Thursday, May 19, 2022

Did You See Last Night's Game?

 Quote: "You can have the outfit on, but still not have the identity. 
(Heard in a message at M4M)

I immediately think of the Wise and Foolish Builders. (Matthew 7:24-27) Two houses that probably look the same on the outside, but their underneath, their foundations were very different. One house was just there, sitting on the sand where a good rain or storm would damage if not destroy it. The other was firmly anchored to the rock, where it was secure in the event of a storm. One was for show, the other was a home, a safe place, a sanctuary. 

I have a couple of IU (Indiana University) sweatshirts that I wear from time to time. I like IU, and the shirts were on clearance. Sometimes when I wear them, people I run into will ask me what I thought of last night's game, or the season the team is having, or some like question. I like IU, but am not a rabid fan, nor do I follow them closely. So most of the time, I don't know how to answer their question. But they assume I do, because I have the outfit on. They can see the outfit, but not my identity. Sometimes I bluff my way through a conversation, other times I just say I didn't catch the game or I don't know the answer. 

Sometimes, people go to church, they do some very good things, they may have even been baptized, they have the outfit on. But I am not sure if they have their identity in Christ. Galatians 1:27 says, "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." 1 Peter 5:5 says, Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  The follower of Jesus definitely has a way that they should look. If you want to see more of what that should be, immerse yourself in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5-7) But know that there were many in the crowd who had the clothes of righteousness on, but did not have the identity. I believe this is why Jesus told the crowd, "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."  The scribes and Pharisees had the outfit on, but their identity was not in Christ, rather it was in their own accomplishments. They thought they could earn salvation, put God in their debt. Rather, we should look at the mercy and grace of God and consider the debt that we owe Him. Romans 12:1,2 "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."  It is more than just about wearing the clothes, it is about the identity that goes with the outfit.

Go team!

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Take Away - SOM Part 25

Original post here.

Matthew 7:28-29

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

I don't recall hearing this verse quoted very often, but I think it is significant in light to what was said in this message. I think that today, we have a lot of people who are astonished when the hear a (their) preacher, but that is in a very different context. I think a lot of today's preaching is distant from the gospel, so when one hears their message and is astonished, and perhaps thinks that "I didn't know that," it is because it was not true. I hate to say it, but most Christians that I have encountered are extremely Bible illiterate. I recall doing a game show night once and surveying the members before hand. One of the questions that sticks with me was, "Name a King in the Old Testament." Number one answer? King James. I guess that makes them illiterate in Church history as well.

This teaching was different. It was not designed to get someone to respond to an invitation. It was not manipulative. It was not done in the tone and manner of the current teachers. At times, it was almost as if Jesus said offensive things, things that might drive away followers, just because it was truth. Imagine truth taking precedence over Church growth. 

Yet I do not believe it was the purpose of Jesus to offend. He just loved God and the truth more than He loved the praise of men. 

Take Away: I need to be aware of what I listen to when it comes to preaching, or what I read when it comes to books, what I listen to in terms of music, etc. Just because it comes from a popular Christian preacher, author, or musician does not mean that it is truth or gospel. Like the Bereans, I need to take what is said and compare it to the Word of God. (Acts 17:11) Even if it offends the source, or maybe especially if it offends the source.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Take Away - SOM Part 24

 SOM Part 24 can be found here.

Jesus has just finished saying that not everyone who says calls Him Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, (Matthew 7:21) He is now going to illustrate this with His conclusion. He talks about 2 houses, It would seem that to look at the houses, there would be little difference. The difference is in what is not readily seen from the outside, that being the foundation. What are the houses dependent upon. 

The house on the sand appears to be dependent solely on its outward appearance. Perhaps much like the people who call Jesus Lord, but are not known by Him. They think what saves them is their action, but that seems not to be enough. The second house is anchored to the rock. It has the appearance of the first house in many ways, but beyond appearance it also has the rock, Jesus, as its foundation. So you can say all the right things, do the right things, but without the anchor of complete dependence on Jesus for salvation, it is not enough. 

