Matthew 3: Honey Glazed Locusts and a Side of Repentance

Chapter three of the book of Matthew in the Bible ushers in another character into the Jesus story, although he is one that had been around since the very beginning… literally. He is the one who leaps in his mother’s womb when a pregnant Mary walked into the room. He is the cousin of Jesus and eccentric who is well known for two things.

His fashion sense… “Camel Hair” must have been pretty chic around this time.

His cuisine… He created the appetizer “sticky bugs”, which was simply locusts with a honey glaze.

But, there was something else that made him pretty interesting… his message. It was a simple message: “Repent!”

Yes, like the guy on the street corner with a bullhorn and a wearable placard:

Repent!

“Turn away from sin and turn towards God.” It’s a message that more need to hear today. It’s a message that some churches have forgotten about in an effort to become more appealing. Here’s the funny thing though. John preached the message loud and clear and people traveled from all over to respond to the message of repentance.

Did you hear those words? “Respond to the message of repentance.”

I didn’t say that they traveled out to be shamed or ridiculed. I didn’t say that they enjoyed being told that they were a “very, very bad, bad boy”. I said that they responded to the message of repentance.

“Turn around from the direction that you are going and look to God!”

“You are going in the wrong way. Your current direction leads to destruction. Make a U-turn!”

“WAKE UP!”

Repent.

It’s a message that needs to be heard today also. However, we need to learn how to say it. Consistently. Emphatically. Gracefully. Repent.

John couldn’t have done this any better than what he said in verse 8 of chapter 3 in Matthew:

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Imagine your life as a tree. The health of the tree is producing the fruit that other people are partaking in. They consume the fruit. You produce the fruit. This fruit is either produced from a life of repentance or from a life of continuing on in disobedience.

We all can clearly see the fruit of what happens when we DON’T walk in repentance. Just watch an episode of “Cops”. (What’cha gonna do when He comes for you?) Sure, that’s obvious, but what about the NOT so obvious fruit. The fruit that we have to live in. The fruit of anger and sadness and fear. The fruit of jealousy and pain and hate. What about that insidious fruit that destroys us from the inside out?

There’s another choice. There’s a better choice.

Paul described what “producing fruit in keeping with repentance” looked like. In fact, he gave it a cool name: the fruit of the spirit. We can read about it in the book of Galatians. Here is what we read:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

When we learn how to walk in repentance, we begin to produce fruit in keeping with this repentance. It is good fruit that not only nourishes us, but nourishes those all around us. Our lives begin to produce joy and love, peace and goodness, gentleness and self control. But, you need to see that this comes AFTER the turning away.

When I was young I used to think that I had to DO things to make God happy. In other words, I’d have to earn His love and admiration by the actions that I would make. When I would mess up, I would be punished. When I did good, I would be blessed. I would try to MAKE myself love… but I couldn’t produce that fruit. I would try to control my actions… but failed miserably every time. I couldn’t do any of these things because I can’t produce this fruit. It is not the fruit of my flesh, but my spirit. My flesh is all about ME, ME, ME and that’s a different kind of fruit, for a different kind of discussion.

Today, just know this. The first step towards producing the fruit that we long for in our lives is simply to turn away from “my will” to “God’s will”. It is a little thing called “surrender” and one that we need to learn to practice every day. Then, as you surrender your life to God, begin to pray Galatians 5:22-23 over your life.

“God, teach me to love like you. Let your joy rise up in my soul. Let your peace guide my days. Let me learn patience through You. Let my life exude your gentleness and kindness and goodness. Teach me to be faithful in all that I do. And, Holy Spirit, I thank you for your self-control. Let me bear fruit in keeping with repentance. As I put you first, let my life reflect Your light to this world. Amen.”

Start there and see what happens. You can also eat some insects… but that is for the REALLY spiritually advanced!

GP

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Matthew 2: Killing Babies and Sitting Through Pain

As we move along to the second chapter of Matthew, tragedy meets divinity as we witness more miracles in the story of Jesus. This miracle… and tragedy… is built around those that fill our hearts with joy and our landfills with diapers… Babies!

