March 25 – The Gospel of Matthew – Chapter 18

Read Matthew 18:1-35

“They that know God will be humble, and they that know themselves cannot be proud.”

John Flavel

Jesus’ teaching in this chapter addresses a critical heart issue: pride…and its preferred counterpart, humility. In the first four verses, Jesus teaches that His followers must be humble and dependent on Him, like a child to their parents. Humble followers are great followers (v. 4). And throughout this chapter, Jesus uncovers the benefits of humility and the devastating consequences of pride.

Pride will keep us from repenting of sin (vv. 6-9). Jesus’ graphic language strongly exhorts us to cut off sin before it overcomes us.  We tend to take sin much too lightly. But look around. We see the devastating consequences of sin all around us: addiction, conflicts, fear, anxiety, greed, immorality, hatred, idolatry, and the list goes on. The prideful person considers themselves immune to the consequences of sin, or presumes on the grace of God.  The humble person takes a posture of repentance and surrender to the Lord’s leadership.

And what’s more, if we fail to repent when lovingly confronted by another believer (vv. 15-20), we send a clear message that we value ourselves above the other person and unity in the church.

Pride can make us feel superior to others (v. 10). Looking down on another person, particularly another believer, treats that person with disrespect and as inferior. That kind of attitude is grievous to our Heavenly Father, because He and His angels take interest in their well-being as much as ours (vv. 11-14).

Moreover, pride prevents us from forgiving others (vv. 21-35). Many people are held captive because they refuse to forgive, and they become resentful, bitter and angry – destroying their lives and the lives of others (Hebrews 12:14-15).

Jesus’ words to Peter and the parable of the unmerciful servant proclaim loud and clear that, in Christ, we have been forgiven a debt we could not possibly repay.  Who are we to refuse to pardon those who have wronged us? Jesus isn’t saying it’s easy, but He is saying it’s essential.

I like what Rick Warren said about forgiveness: “Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves that allows us to get on with our lives instead of being trapped in the past by resentment.”

Do you want to strengthen your spiritual walk?  Increase your humility and forgive others for past wrongs. It will make your relationship with Jesus more dynamic and fulfilling and your relationships with others more encouraging and redemptive.

Dave Lawson

March 24 – The Gospel of Matthew – Chapter 17

Read Matthew 17:1-27

The early days of spring have finally arrived! While the temperatures and weather will continue to fluctuate here in Ohio for at least the next month or so, spring is more than just sunshine and warmer days. With spring comes a sense of renewed optimism and hope for the days of summer that lay ahead. However, this spring season seems to be different. The sense of hope, optimism, and anticipation of what is to come this summer are poignant. With mass vaccination campaigns occurring worldwide and more and more folks accepting the shots, it seems as though the days of lockdowns and stay-at-home directives shall soon be a thing of the past.

Certainly a welcomed change.

However, as I was reading today’s passage, I couldn’t help but be struck by verses 17-21. In fact, I read it over and over again because I felt the Lord tugging on my heartstrings. “Where have you placed your faith, Taylor?” I’ll admit this was a hard gut check for me. I saw myself in the voices of the bystanders and the folks who tried to do it on their own. The people in verse 19 asking “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” Like many folks, I wanted this pandemic to end so badly and so quickly. I often found myself just counting down the days until the next shot got approved or when the next panel would convene to discuss who got vaccinated next. I had placed my hope in this area in mankind and not in the sovereignty of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Where may you be placing your hope in someone or something other than Jesus?

The words in Matthew remind me today that it is Jesus who truly heals. It is our faith in Him, not in humanity that will be our ultimate redemption. Our faith in Jesus will save us from disease far deadlier than COVID-19. Jesus saves our souls from an eternal illness: sin. As grateful as I am that vaccines are here to fight the Coronavirus, maybe today God is challenging each of us (as cliché as it sounds) to take a shot of faith to trust Him more closely in our lives. I wonder if you will ponder with me some questions today:

  • Am I trusting God’s sovereignty? Do I believe that God uses all things for the good of those who love Him?
  • Am I living a grateful life? Am I thankful for the blessings and the pain?
  • Am I living a surrendered life? Or, am I chasing my will, my desires, my comfort? Am I holding on to things God wants me to let go of?

As you ponder these questions, feel free to listen to Waiting Here for You by Passion. You may recognize the opening verse of the song from our reading today.

