me….” God takes away all self-confidence that we might confide in Him, humble ourselves before Him, and depend upon Him.
20. Genesis 32:13-23 – In the face of danger, Jacob led from behind – not good. He was willing to sacrifice everyone before himself, though he was the one who had offended Esau.
21. Genesis 32:27 – Jacob’s wrestling match with God was a major turning point in his life where he came to terms with who he really was as a person. Jacob had lied about his identity to steal his blessings, and now as Jacob faced a perilous situation and struggled for a new blessing, God had one question for Jacob: “What is your name?” Jacob left Laban with defiant self-righteousness, but now Jacob was in a struggle with the Truth which was convicting him of his ungodly character. Jacob means deceiver. Jacob had to come to terms with the truth of his life. God brought him to this moment of honesty with himself. Repentance requires humbly admitting the truth of your sinfulness and surrendering to the mercy and grace of God. Only then was Jacob ready to be called Israel.
22. Genesis 32:28 – “Then he said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.’” With Jacob’s life transformation from God came a new name – no longer would he be known as the deceiver but rather Israel — “Triumphant with God”, “who prevails with God”. Jacob [Israel] didn’t prevail against God in a wrestling match (in fact, he walked away with a permanent limp); he prevailed “with” God. He prevailed because of God, because God guided him through the greatest battle anyone will ever fight, the battle against self.
23. Genesis 32:29-30 – “Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.’” Do you know the name of the One with whom Israel wrestled, the One who left Israel marveling, having seen the “face of God”?
24. Proverbs 16:1 – There is what you plan on doing and what God is really going to do with you. Best to conform to God’s plan for your life than to attempt to force your own plan. Joseph certainly did not plan on being a slave, but God had a greater plan.
25. Proverbs 16:2 – “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit.” We all have a tendency to justify our actions, but God always knows the truth of the matter. Humility involves being willing to hold our actions accountable to God’s standards.
26. Proverbs 16:2 – God knows what you need far more than you do.
27. Proverbs 16:3 – “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” We were created to work for God. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had great joy in work, and all their work succeeded because they were doing exactly what God wanted and exactly what God wanted, with God and with each other. The creature has fulfillment when it is doing what it was created to do. However, Satan deceived Adam and Eve to begin working for themselves rather than God – nothing has been the same since. “See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.” (Ecclesiastes 7:29) Work is not a consequence of sin; toilsome, frustrating work is. Why? Because we weren’t created or empowered to work for ourselves. God wants you to return to joyful, productive work by working for Him, rather than self, by seeking to contribute to the Kingdom of God rather than building your own kingdom, and by relying on His strength rather than your own strength, and trusting Him in His work rather than trusting in yourself. This isn’t doing the work you intend to do while saying you are doing it to honor God. This is turning your labors over to God completely, allowing Him to do whatever He will with you. The ball is completely in His court so-to-speak. Many Christians want to do what they want to do while saying they are seeking to honor God. It is like children who are given chores by their parents they don’t want to do, so they do easier chores and seek praise from their parents nonetheless only to hear the parent say, “That’s nice but not what I asked you to do.” If your work is joyless and unfulfilling, perhaps you are doing it for yourself rather than for God.
28. Proverbs 16:6 – “By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.” The secret to overcoming sin is to truly know and love God and to truly appreciate His Majesty. If overcoming sin is your goal, you will fall short; if knowing God is your goal, sin is not an issue. Your force of will and determination will never be enough as long as your will is not truly compelled by selfless love for Him.
29. Proverbs 16:17 – “The highway of the upright turns aside from evil; whoever guards his way preserves his life.” A highway gets you were you need to go quickly and directly. Spiritual maturity doesn’t need to take as long as most people take. Some even take the wrong road and never actually get closer to the destination but, in fact, further away.
30. Proverbs 16:20 – “Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.” Don’t just read the word, give true thought to the word and discover its goodness by trusting enough to obey it.