King Herod has been affectionately called  “a madman” in history, though we have probably heard him called “Herod the Great”. After reading my history lessons about him, I would simply call him “Herod the Great Madman”.

He was a ruthless murderer. He killed three of his sons, his most beloved wife and many more. Killing, for him and many other leaders during this time, was a normal thing. Herod, however, took it to a whole new level during the time of Jesus. 

A group of people enter the city with news that a new king had been born.

Can you imagine the reaction of this man when he found out that the “King of the Jews” had been born on HIS watch in HIS region. Unacceptable! However, he played it cool. I love the answer that he gives this group of guys:

“… ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him’.” Matthew 2:8b

Worship Him.

If worship meant “violently murder”, then Herod was waiting for his moment.

The magi left.

They worshipped Jesus.

They returned home…  another way… and Herod never located this King.

This didn’t stop Herod though.

His rage grew.

His paranoia expanded.

His anger overflowed into one of the most heinous crimes in the New Testament… Killing babies. 

Imagine soldiers, going home to home, shooting babies. That’s it. Just babies. If you were two years or younger, you are getting a bullet.

But, this was ancient times. There were no guns. So, soldiers would have to murder babies with knives and swords. Door to door. House to house. Family to family. Death.

This is another one of those stories of the Bible that I don’t think I truly get. Even typing the words gives me a check in my gut. I don’t want to type them. They are too hard. They are too dark. They sicken me. But, they are true. It happened. 

Imagine the families. Imagine the pain. Imagine the stories… the memories… the tears. 

Pure evil. I don’t think that you can get more evil than this. When I think of darkness… this is about as black as it can get. Disgusting. 

And, it is out of this darkness, that light prevails. God shows up in a dream to Joseph, provides the money through the magi and opens the doors to Egypt. Jesus is saved from this crime and lives to shine light into this world.

However, most of the parents in Bethlehem probably never had the chance to see this light. They couldn’t make sense of the crime. They simply had to sit through the pain. 

I pray that we never have to go through such horror. I pray that we never have to witness such hate. I pray that this depth of pain never reaches the thresholds of our lives. However, I know that each and every one of us will experience pain. We will have things happen. We will go through rage and sadness and loss. It is life. It is the reality of breathing breath. It happens. Sometimes, even when we could do absolutely nothing to prevent it.

It happens. 

What do we do in the midst of it? How do we handle it? What does that look like? 

We hold on to the light. 

Believe that something good can come from the pain. Believe that God can use man’s evil for His good. Believe that light truly does trump darkness and that God is the one who will have the final say. Trust in Him. 

Jesus said it so plainly for us when He said:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

We are each called to have peace, but it will NEVER come from our circumstances. It doesn’t come from our bank accounts. It doesn’t come from our friends. It doesn’t come from living an “easy life”. Where does true peace come from? 

Jesus said, “…in ME you may have peace…”

If you need peace, there is only one place that you are going to find it. Look to Jesus. 

Shalom,

GP

Matthew 1: Tamar, Halibut and the Plans of God

If you start reading the Bible in Matthew chapter 1, you are going to be smacked with a list of names. Not names that you would probably find in your city’s maternity wing either. Some of these names are long, confusing and can make us really frustrated when we start reading the Bible.

Amminadab

Jehoram

Zerubbabel

Or, my favorite, Salmon and his brother Halibut.

(Bible disclosure. What you just read was a joke. Salmon does exist, however there is no Halibut in the family. Aunt Tuna wouldn’t let it happen.)

But, what we have to realize is that every name has a story and that story can mean something profound to us. When we read the name and know the story… a greater understanding of the hope and peace and grace of God comes into our lives.

For example, there is a phrase that is thrown into verse three. We read:

“Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar)…” Matthew 1:3a

What’s the point? We don’t hear the name of everyone’s mom… so why would the Bible include Tamar?

I would encourage you to read the story in Genesis 38. It is a tale of ejaculation, prostitution and all the stuff you don’t hear preached about on a Sunday morning. You hear the dark side of a patriarch named Judah (whose name I still think is awesome, even though his character might have been slightly askew).