Taylor Bennington

March 23 – The Gospel of Matthew – Chapter 16

Read Matthew 16:1-28

Jesus called him Simon son of Jonah. It was the name he had before he met Jesus. Before God the Father had revealed the truth about Jesus to this humble fisherman from Bethsaida. Then He called him blessed. It means happy. To be envied.

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah . . .” (v. 17)

That’s when Jesus proclaimed Simon’s new position. He called him Peter. It means “rock”. And Jesus used Peter’s new name to proclaim the truth of the foundation of His Kingdom. “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

It was a pretty good day for Simon Peter, I imagine. A new name with which to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ the Son of God. He got to speak truth about Jesus to Jesus Himself.

Still, when Peter heard Jesus’ talk about suffering at the hands of religious authorities, it did not settle well. Jesus’ words must have sounded crazy and depressing. They cut to the quick of all that Simon Peter had just proclaimed and what He’d just heard Jesus proclaim. For, if Jesus had to suffer, what would Peter have to do?

Maybe that’s why he took Jesus aside and quietly rebuked him. Although he had loved what Jesus had told him just four verses earlier, the things He said now were downright hurtful. Hurtful, that is, from a self-centered I’m-finally-getting-ahead-in-this-world perspective. So, when Jesus heard the self come out of Peter’s words, the old nature that makes people seek the opposite of God’s upside-down ways, He rebuked Peter strongly.

And the man He’d just called blessed was now being called Satan by Jesus Himself.

It’s a picture of what happens when we speak truth from God’s perspective but then let our own sinful view of things taint the picture. Can you relate? Has God revealed a difficult truth to you that maybe you’ve rejected or twisted in your mind to make it more comfortable for yourself? Talk to Him about it. Ask Him to give you His perspective. Then trust who you know Him to be and follow Him through it.

Bria Wasson

March 22 – The Gospel of Matthew – Chapter 15

Read Matthew 15:1-39

Here we are, just over halfway through the book of Matthew. What have you learned of Jesus and His ministry? What has stood out to you about those who left everything to follow Him?

For me, the biggest theme of most of Matthew is that of faith.

As I wrote about in my previous blog on chapter 9, faith plays a huge role in the ministry of Jesus.

How could it not?

What I love most about this chapter is that it starts with the Pharisees, these religious leaders and rule keepers, coming to Jesus and pointing their fingers at what “He has done wrong” … yet, what comes next is a takedown on the faith front.

Here is Jesus reminding these Pharisees that it isn’t about what you do, but about your heart. It’s about where your faith lies. For most of the Pharisees of that day, their faith was placed in their rules and regulations in order to remain “holy” and “good”. For the Canaanite woman and the people who ate with Jesus, their faith laid within Him and their lives were rewarded.

Look at these two different scenarios. One- people are prideful and saying all the right things in the name of pride.The other-a woman who says something because her heart’s motive is truly believing in who Jesus says He is.

Her faith was rewarded, where their pride causes them to fall.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am NOT saying we are rewarded when we operate out of faith, but what I am saying is, just like the Canaanite woman and the people that were fed by a miracle, their lives were rewarded because of where they placed their faith.

I am surrounded by people all throughout my job.  All of us the same…human. We all breathe in and out the same way, we all have hurts and struggles and circumstances that cause us to feel sad or heartbroken. However, the biggest difference I see between myself and some of these people is where our faith is placed and where our heart’s motive is. We can say and do all the right things, give of what we have and what we are, but our lives are still about us.

Our heart’s motive is still selfish and prideful like the Pharisees.

Whereas, take someone like the Canaanite woman, someone who has so little that the scraps are most valued, and she isn’t angry or sad over her circumstances. She knows the One who provides. She knows of the One who can truly satisfy and, in the end, her faith proves her holy.

Her happiness lies within her relationship with her Savior and not her life itself.

We have two choices in an ongoing cycle to make, day in and day out. We can choose to live for ourselves, looking like the part in faith… or we can actually live with our heart’s motive in a place of honoring the Lord and holiness.

Where is your heart? Where is your faith? Is it for you or Him?

Kelly Lawson

March 21 – The Gospel of Matthew – Chapter 14

Read Matthew 14:1-36 and Hebrews 12:2

My eyes were fixed on the field. They were fixed on the scoreboard. I was at the 2016 World Series – Game 7 in Cleveland. This had never happened in Cleveland before. And I almost had to mortgage my house to get a ticket. It was a thrill and my eyes were fixed (focused) on the game for all 10 innings.

