Taking Flight

Thoughts on the book of Matthew | Part II

So, we’re back for Part II for some thoughts on the book of Matthew! In no way is the blog post summative or a theological analysis. These are simply passages that stood out to me and thoughts I had while reading through Matthew this time. It took almost all of January since I’m reading a chapter from the New Testament a day! As I said in the last post, one of the best and easiest ways for initially digging into the word is to read and intentionally look for something you haven’t noticed before about that passage or maybe you remembered it differently from how it’s actually written. Ask questions! Be curious about the behind the scenes stuff that’s going on behind all the Jewish culture and the society that Jesus lived in 2,000 years ago!

This was a strategy I learned in Bible class last summer so I can’t take credit for it, but I certainly can attest to how much it will bless your study when you implement it! I’ve used this in Bible study and when I’m rereading a book or piece of literature for class. Without fail, the best works of literature, including the Bible, always show their different dimensions with strategies like this.

With Part I, I left off talking about how Jesus establishes, or rather reveals, his authority in Chapter 8. We learn that he specifically has the authority to heal – to heal us physically, to heal us spiritually, and to heal our situations and the circumstances that surround us. He takes our heartbreak, our brokenness, our pains and frustrations and then mitigates all of it when we are walking with him and trusting in him. As we get into chapter 9, the Word reveals another area where Jesus has the ultimate authority. He is our great example in all things but especially here.

Jesus has the authority to forgive sins.

This seems so obvious. We know Jesus forgives in abundance, and we can always learn how to forgive better and more fiercely from him. But it wasn’t so much Jesus’s ability and authority to wash away our sins that started all the cogs and wheels for me here in chapter 9. It was the reaction the scribes had and specifically their criticism of Jesus forgiving the sins of the paralyzed man that did it for me.

In this small snapshot of Jesus’s life and ministry, we not only get a really life account of how Jesus gave lease on life spiritually and physically, but also we get a broader metaphor for sin.

Because sin paralyzes. Our sin can cripple us from dusting off our mat of deep despair and pain, from taking Jesus’s nail-scarred hands, and from allowing him to gently lead us down the path of discipleship. Sin has a way of creeping into our system and rendering us immobile for the cause of Christ. Sin is that trauma, that severed vertebrae, those damaged nerves that disconnect the muscles of our souls and preventing us from responding to the messages from the brain, the Head, the Savior. Because of sin, we cannot walk with Jesus. Because of sin, we cannot walk with Him on water. Because of sin, we cannot walk.

Jesus not only saw this man’s paralyzed body but also his paralyzed soul.

The scribes only saw one of those. The obvious, the physical, as they beheld the man who’s legs were rendered useless. They failed to see the wounds that went so much deeper, the paralysis that was so much more crippling.

“Who then can be saved?”

Fast forwarding to chapter 19, the story of the rich young man got me thinking here. Right now, I have a friend in Austria. She’s there doing mission work, but she’s reaping the harvest in a place where the ground is extremely infertile. There, she faces the same difficulties we are starting to face in America when it comes to winning followers for Christ. The same difficulties we have been facing her for quite some time actually.

Simply put it is really difficult to acknowledge our need for God when all of our needs are met.

Like the rich young man, most of us in Europe and America have all of our basic needs met. Nearly all of us have a home with four solid walls and a roof to match. Nearly all of us get three meals a day. All of us have access to clean drinking water on a regular basis. Nearly all of us have an iPhone, Xbox, TV, you name it. Nearly all of us graduate with a high school education. We have all that we need physically and so much more.

But while we have all of this wealth in the world we fail to see the families that are falling a part, the senseless killing of children in schools, the half-hearted commitment of that brother or sister who says it is simply enough to walk through some doors and take a seat in the front pew. Some of these problems we even acknowledge, but we don’t acknowledge the act of following Jesus – I’m talking actually leaning on him, clinging to him with all our might – as the solution to the problem. We fail to see this in our own churches, in our own families, in our own lives.

