Bina Fenn

Matthew 27: 33-56

 

Good Friday is a day of mixed emotions. N.T. Wright states:

“You could tell the story a thousand different ways, and they’d all be true. Jesus’ followers quickly came to tell it in such a way as to bring out what Jesus himself had been trying to say all along, and what Matthew has been trying to tell us through out his gospel.  This is the event through which Jesus became king. King of the Jews, King of the world.”

Christ died not as an earthly king to lord it over us; but as a Heavenly King; to serve His chosen people.  He chose to be obedient to His Father and to be The  Savior of His creation. Through His trials, He did not deny who He was; but defied expectations of how he should behave. In his death, he repaired the divisions between God and man. He brings us back into a relationship with God, which is eternal life.

God is about relationship. The mystery of the trinity is a relationship bound in love and service. His nature is love; which is the truest relationship.  Love cannot be touched or tested; but its existence can’t be denied. Love is powerful; but needs to be experienced to be known. We have to be in relationship with God to know Him. Relationship with God, the creator of love, fills us with His power to reach out in relationships; to be disciplined, to persevere, and to sacrifice.

Christ as our mentor, Lord, and King, showed us through his trial and death how to be disciplined, and persevere. He sacrificed His life for us. “ How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? ” Hebrews 2:3. It was this verse that first called me to faith in Christ. On Good Friday I remember the different people who mocked, flogged, and washed their hands of Jesus; and I confess that I have been guilty through my life of the same sins. God in His gracious power chose to give up His son for me. How foolish I feel for not surrendering the things I love. As Doug mentioned last Sunday, sometimes we grasp too tightly to people and situations that are already in His control. The Holy Spirit has been disciplining me to let go.

The joy I have in Him now is that I have experienced the truth Christ spoke in Matthew 11:29. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. He has done our work on the cross. When we repent and approach His throne of grace; He forgives and grants us peace. Christ rules in relationship, service and  love. I grow when I am in relationship with Him and in His Word. May we continue to grow in Him. It is Good Friday for He is our loving King.

 

 

 

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Matthew 26: 1-13

 

Matthew, Mark and John all relate the story that happened in Bethany, two days before Passover. A woman anoints Jesus’ head with fragrant oil. Matthew and Mark wrote that they were at the house of Simon. John mentions the same story as taking place at Lazarus’ house with his sister Mary as the woman. The validity of the Bible is sometimes questioned due to conflicting stories like this one. But in human relationships, confusion and conflict are more typical than consensus. The Bible is essentially the human story, from God’s perspective. Christ came to wake up and re-direct His people. The days around His death and resurrection were confusing times for those nearest to Him. They use different details, but the message is the same.

N.T. Wright mentioned that Bethany means ‘house of the poor,’ where the poorest people received care. Women did not typical join men who were gathered, other than to serve. Thus this woman’s presence, and her extravagant use of costly oil, was shocking to the disciples. Yet Christ elevates the woman’s thinking as more correct than the men. As a modern woman, that makes me smile. But it was revolutionary in first century Israel. Jesus lifted the worshipful, serving believer, over the calculating follower. He saw to the heart of their intentions.

Christ’s message of service speaks to me. I feel called to serve in many areas; but I can get bogged down in measuring the costs. I enjoy cooking for a party, but the mundane chore of making dinner feels like drudgery. Yet when I see this job as a service for Christ; my burdens are lightened. They become gifts and opportunities for me to share Christ’s Love. His Spirit gives me grace to rejoice in my blessings however they are disguised. When I give my best effort, my work becomes worship.

The woman was focused on worshiping her Lord with priceless oil; her best gift. The disciple was focused on the cost. His anger was practical in the world’s view. The cost of the ointment could have bought food for many hungry people and more supporters to their cause. After Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, and his actions at the temple, the disciples were eagerly awaiting the climax of Christ’s story. They couldn’t imagine that God’s Son would give up His life or die. As N.T. Wright states, “ What none of the disciples yet realized is that, for Jesus, this was not only the direct and foreseeable result of his whole kingdom mission. It was the means by which that mission would be accomplished.”