Here it is in a nutshell:

Judah’s son Er gets a wife and her name is Tamar. He was wicked so God killed him. (see 38:7)

Judah tells the younger brother to marry her, have sex with her and make a baby. For some reason, this doesn’t seem like the life plan that Onan has for himself, so he pulls out just in time (before his ejaculation) and the Bible tells us that he “spilled it on the ground”. (see 38:9) Because of this… God killed him. (see 38:10)

I can’t make this stuff up.

This left the third son who was too young to get married (and probably scared to death of the “black widow” that was killing off his family), so Judah tells her to go back to her family’s home until he grew up.

She does.

He grows up.

Judah just forgets about his promise to Tamar. Life goes on and she is left without husband and without child.

This was a big deal.

To be married and have children were the purposes that drove this culture. It was disgraceful not to have children and to be a widow and not have children was just shameful.

She had trusted in her husband… that didn’t work out. She had trusted in the integrity of her father in law… and he failed her. She had hoped her life would turn out different… it didn’t. So, she took matters into her own hands.

She dressed up like a prostitute.

Maybe you didn’t see that coming. I know I didn’t when I first read it.

“I’m frustrated. I’m upset. But, I’m also single and ready to mingle! Let’s go on down to the sheep barbershop and see what I can get into.”

Judah sees her, but she has on a veil. He thinks, “There’s a prostitute and then says…”

“Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee.” This must be the normal King James talk between a “John” and a lady of the night.

Long story short… she gets a staff from him, gets a baby by him, gets accused by him, schooled him and then gets married to him. (For full story, please read your Bible!)

The baby (or should I say ‘babies’) are born… twins… named Perez and Zerah (NLT).

These babies are found in the lineage of Jesus. They are part of His story… Tamar is part of His story… and YOU are part of His story.

Maybe you understand how Tamar felt. Let down by people. Alone. Forgotten. Maybe you, like her, have tried to take matters into your hands. For some of us, that has worked. For others, it has blown up in your face. However… for all of us… whether we sit with smiles or singed eyebrows from a recent life explosion, God can work in that.

He does. He works in our mistakes. He works in our victories. He sees our pain and comforts us through it. He is guiding the steps of your life and has a perfect plan for you. The only question is… “Will you respond to Him? Will you give Him control over the chaos today?”

Tamar was far from a perfect person. Many things she did were wrong. However, God still used her in His story. I want to encourage you to believe this simple fact today:

God wants to use you in His story. Will you let Him?

GP

New Book in Publisher’s Hands

I am so glad to let the world know that after nearly a year of hard work, the new book is in the hands of the publishers. That’s right… book number 3 will be hot off the presses really soon.

Stay tuned because I will be unveiling the subject, cover and let you share your thoughts on this culturally controversial topic.

If you haven’t read the first two books yet, here are some links.

THE BEST: a life manifesto

Facebook Jesus: Using Facebook to Build and Grow a Church

Thank you all for your love, support and encouragement. Hit me up on Facebook!

Keep Shining Bright for Jesus!

GP

No Arms. No Legs. No Problem. Nick Vujicic

Nick Vujicic has been an inspiration to me for years. I have watched his story unfold as he has represented Christ to a watching world.

It’s hard for me to imagine what life would be like with no arms and no legs. I think about the “every day miracles” that would have to take place simply for me to get around. I imagine trying to brush my teeth or hair… cooking breakfast… taking a shower. (And that is all in the first hour of my day!) However, Nick has taken these difficulties and allowed them to make him stronger. He is a traveler, public speaker, husband, father and all around great guy. Learn more about him here…

Now what about you? What struggles are you facing? What has been troubling you lately?

Maybe today you can have a new perspective about these things. Maybe we can start living a life of “appreciation” and “gratefulness”. Maybe today we start embracing the gift of life that we have and making it count.

Will you accept this challenge today? Will you share Nick’s story of overcoming? Will you live the life of an overcomer? Will you embrace your difficulty and challenges with a spirit of excitement, energy and optimism.

If Nick can do it… so can you!

Be encouraged!
GP