31. Proverbs 16:32 – “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” The true measure of your leadership is not in your ability to control others but rather in your ability to control self. The foundation of your leadership is self-leadership, and the hardest thing to control is yourself. Self-control is one of the ‘fruits of the Spirit’ listed in Galatians 5. Self-control is really being Spirit controlled. If you lack self-control in any area of your life, it is a spiritual issue. America is more overweight than it has ever been before, but few consider this a spiritual issue. However, the Bible compares gluttony to sexual immorality, idolatry, sorcery, and drunkenness because all of these sins deal with a lack of self-control which is the result of a lack of Spirit empowered control.
32. Matthew 12:1 – “At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.” Don’t miss this point: On mission with Jesus, the disciples were so hungry, they were plucking and eating heads of grain. They had no other food. They gave it all. That is full commitment and radical discipleship. They did not simply ‘spiritualize’ Jesus’ message to sell everything or leave everything they had to follow Him, they actually did it. They were all in. And while they were hungry, they were joyfully ministering to the needs of others. How do you treat others when you are hungry or don’t know where the next meal is coming from? Under what conditions do you start to lose your joy in ministry?
33. Matthew 12:2 – “But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.’” While Jesus and the disciples were living in poverty for the Gospel, the rich religious leaders could only criticize them in the name of religion. In complete discomfort while doing what is right, how do you respond to criticism and mistreatment from those who are clearly wrong and self-righteous? Do you get emotional and strike back at them, or do you graciously speak truth to them in pursuit of reconciliation.
34. Matthew 12:7 – “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” The followers of the law who talked about godliness from a self-centered perspective criticized Jesus’s disciples who had truly surrendered themselves to Jesus and walked with Him in truth. While others practiced religion, the disciples obeyed Jesus wholeheartedly.
35. Matthew 12:7 – “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” God wants people who truly follow Jesus, not those who just perform acts of religion as it suits them.
36. Matthew 12:8 – “For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” When you are truly with Jesus, you have Sabbath rest.
37. Matthew 12:10 — “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” People are always looking for excuses to not show the love and mercy to others that God requires, and often, they will use religion or misapplied, out of context, Bible verses to justify their hard-heartedness.
38. Matthew 12:11, 12 – God’s laws can only be rightly applied from the context of love. When we approach God’s laws in a self-centered, self-serving, and self-righteous way, we will apply them inappropriately. Justice, mercy, and grace go together, and only the Spirit can reveal how to rightly apply both together.
39. Matthew 12:14 – “But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.” Often Christians are more persecuted from within the ‘church’ than from outside the church.
40. Matthew 12:15, 16 – “And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known.” Jesus performed real miracles, not trying to bring attention to Himself, but many false prophets have performed and still perform fake miracles in order to bring attention to themselves. False teachers are always telling others about themselves while using the name of Jesus merely to validate their goodness.