We have checked all the boxes, but our souls are still yearning for more. Just like the rich man. We keep the commandments. We punch our attendance time sheets. We make sure we do our one church duty. We cry fitting tears over the next news cycle. But our hearts do not trust God anymore than they did before. Our hearts have not turned any closer to God.

But – so we can end positively here – let’s look for things in our life that need to be cut out, that are put to better use being given to someone else. Let’s intentionally put ourselves in a situation where we have no other choice but to trust that Jesus will give us what we need at the right time.

Obviously, there are more lessons that I learned when reading through Matthew this time, but I think I’ll leave it at that. I’m finding myself getting a little overwhelmed with writing about a whole book and what stood out to me about it. Maybe you could tell that I was fighting with two strains of what could be powerful and perfectly independent blogs. While writing about the man who was paralyzed I found myself wishing I could go deeper into that story, but there were just too many other things to write about. Some goes for the rich young man.

I think from now on I may keep this to something more topical and take the Bible in more bit-size portions for blogging. It’s truly amazing that the scriptures lend themselves to such depth and magnitude, that we can always glean deeper from the Word! Just as Christ’s love never ends, the levels to his Word never end either. As soon as we think we have reached the end of the line, the deepest part of the ocean, we will always find that his love for us goes on still.


11 Favorite Books from 2017

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Sometimes it’s needed to take a break from writing and focus on something else for a bit. These past few months my time has been consumed with all things grad school. It’s a lot of work and time consuming, but it’s also been worth it so far. The work is challenging but rewarding because of the creativity I get to pour into the units and lessons I write and will eventually get to use. With each new activity I plan, I can see how my future students might react, and it only makes me more excited and full of anticipation to get into the classroom. Honestly, I wish I were already teaching, but not all of life has to happen at once.

This semester I’ve had to opportunity to re-immerse myself into one of the things I love the most – reading. I don’t think I’ve read this much since high school, but it’s been a blast reading new books and discovering new ones everyday because of my Young Adult Literature and Multicultural Children’s Literature classes! My friend Catlin and I joke about how our Goodreads “To Read” lists grow ever longer each day and how it’s a never ending list that we’ll never finish. But I think we’re okay with that! It just means we have more room to wonder in the World of Books.

Because my life has become a constant series of what-am-I-reading-next this semester, I thought I would deviate from writing a spiritual post and suggest some of my favorite books from this semester. Maybe you’ll discover your next favorite book here!

Does my Head Look Big in This?: A piece of international literature, this young adult novel is about a young muslim girl in Australia who decides to become more committed about her faith and wear the hijab full time. This would be perfect for a teenager. There’s the general angst that teens instantly relate to. And even though she is Muslim, this book is still very applicable to anyone of faith who has had to ask the tough questions about how big of a roll God, faith, and religion play in their daily life.

Uglies: Scott Westerfeld gives an original take on dystopia fiction that was inspired by an episode of The Twilight Zone in which he takes on issues from body image to environmentalism. In this society, people have complete plastic surgery-like makeovers that take them from being an Ugly to supermodel pretty. Tally, the protagonist, can’t wait to become a Pretty, especially since her best friend Peris has made the change and moved on to New Pretty Town. But that all starts to change when she finds a new friend in Shay. I remember this being a really popular read when I was in middle school but never read it until this past semester. However, I would recommend this to anyone middle school and up.

Home of the Brave: Written in verse, this novel is about a young boy who is a Sudanese refugee who has just come to America. This novel not only gives the reader some incite into the recent history of Sudan but also addresses themes such as what it means to be brave. This novel is a quick read and is great for anyone probably 4th or 5th grade and up. I could see this being a really great novel to introduce topics such as immigration and refugees to a younger age group.

The Ballad of a Broken Nose: From Norway, this international children’s book is about a shy and quirky 13-year-old eternal optimist named Bart who has a talent for opera singing and who hates the boxing lessons his mom pushes him into. One day, his classmate Ada befriends him and encourages him to perform in the school talent show…but Bart is so shy he can’t perform in front of anyone. This was a really cute read but because it hints at some heavier topics I would suggest it to no one younger than 4th or 5th grade. Possibly 3rd grade. It really just depends on the kid.

