No Walk In The Park

David Sulcer

Passage: Matthew 16:21-28

Prayer:  Father, teach us that following Jesus has never been and will never be a walk in the park. Instead, dangerous and dark roads will be in our future. Emotional pressure from within and without will often be the order of the day. Mental pain and doubt will arrest our attention along the way. Taking up the Cross and following Jesus to Calvary and beyond will turn us inside out and upside down. Too often, too many look at this Christian way as a pleasant stroll, when in fact it is a hike up the mountain steep. Too many view the Christian life as merely a few minor adjustments to our already normal life, when in fact it is nothing less than a death to self! But what rewards lay in its path! For in you, dear Jesus, our true selves are discovered! In you, our dying becomes living and our weakness gives way to your power! Through your own death and resurrection, dear Lord, you conquered the deep-rooted evil in ways that bombs and bullets could never achieve. Your route to victory was a public humiliation and your chariot of triumph was the old rugged cross! So teach us to follow your own path of victory so that we may experience the same resurrection of glory! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Ponder: If bearing our cross is the way of a disciple, how does that cause you to look at “victorious Christian living” differently? How does that help you face setbacks, pain, struggle, opposition, and even persecution better? How does that help you die to yourself more?

 

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Who Do You Say That I Am?

Herb Reisig

Passage: Matthew 16:13-20

Point:  So much to chew on in this passage; I’ll focus in on Peter’s courage.  Jesus takes his followers far away from the political center in the south, and dares them with a dangerous question:  Who do you think I am?  I’m sure they’ve been mulling it over for a long time, but now is the time when a commitment is required.  The answer will have definite ramifications for these men.  A strong stand in favor of Jesus’ claim to Messiah will lead to a showdown of some type with the authorities.  These guys were aware of the track record of those who claimed to be the Messiah, as well as their followers.  Rome wins.  Rome always wins.  And anyone who would stand up and challenge gets ground into the dust.  I can imagine the looks they were giving each other after Jesus’ question.  Looks that said, “Are you gonna say it? I’m not gonna say it!”  But Peter courageously stepped forward and said it:  “You are the Messiah; the son of the living God.”  His fate was sealed.  A cross awaited him—long after Jesus’ cross, but a death sentence nonetheless.

But something else awaited him as well.  Jesus gave him a new name:  Rock.  The kingdom that Jesus came to initiate would be built upon this man and his declaration.  Today, part of the reason we join together in worship of the Messiah is because of Peter’s daring declaration.  A small part, but a part nonetheless.  He got things rolling on that Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection when he stepped forward bravely again.  And this is a challenge to us.  Every time we dare to proclaim Jesus’ rightful place as king over this world, his kingdom is extended.  It gets larger and stronger.  The courageous declaration has power, and we become another rock upon which God’s kingdom rests.

Ponder:  In what ways can you step out in courage and declare who Jesus is in your sphere of influence?  Are you brave enough to do it?  Take a step.  Amazing things can happen.

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Salt and Light

David Sulcer

Passage: Matthew 16:1-12

Prayer:  Father, may we be a generation that hears your call, seeks your face, and follows your plan. Keep us from becoming a “this-world” generation…one in which we find ourselves trapped in the mindset and values of the prevailing culture; one that attempts to make this world our home instead of the world to come. So often we mistakenly baptize the values of this world as though they were Christian. We turn greed into the “prosperity gospel.” We avoid all forms of pain and call it “walking in divine health.” We adopt “the power of positive thinking” and call it “faith.” We adopt tolerance and call it “love.” We refuse to deal with sin and call it “grace.” Unfortunately, this form of “leaven” has worked through much of the church today and has robbed it of its kingdom calling. We have become so much like the world in which we live that we no longer seem different and peculiar. We no longer seem to be the salt and the light we are intended to be. You have called us to be your sign pointing the world to Christ and his Cross as seen from the perspective of the Resurrection. So may we stand out in the world we are called to serve as beacons of light and prophets of hope, rather than chameleons of compromise and capitulation. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Fixed Upon the Mount