Peter had his eyes fixed on Jesus when he walked on water. In fact, that’s how he did it.

But guess what happened – Peter looked down and lost his focus and then he sunk. He lost his focus because of fear. Have you ever lost your focus because of fear?

“…Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  – Matthew 14:29-30

What does it mean to fix your eyes on Jesus?

Joel and Luke Smallbone are a Christian pop duo called FOR KING & COUNTRY. In the song “Fix My Eyes On You” the duo begins to address what it means to fix your eyes on Jesus:

“I’d love like I’m not scared,

Give when it’s not fair,

Live life for another,

Take time for a brother.

 Fight for the weak ones,

Speak out for freedom,

Find faith in the battle,

Stand tall but above it all,

Fix my eyes on you.”

The message from Matthew and the song is that I need to keep my eyes on Jesus in everything that I do. If I take my eyes off of Him, I will sink – in life.

Verse 23 shows how Jesus used solitude and praying before big events in His life and ministry. We can keep our eyes on Jesus if we do the same. We can ruthlessly work to have a quiet time in our day to pray and stay focused on God. Jesus sought solitude so He could pray.

“After he dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later, Jesus went with his disciples to Gethsemane garden, and he said to them, “’Sit here while I go over there and pray.’” –Matthew 26:36

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”  – Mark 1:35

 “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”  – Luke 5:16

We all need to seek solitude to pray as a way to keep our eyes fixed on the Light of the world.

What do you fix your eyes on? In what way do you need to improve in your prayer life?

Tom Weckesser

March 20 – The Gospel of Matthew – Chapter 13

Read Matthew 13:1-58

Aww, Spring!  Nothing is better than the promise of Spring after several months of cloudy skies and snow.  When we think of Spring, we think of sunshine, baby animals and, of course, gardens.

In today’s reading, Jesus was talking to the people about something they were familiar with –  planting crops for a future harvest.  As usual, Jesus was teaching through parables (an earthly story with a heavenly meaning). By using everyday objects and activities to illustrate His message, Jesus knew the people would not only understand, but remember what He had said every time they work the soil for their crops, look at seeds, or pull some weeds.

This chapter is titled, “The Parable of the Sower,” but a better title might be “The Parable of the Soil” for it isn’t the sower or the seeds that change in each illustration, but the soil.  The “soil” stands for the human heart. It was the soil where the seeds landed that made all the difference.  If the heart of a person is hard and is not prepared for the gospel, the words will fall on deaf ears.  Sometimes the gospel can fall on an eager heart.  This person is a baby Christian who is all in for everything involving church and God, but, if they don’t take time to develop a deeper understanding and roots, they can be easily swayed by false teachings and their faith withers and dies the first time their faith is tested.

It is only the good soil, a willing heart, that will allow the Word to be planted, grow roots, develop strong plants, and then produce fruit and spread seeds so that others can become strong Christians too.

No story about gardening would be complete without talking about weeds that want to stop the good plants growth by taking over and blocking the sun. These weeds hide among the flowers. Sometimes they are hard to spot.  They might even imitate the flowers in looks. However, they will take over any unattended spot.  Some have deep roots and, no matter how you try to dig them out, they seem to come back and multiply.  Sometimes they are often covered with thorns and will hurt anyone who tries to remove them.

Some people are like these weeds.  Some hide within groups, waiting for their chance to take over the cause for evil.  Then there are the people who wait to see where there is relative calm and sneak into the hearts and minds of other people with half-truths to cause doubt!  They might spread their poison through untruths, gossip, or social media.

I hope you aren’t any of these weeds.  I hope that you are a sweet-smelling flower who blooms wherever you are planted and lets your love of Christ flow through everything you do! However, we need to not be so naive as to think that the weeds AREN’T around us everywhere!  We need to put on the full armor of God, even if it has to go over your petals. Then go forth and do some gardening for God! We need to pray that God will show us the hearts that are ripe for planting the gospel, reveal the weeds as they pop up and then help us to quickly remove them.

Pat Arnold

March 19 – The Gospel of Matthew – Chapter 12

Read Matthew 12:1-50

Jesus > Religion

This phrase graced the screen at the beginning of a video that now has 34.8 million views on YouTube. A guy named Jeff performed a 4-minute spoken word, describing the relationship, or lack thereof, of Jesus and religion.