Christ tries to explain and commend the woman for her faithfulness when he says: ” It’s a lovely thing, what she’s done for me. You always have the poor with you, don’t you. But you won’t always have me…wherever this gospel is announced in all the world, what she has just done will be told.”

He reminds them of his coming death and prophesizes that they will take His message to the whole world. His death would not just change Israel. He knows it will transform the world. Service for its own sake will always continue, and does not change circumstances. Service for Jesus transforms those who serve and those who are served.

Matthew 22 focused on vs 1-14 Parable of the Marriage Feast

The gospel of Matthew was primarily written to reach the Israelites. This is why he emphasizes Christ’s Kingship and authority. Christ had been confronted in Chapter 21 by the chief priests and elders while he was teaching at the temple “ By what authority  are You doing these things? ”  He stumps them with his answer and goes on to relate the three parables as evidence of His authority.

In the third parable Jesus taught that  the kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet arranged and  prepared by God. The King sent His servants to the wedding guests, but they were not willing to come. He sends a second invitation telling  them about the preparations He has made for the wedding.  They responded in three ways. Two made light of the invitation and went their own way, one to his work and the other to his own interests. The others seized the King’s servants, and harassed, and killed them. The King  in his anger sent his armies to destroy  the murderes, and burn up their cities.

At first reading, Christ is reprimanding the Jewish people for refusing God’s invitation to be His people.  They are taking the privilege  too lightly, being caught up in their own affairs. They have even killed God’s messengers, like John the Baptist.

Coming from  a long, proud Christian tradition, this part of the parable could also be about me. Often we tend to take our privilege of the knowledge of God for granted. We consider His Will more lightly than our own work. Our own interests and daily activities may keep us too busy to acknowledge Him.

Mr. Wright comments on how this parable has been argued to be too harsh for our gentle savior. Yet it is clear evidence of Jesus’ kingship.It would have been shocking to his first century listeners. “ … if the king himself had invited you to the wedding of his son… well, then you would be planning for months what to wear, what gift to bring, how to make sure everything was right on the day.”

In the second part of the parable the King told his servants that those who were invited were not worthy. He sent his servants to the highways to call whoever was found. Christ is speaking of the world outside the nation of Israel that will be invited to join in communion with Him.

I find it interesting that the highways are mentioned, because who would be on highways.  Are these people who were curious and may have hoped to see the wedding festivities from afar; or were they on their way to the kingdom even though they had no knowledge of the King?

The third part of the parable is about the wedding itself. The King notices a man who is not dressed appropriately, and asks him why.I have heard that in biblical times the King’s wedding  guests  would be given a special garment.  It was expected that they would wear it for the occasion. The King  is angry because the guest has doubly insulted Him. The guest has declined His gift, preferring his own inadequate garments. In today’s world, it would be like being invited to be a part of the Presidential wedding party and opt not to wear the outfit that matches the bridal party. Naturally the insulting guest is bound and thrown out.. The poorly dressed guest is one who has heard Christ’s call; and is attracted by what God provides  without repentence. He can not let go of his old nature, or put on the garment of salvation.

If we hear God’s call and appreciate His goodness, we must also prepare ourselves. We need to be clothed with His righteousness for the Banquet we will one day have in His presence. Forgiveness and salvation are God’s free gift. We have to give up the tattered rags of our old nature that block the Holy Sprit  from clothing us in heavenly garments. “All are welcome, but all must dress appropriately.”

Matthew 17:4-20 Faith that Moves Mountains

Temperament and God’s Position

After blogging last week I found out that in my impetuous intensity I was a week ahead of my fellow bloggers. I beg pardon to those of you that I have confused, so this week I’d like to ponder faith and God’s provision. The temperament that we are born with and how we are wired to be energized; whether we are extroverts or introverts; affects how we behave and react to the world. They can be modified by our experiences, early training; till we develop our personality. Our parents can know us very well and help guide us along a moderate road, but sometimes their temperament is the opposite of ours so we can be hard to understand; a fact that I didn’t appreciate till I had children. Isn’t it amazing how God has made us so beautifully diverse!