41. Matthew 12:18 — “I will put my Spirit upon him.” Matthew 12 contrasts the Spirit-filled life with the religious, works-based life (as Jesus opposes the Pharisees and their teachings). First, the Pharisees challenge the legality of the disciples eating grain on the Sabbath. Why were the disciples eating grain? Because they were famished. Anyone who has ever plucked heads of grain by hand knows how difficult it is to get your fill that way – this signals real hunger. Why were the disciples so hungry? Because they had completely depleted themselves healing and preaching the kingdom. Jesus had just previously sent them out under his authority to “freely give” to the “lost sheep of Israel” with instructions not to take along any provisions. He had sent them out “like sheep among wolves.” (Matthew 10) Jesus told them, “He who receives you receives me.” Relying on the hospitality of the homes and towns visited, the disciples returned famished (unsupported); meanwhile, the Pharisees, from their positions of comfort, wealth, and self-righteousness, studied the Scriptures like legal documents or text books looking for a way to condemn those who were actually doing the will of God. By reminding the Pharisees of when David ate the consecrated bread, he is also indirectly placing the Pharisees in the position of Saul who chased David and killed the priests of the Lord (1 Samuel 22). Remember, Saul was the king of Israel by legal authority, but he had lost his morale authority and anointing by God; whereas David lacked earthly authority as king but had the anointing of God. Likewise, the Pharisees where the recognized, positional leaders of the ‘church’ but lacked the authority of the KING. While the Pharisees attempted to use their religious knowledge to justify themselves before men, Jesus used the power of God to heal, revealing the truth of his faith and displaying the mercy and grace of the Father so that the Father would be glorified. (Matthew 12:9-14) The Pharisees not only lacked the authority of God, they lacked a genuine heart for God, the Spirit of God, and therefore, the power of God. In fact, Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29) Jesus describes the Pharisees as empty houses, “swept, and put in order,” more appealing to homeless unclean spirits than those who are not self-righteous legalists. Their good works were motivated by the flesh, not by the Spirit; so, they actually worked against the plan of God, and scattered what was to be gathered – “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Jesus ends the chapter with the proof of a Sprit-led, true disciple: “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven.”
42. Matthew 12:22 – “A demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him.” Let’s not lose sight of the fact that this man was demon-oppressed when he was brought to Jesus – he was unclean. Subconsciously, we are often tempted to set conditions on who we are willing to share Jesus with, as if some are not good enough to hear about Jesus. We might not be as compelled to share Jesus with someone who has offended us or whose lifestyle offends us. In this account, the man had no ability, apart from the Holy Spirit, to accept Jesus, yet others brought him to Jesus in hope. Who will you bring to Jesus?
43. Matthew 12:28 – “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Wherever God is, there is the Kingdom. If you have the Holy Spirit within you, you are part of the Kingdom and bring the Kingdom wherever you go. Much like a US ship on international waters is considered US sovereign territory, you are God’s sovereign territory, and attack on you is an attack on the Kingdom of God.
44. Matthew 12:30 – “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Jesus forces everyone to decision – you are either all in or not in at all. You are either working with God or against Him. All of your ‘good deeds’ done in any name other than the name of Jesus are offering people an ‘answer’ other than Jesus. If you are not clearly pointing them to Jesus, you are not really helping them.
45. Matthew 12:34 – “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” First, note that Jesus did not mince words here, nor was He gentle. Jesus spoke very harshly to the self-righteous. Second, note that you can know and preach the Bible without knowing Jesus and leading others to Him. People don’t need to see your goodness or learn knowledge from you, they need Jesus.
46. Matthew 12:34-37 – Your words reveal your heart.
47. Matthew 12:36 – “People will give account for every careless word they speak.” Careless words, within the context of this chapter, involve speaking the truth with an untruthful heart, speaking the truth but not living the truth – You know God’s words, but in practice, you couldn’t ‘care-less’. You must walk your talk. When we speak the truth but don’t live it, our own words condemn us. (v37)
48. Matthew 12:39 — “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign.” Those that need a sign do not have the heart to accept the truth of God they have already seen, and no amount of evidence will be enough because the problem is not proof, it is the heart.
49. Matthew 12:39-42 – People who won’t respond to what they already know about God should not expect any additional revelation from God.
50. Matthew 12:41 – “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” Jesus Himself stood face-to-face with them, yet they could not see Him. Jesus is the Truth that is self-evident. If a person cannot see Him, they don’t desire to see Him.
51. Matthew 12:43-45 – Heaven forbid we would repent of our sins and accept forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ only to return to our sin. When we demonstrate this sort of callousness, we fall much deeper into sin.
52. Matthew 12:48-50 – The family of God are the followers of God.
53. Matthew 12:50 – “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Relationship with Jesus is based upon obedience.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 16 Jan 18: Today, seek to share Jesus with those you might think would be the least likely to accept Him. Look for those who among the seemingly unlikely who do not scoff but listen. (Matthew 12:22)