“Religion says, ‘Do’. Jesus says ‘Done.’”

This was a very tough pill for the people of Jesus’ time to swallow and was normally at the center of the conflict that Jesus experienced during His earthly ministry. The religious leaders at the time were so focused on the Old Testament law that they completely overlooked the fulfillment of that law who was standing right in front of them.

Often, we, as Christians, can get so bogged down with “do’s” and “don’ts” that we can completely miss the point. It can be frustrating, when you read the gospels, just how much the religious leaders of the day did just that. Jesus would heal someone and immediately His life would be in danger. He would speak out against them and, instead of taking the constructive criticism, they would conspire to kill Him.

How often do you find yourself focusing on stuff that doesn’t matter? The Pharisees were just so blinded by the law that they overlooked the life change that was happening right in front of them! When reading the gospels, I often get frustrated by how blind the Pharisees were by hate and disagreement that they never grasped the truth.

“[The Church] isn’t a museum for good people, it’s a hospital for the broken.”

If you’re honest with yourself, how often do you find your faith in something that you can physically do? Do you think that reading your Bible, not cussing, and going to church secures for you eternal life? No. Good fruit comes as a result of being grafted into Christ. These actions that we do in obedience come as a result of a changed heart.

When you think about it, do you get caught up in the “to do’s” of Christianity so much so that you find yourself blind to the reason behind them?

There’s nothing we can do to deserve the grace we have been given through Christ. There is nothing we can read, nothing we can do and nothing that we can say that will put us in right standing with God. We were justified when Jesus died on the cross for our sins and there is an old hymn that talks about our sin putting Him there.

Such a sobering truth.

As you continue to read through Matthew and, in the future, through the rest of the gospels, this “Religion v Relationship” is a common theme that you will read about.

What about you?

In what ways do you need to overcome the “religion” in your life? In what way are you just going through the motions and missing the bigger picture? Are you planting your stake in the ground for something that doesn’t truly matter?

I encourage you to check out Jeff’s viral video and allow his words to ring true for you!

Jake Lawson

March 18 – The Gospel of Matthew – Chapter 11

Read Matthew 11:1-30

Doubt.

Chances are that sometime in your life you have wrestled with doubt. Doubt in your ability, doubt in others, even doubt in God’s love. You’re not alone. Many biblical heroes we place on holy pedestals have fought the battle of doubt. Read Hebrews 11, the chapter often referred to as “the hall of faith”, and notice how many of these “heroes” overcame one of our greatest obstacles . . . doubt.

Although John the Baptist is not mentioned in Hebrews 11, he has almost a whole chapter dedicated to his testimony of faith in the eleventh chapter of Matthew. Let’s set the scene. John, God’s prophet, chosen to prepare the way for Jesus’ message, was in prison. Captive to his unpleasant surroundings, he only heard of Jesus’ works. He was not part of the crowd that walked with Jesus, ate with Jesus and witnessed Jesus’ miracles. Perhaps this was not how John expected things to turn out. He knew Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, but, as he sat in a cold, dark, lonely prison, doubt crept in. “Are You the Expected One or shall we look for someone else?” John questioned. In other words, John wanted evidence. He wanted assurance that Jesus is who He said He was. Jesus responded by sending back a report to John. Jesus said that all the downcast of society have been helped, healed and set free from their circumstances.

But not John. Jesus had the power to set John free from his circumstances. Instead, John sat in a Roman prison, missing everything he prophesied about, only hearing second-hand the amazing works Jesus had done.

There’s another chapter 11 wrestler of faith. We find a desperate and doubting woman named Martha in John 11. After the death of her brother, Lazarus, the tension of faith and doubt pulled at her. She believed Jesus was able to heal Lazarus but doubted why He came after her brother died. The crowd that had gathered around the tomb expressed their doubt too. “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of him who was blind, have kept this man also from dying?” (John 11:37)

Have you been there?

Wondering why God hasn’t shown up or changed your circumstances? Faith cries out that you know He can. Doubt shouts louder, wondering why He hasn’t. We learn from both John the Baptist and Martha that faith isn’t so much about believing God’s ability, as it is trusting His sovereignty. When God seems silent, rather than doubt, look up, for God always has a greater purpose. He had a greater purpose for John and for Martha and both were rescued from doubt. Read the entire chapter and hear John’s accolades from Jesus himself. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”  Both John and Martha sought the Lord and I have no doubt they received their reward for faith – and I don’t doubt He will do that for you too.