When we give control to Christ he gives us wisdom to see ourselves for who He created us to be and grace to gently nudge us on a road that helps show the strengths of our temperament. On most of the traits I am somewhere in the middle but my first reaction is to jump right in and my intensity and perceptivity are on the higher end. I’ve never been very competitive, and I prefer to give in than stand my ground because I am a people pleaser. I was also a perfectionist; everything I did had to be my best. Needless to say there were times I disappointed myself and self-recrimination and guilt would eat me up. Add that to my high perceptivity and I would cry at the drop of a hat. Life’s experiences and maturity resolved some of that; but I still cry at the sad parts of movies and books. Before I allowed Christ in my life, worry and guilt were mountains for me. I worked very hard and was tightly wound; constantly driving myself to be the best.  There is nothing wrong with that, but only one person can be the best and disappointments can pile up.

Faith is taking away that mountain because when I turn over my worries and guilt to Him he moves them away and gives me peace. Christ also helped me to see that he created me intense and perceptive with a quick first reaction, so I could appreciate His creation and share its beauty with others. He helps me see the green pastures he placed me in. He gave me a mission to wake others up to His magnificence. Faith in Him has given me the freedom to relax. I still jump into things but He is helping me take one step at a time. He has connected me with many people who speak wisdom into my life. I was working on a painting at the church we attended in upstate New York and couldn’t stop tweaking it. My friend helped me let go. He told me about a great master artist in ancient China who had great acclaim. People came from far and near to buy his paintings and appreciate his work. One day a new apprentice was preparing a newly completed piece for a buyer and noticed an obvious mistake and in agitation pointed it out to the master. The master simply smiled and said, “ Only God is perfect.” He always left an obvious error so that in his creativity he did not deflect glory from God. That is faith. Despite his status, he aimed to keep God first. May we gain and strive for that wisdom.

Matthew 17

The Transfiguration/ Healing of the Boy with Fits  & Paying Temple Taxes

The Transfiguration/ Healing of the Boy with Fits & Paying Temple Taxes

Before and after Jesus heals the boy with fits; He deals with two features in  life that  are inevitable; death and taxes.

In Matthew’s gospel, at the height of Jesus ministry on earth, he took Peter, James and John and allowed them to witness His transfiguration and while Peter was equating Jesus with Moses, and Elijah; God’s voice spoke, “This is my Son, whom I love, with Him I am well pleased, listen to Him,” lifting Christ higher. As they came down the mountain, he told them to not be afraid and to not reveal what they had seen till he had been raised from the dead. He shared that he too would suffer at the hands of those who had not recognized John the Baptist as Elijah.  With their minds whirling with what they had seen, death and obstacles must have been incomprehensible

Have you ever been to a retreat, a wonderful mountaintop experience, where you were in communion with God and felt at total peace? I have, but when I returned to home I was overwhelmed with the annoyances of everyday life.  Jesus knew He had to face suffering and death. His communion with God had given Him strength, then he returned to  His disciples  who had again lost their faith. How merciful and patient God is with us. We pray without the faith of a mustard seed. I use mustard seeds frequently when I cook. They are 1 mm size hard, grainy, seeds that are difficult to break up or pop open. In small group we are reading the study on prayer for lent and again God is showing me to be more, earnest, focused and faithful in prayer.

For true healing and transformation to occur, we need to practice the discipline of prayer in and through the Holy Spirit. I realize that too often I have rushed through and used prayer as an after thought. My focus was not on God and His will, but on what I had to do next on my checklist. The work I have to do at work, my roles as Mom, wife, daughter, sister and friend, I allow them to overwhelm my mind; these are my mountains. I forget that God is in control. Just as Christ told Peter to fish and get the 4 drachma coins to pay for the temple tax. He will provide all that I need. We should expect difficulties and obstacles in life, but the discipline of  focused faith-filled, prayer transforms us and those we pray for by His grace and according to His Will. As N.T. Wright notes,” The most important Christians are not the ones who preach great sermons and write great books, but the ones who pray, and pray, and pray some more, sharing the quiet but effective victory of Jesus over all that defaces God’s creation.”