Mike Ferrante

Passage: Matthew 15:29-39

Point:  An old song states, “Praise the Mount I’m fixed upon It, Mount of thy redeeming love.”  Mounts are a big deal in the scriptures.  They display authority and are majestic in our eyes.  It was on the Mount Sinai that the word of God first came.  It was on the Mount Zion where the presence of God rested.  It was on the Mount of Olives where the Son of God fulfilled all if it.  In this passage, the Son of God again sits on a mount to heal and to feed in a miraculous way, all the while fulfilling scripture through Isaiah, where God says the lame will walk, the mute will speak, and the deaf ears will be opened.  He will do all of these things not just for the Jew, but also for the entire world.  As we will soon be approaching Holy Week, we remember another mount the Lord will climb:  Mount Calvary.  There he will be lifted up to His passion and claim His true authority as the Lamb of God—the only one worthy to remove the sin of the cosmos. Our hope is that He will make all things right  in His return one day to that Holy Mount from which He ascended in resurrection power!

Ponder:   Are your eyes fixed to the Mount of God this week?  Are there things that are distracting you?  Look up and see the Power and Majesty of Jesus!

 

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Crumbs Will No Longer Do!

David Sulcer

Passage: Matthew 15:21-28

Prayer:  Father, we come to your royal table to feast on your riches! How privileged we are to be included in your family and to feast on your bounty of grace! Jesus, through his Cross, has invited the outcast, the marginalized, and the looked-over, to climb from the rug under the table to the chair beside Him! We, who were far off, have been brought near! We, who were aliens to the covenant, have become fellow citizens of your royal family! The King of the Jews has become the Savior of the world! Crumbs will no longer do! Yet give us the same faith of a woman who claimed the promises, designed for a future period, for her present circumstances. This “great faith” of hers saw the significance of Jesus beyond the borders of the Jewish promises. She knew that Jesus possessed a world-reaching authority that could not be contained simply upon a Jewish dinner table. In fact, there was so much to go around that even the lowest, least, and lost outsider could benefit from its uncontainable overflow! Teach us to believe like her. Teach us to ask like her. Teach us to wrestle the future into the circumstances of our own present, and refuse to give an inch until the “not yet” becomes our “already!” In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Ponder: Why is it so important to move beyond the “expected” in our faith and into the “possible?” How can we believe like this woman who somehow “wrestled the future into the present?”

 

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An Inside Job

David Sulcer

Passage: Matthew 15:10-20

Prayer:  Father, remind us that it is not what is on the outside that is so important but what is on the inside. So often we major in the minors in our Christian living. We, too often, seek to align our religion with a political position more than a spiritual transformation. We, too often, seek a fortress mentality with our customs and rules to keep the world from contaminating us. We become more concerned over dress codes than the “code blue” of the human heart. But the real issue for all of us to worry with is not what is “out there” but what is on the inside of us. Jesus, you challenge us to search our hearts to see if there is any unclean thing that seeks to lodge within us. In fact, we find within us a witch’s brew of competing and poisonous desires that only you can cure, dear Lord! We try to use religion to paper over the gaping holes within our personality when the only solution to this unsound house of ours is a renovation of redemption and renewal. So come, O Lord of reconstruction and new creation! Rebuild this heart of stone into a heart of faith and love. Then we will be able to let the hospital doors of faith and love swing wide open to a world needing the same heart transplant as we do, instead of being huddled within a fortress of fear that seeks to remain unspotted from the world. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Ponder: Too often we worry about the surface problems and never seem to concentrate on the deeper issues.  What are some ways you can focus more on the matters of the heart?

 

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Tradition!

Herb Reisig

Passage: Matthew 15:1-9

Point:  How many Christians (Catholics, Protestants, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals- name your flavor) does it take to change a light bulb?  Five—one to change the bulb, and four to talk about how good the old bulb was.

It’s funny how traditions seem to take hold among any group of people.  The Pharisees certainly weren’t unique on that point.  The interesting thing about this situation in Matthew 15, though, is the Pharisees’ traditions were not traditional enough!  At some point along the way, someone made an innovation, and God’s original law of honoring parents was set aside for the “more important” requirement to dedicate belongings to the Temple.  So Jesus’ point is not that traditions are bad (innovations can be just as bad!).  Rather, the point is examining our hearts.  Are they far from God? Do we honor with our lips, while holding God at arm’s length?  Is our worship (whether traditional or innovative) in vain, because man-made ideas have taken over what we do?

Ponder: How do you like to worship God?  Does the old-way or the new-way get in the way?  Is a man-made form keeping you from worshiping in Spirit and truth?  It’s always a valuable thing to evaluate the state of our hearts in our worship of God.

 

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