What doubt are you experiencing in your life? What role does your faith play in overcoming that doubt?

Just believe.

Charline Engle

March 17 – The Gospel of Matthew – Chapter 10

Read Matthew 10:1-42

As Matthew originally penned this gospel directed by the Holy Spirit, it did not include chapter and verse divisions. Those two added features serve us well as they allow us to quickly identify a specific reference. On the downside, however, we can end up limiting the attention we give to the greater context beyond the immediate chapter or verse. Let’s not make that mistake here.

As Jesus sends out the twelve apostles, don’t forget that this comes on the heels of His own teaching, proclaiming, and healing. It comes after His compassion for the crowds. It follows His request of the disciples that they pray that the Father would send out laborers (9:35-38.) That request to pray in chapter 9 became an invitation to go in chapter 10.

The ones who were to pray for more workers became workers themselves. Like Jesus, they were to bless others by addressing felt needs while announcing the importance of spiritual needs. They were to trust God for His provision and be faithful in the midst of opposition. In fact, they were to expect opposition . . . not only from strangers they encountered but also from people they counted as family and friends. But He assured them that there was eternal reward in His service.

Granted, you and I may not be first-century apostles sent out with the same assignment. Still, don’t miss out on the appropriate parallels.

  • We too can pray. The need for people to carry the compassion and message of Christ to other parts of the globe is real.
  • We too can go. To be sure, our going may not require plane travel, but it could include a trip across the street to a neighbor, across the hallway to a classmate, across our place of employment to a coworker.
  • We too can expect opposition. Not everyone will be thrilled at our expressions of care and verbalization of truth.
  • We too can anticipate reward. As we, one day, stand before Christ, we may also hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Join me as we pray and go!

“Lord of the harvest, would you raise up workers to plant, water, and harvest in your fields around the world? And, Lord, send me today to those people I can reach for You!”

Steve Kern

March 16 – The Gospel of Matthew – Chapter 9

Read Matthew 9:1-38

Have you ever wondered why 4 books of the Bible go through the same timeline? Speaking of the gospels, we’ve got four books, written by four different men. Three of the four were disciples of Jesus and one came after, so intrigued that he went and studied Jesus by talking with the people who lived life with Jesus. When looking at each of the gospels, we can see four different perspectives. Matthew focuses on the words of Jesus, Mark the works of Jesus, Luke brings about His life in chronological order and John looks at the conflict that He faced.

Here we are in Matthew. One of the biggest themes we see of what Jesus says is the faith of those around Him. From the first encounter when He got back home, to calling Matthew to follow Him, to raising the little girl, to healing the woman and the blind.

The thing that sticks out the most is the faith that all of these people had in Jesus.

Have you had a faith check recently?

In what is going on around us, it is hard to keep the faith. It’s hard to keep the kingdom perspective while living in a not so biblical worldview.

The one part in chapter 9 that I always like to reflect on is that of the woman who bled. Her faith was so strong that she knew she didn’t need Jesus’ attention, all she had to do was touch some part of Him and she would be healed. Her faith was so strong that she knew, with just a one small touch, her life would change.

How often do we forget that Jesus changes everything? From the very small to the very big. It isn’t because our circumstances change or “get better”, but it’s because we know with the help of the Holy Spirit that we are going to be okay because we know, we believe that Jesus loves us and is for us and makes all things better for those who love Him.

The most recent example of this test in my life was when Jake and I miscarried our second child in August of 2020.

It was so hard.

The only thing that kept my heart and mind above water was keeping the Kingdom perspective in mind, knowing that our child was where they were intended to be. Knowing that God loved me and Jake, our family, our baby and has the best in mind for us. Did I doubt? Absolutely. Did I get angry? Of course. But…just as the woman who bled, I believed and still believe that Jesus changes everything. He was what we needed most in those times and the times to come and in that my faith grew stronger.

Have you examined your life recently when it comes to your faith? Do you have the faith of Matthew who left his career and way of living to follow after Jesus? Do you have the faith of that little girl’s daddy who knew that Jesus had the power to heal? Do you have the strong faith of the woman who bled, who just needed to touch Jesus’ robe in order for her life to change?

I challenge you to examine your life. Examine your circumstances and allow Jesus’ power to enter into those situations and change your perspective.

Kelly Lawson