Jesus and Beelzebub

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Matthew: 12:22-50; focused on 12:27-32

Newton’s third Law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction; which is exemplified by this passage. Jesus’s amazing act of love brought out an equal and opposite reaction of hate from the Pharisees. Jesus performed the astonishing miracle of healing a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute. The Pharisees heard the murmurs going through the crowd: ”Could this man be the Son of David?” They knew the people meant not just any son of David, but the “Messiah,” whom everyone was waiting for. The Pharisees didn’t want a simple carpenter from Nazareth to have a higher standing than them, so out of envy and spite they said that Jesus’s power was of Beelzebub – the prince of demons

Christ’s response was direct, ( King James Version, ) “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” He reasonably questioned them on how they cast out demons. He warned them, “If it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” I believe he was trying to shake them out of their complacency. He compared the demon-possessed man to a house where the devil lived. Jesus had to have conquered the devil before taking what he possessed; thus he showed his power over Beelzebub. As N.T. Wright explains, these verses relate to the real battle Jesus fights. The real battle is spiritual, against violence, and inward sin. Christ, the Living Word was sharp and decisive as he confronted the wickedness he saw in the Pharisees’ hearts. “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of,” (v.34).

Verses 31 and 32 were difficult for me until N. T. Wright’s commentary clarified it. Christ says blasphemy or a word against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Jesus worked through the Holy Spirit to launch God’s kingdom.” If we deny the work of the Holy Spirit, we cannot benefit from it. Christ’s warning is clear, we do God’s Will through the power of the Holy Spirit, not our own. Spiritual pride and envy are not of God; they are stumbling blocks. Due to their denial of The Spirit; the Pharisees were scattering the flock rather than gathering them, as was their duty.

N.T. Wright says Beelzebub means “Lord of the flies.” Like flies, our temptations often hover around us. The guilt of past sins prevents us from acting on God’s truths and we lose sight of God’s promises. Events in our life can tempt us to forget who God is and what we can do through His power. Jesus was so in tune with the Holy Spirit that he could swat temptations away like flies. We can also, though we may need many more swats as we learn to align our will to His.

 

Friday: Matthew 4:18-25

This segment of Matthew is so well known that it is easy to dismiss it, as something we’ve heard before. Matthew narrates how Jesus called simple fishermen to follow him. Since the Love and Respect study I have a greater appreciation for  how important work and the need to provide are for men. How charismatic Jesus must have been, to have Peter, Andrew, James and John abandon their work and families to follow Him with no conditions or promises. I believe they followed Jesus because He inspired them to a greater calling; a new adventure. They yearned to be taught, mentored, to be part of something above their ordinary lives; for a gift they didn’t realize they could have, a relationship with our creator.

Just like Peter and Andrew, when I truly met my creator, I sought to be guided by Him. I wanted to know His will for my life; to grow closer to Him; and by His grace closer to who He created me to be.  Like James and John, what my family and friends thought of me was no longer the most important thing. Honoring God through my choices was. I gained new confidence and joy, not in myself but in Him.

On reading N.T. Wright’s devotional for today, I had to smile, because I knew Travis  and my husband Joe, would love the sports analogy but it put these verses in a light I hadn’t considered.

This chapter is the beginning of a new season. Just like the anticipation that is in the air at the beginning of a sports season, there was a new energy in Judea. Jesus was teaching, healing, performing miracles; the crowd was excited. “Was this the Messiah?” Maybe some of them had witnessed John the Baptist baptizing Him. The spectators were watching. The coach, Jesus, had to assemble a team. Radically, He chose from the spectators who were not ready. This really hit home with me ,( sorry for the pun,) when asked to do this blog. I really did not feel ready to be here, in front, rather than back in the congregation. I couldn’t say no; because I heard His voice calling me to join His team a long time ago. As a kid that was often the last person picked for any sports team, being asked to be on Jesus’ team changed my perspective and is changing me every day. He gave me a mission to encourage  people to stop being spectators. We are not called to just   go through the motions of being Christians but to realize the awesome privilege of being on Christ’s team. It is not only preachers, missionaries, or lay leaders, who He calls. We are His church. Each of us have a part to play. We are his hands and feet.  We may not feel ready; but how exciting that He calls us to work with Him, imperfect as we are.

Are you the next batter up?