Chains: Laurie Halse Anderson seems to be the queen of telling stories that tend to go untold, which is why I love this novel even more. So many times we only consider African Americans when it comes to the Civil War and the 1960s Civil Rights movement. But this novel follows the story of a young slave named Isabel during the American Revolution. Isabel and her sister are first promised freedom in her mistress’s will but is only sold into slavery again when her master passes away. Together, her and her sister are sold to a prominent Loyalist man and woman, and Isabel finds herself in the perfect position to help the Rebels by spying and possibly receiving freedom or by keeping silent but also avoiding likely punishment. Just from a reading level stand point, this novel is great for middle school and up. The content itself is not too graphic either so as long as anyone has the ability to read it, there’s no reason why I would not recommend it.

Brown Girl Dreaming: An autobiography written in verse, this novel is about Jacqueline Woodson’s childhood in the 1960s in Ohio, South Carolina and New York. From Woodson’s early aspirations to be a writer to the disjointed family dynamics she experienced throughout her childhood, this book gives incite into the life of an African American girl who was growing up in the 60s. Again, as far as reading level goes, as long as the child can read and comprehend it, there is no reason why they shouldn’t. However, I think anyone of any age would enjoy this book.

The Vanishing American Adult: Though not an assigned book from this last semester, Nebraska senator Ben Sasse’s book is probably one of my all time favorites that I read last year. It provides great insight into my own generation. I would recommend this to any millennial but also to anyone who still has kids at home or is starting a family. I could not agree more with Sasse’s message of raising more self-reliant children to create a more independent and self-reliant society – one of the true crises America is facing and will continue to face if nothing changes.

What Elephants Know: When Nandu was a baby, he was found by Devi Kali, an elephant from the Nepalese royal stables. Since then he was raised by Devi Kali and her keeper, Subba-sahib. But now the stables face the risk of being shut down and it’s up to Nandu to try to save it. This book is perfect for just about any age. If a child isn’t quite at this reading level, it would still make a cute read-aloud. Plus, it’s a great book to teach kids about Nepal and elephants!

The Absolute True Story of a Part-Time Indian: Funny but edgy this book is not for the young ones, but it provides a young adult perspective of life on a Native reservation in Washington and what it means to break out of the path others choose for you. I would recommend this to older high school kids and up because of mature content. (Am I reading like a video game ad or movie trailer yet???)

Monster: This novel was really interesting to read. Not only is it relevant to the discussion of discrimination in the legal system, but it is also written in the format of a movie script from the first person perspective of Steve, an African American teenage boy in Harlem accused of being a part of a robbery turned murder at a local convenience store. I would recommend this to high school and maybe upper middle school depending on the kid. Adults would enjoy this, too. My only beef with this book is that the format makes it hard to read, but once you get used to that, it’s a fast and informative read.

The First Part Last: Finally, this quick read gives the reader an inside look to the rarely told narrative of a teenage father. The YA market is inundated with books about teenage mom’s but rarely of the paternal perspective. I include this one because of the “before and after” style Angela Johnson uses to tell the story. It’s seamless and incredibly well done. Also, not only is Bobby, the father, the one giving the perspective, but what makes it so great is his involvement in his daughter feather’s life and that how he reacts to the events surrounding her birth. This book wonderfully demonstrates that parenting and the responsibility of a child does not fall to the mother alone.

I hope this list gave you a good place to start for possible reading options! Reading recommendations are some of my favorite things in the world – giving and receiving. Hearing what other’s like to read gives you so much incite into who someone is and it is sure to set any intuitive mind on fire!

I’d love to hear some of your favorite books from 2017 so please share in the comments below or on facebook!

(Originally published to my former site, thetakingflightblog.com, on January 10, 2018.)