Take Away: My righteousness comes from Christ, not anything I do. I can look good on the outside, but that is not the point. I go back to the very first words Jesus said in this sermon, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." My paraphrase would be, Satisfied are those who are gasping for breath, for them the kingdom has been prepared. Why? Because before we can understand our relationship to the kingdom and its ruler, we must see our brokenness, our need for a Savior. We must understand that what saves us is not our effort or obedience, but the blood f Christ, and that because of what Christ has done, this is what now drives our behavior. It is a subtle but critical difference. The life without a foundation is driven by a desire to be saved, and seeks to achieve that salvation by putting God in their debt, im a place where He is basically forced to grant them eternal life, the firm foundation recognizes that he is a sinner, and that there is nothing that he can do to obtain God's favor, in fact, he understands that even an attempt to do so is an insult to God. The firm foundation understands that salvation is a result of grace, and now lives a life that is a response to that understanding. Ephesians 2:8-10 states, For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Do I see what is going on here? That it is not my works that save me, it is grace. Yet for those who are saved by grace, there are works that are prepared for us to do. Not as an obligation, but as a response to grace. I still have a challenge in completely living in this manner, but it something that I strive for.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Take Away - SOM Part 23

 SOM Part 23 can be found here.

This one is tough and scary. Imagine going through life thinking you had it right, only to be told that you were wrong. The arguing starts, "But didn't I do this for you, and that for you, and these things in your name?" Then to be told to leave, that Jesus did not even know you. 

To understand these verses, I believe we need to go back to the context again, looking at who Jesus was speaking to and why. He is speaking to the Jewish people, and among the audience are the leaders and the common people. I believe that He is speaking to both sub groups here, as this is both a condemnation and a warning. The condemnation is to those who would use religion for personal advantage. Not just those who peddle the gospel for profit, but also toward those who would use religion as a means of trying to hold God accountable to man. Almost as if through some type of behavior we could put God in a position where He was obligated to save us. The answer is unexpected. Not only are they cast from the presence of God, Jesus says that He does not even know them!

Take Away: Doing what I believe is right is not what the Gospel is about, nor will it bring about salvation. Had they known this, the would not have pleaded with the Lord based on their own actions. It is not about obligation, it is about appreciation. Psalm 34:1 says, "I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth." The word bless conveys the idea of adoration. I will adore (love) the Lord, and the result is not works, but praise (some of which will be in the form of works!). I cannot put God is a position where He owes me anything, because no matter what I do, I could not do it without Him, therefore I still am in His debt. Perhaps this is why instead of Jesus saying that we don't know Him, He says that He does not know us, because the only way I can be found righteous is to be known by Him, to have Him stand up for me and say, "This one is Mine, He is washed clean by my blood."

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Take Away - SOM Part 22

 SOM Part 22 found here.

I am going to be honest and say that this will be a post that I will struggle with immensely. I think about the ideas of truth and absolute truth, and do I really know the truth? There are so many different takes on what is truth and which truth is really the truth. I want to believe that I have a good grasp on the truth, but I know that so many others do as well. I want to take these words to heart, to beware of the wolves in sheep's clothing, but I also do not want to make a mistake when it comes to who I find to be a wolf and who is really a wolf.

Jesus does give some help here. He says that we will be able to recognize them by their fruits. So it is not necessarily their words, or just their words that will reveal them as wolves, but it is also their actions. I look at speakers like Mr. Joel Osteen. To me, he is an easy one to pick out as a wolf, although again, I know that there are many who would disagree. But I look at both his words and his fruits. His words are slick. He does not want to commit to words that would alienate some of his flock. He is accepting of things that I believe Jesus would challenge head on. His actions are not much better. He does not live the lifestyle of a disciple in my opinion. His handling of money, of people, of Scripture, etc. are scary at times. (But then, so are mine! Which makes this type of judgment so challenging.) Sometimes his words are awesome. I have seen some great quotes from him posted by folk on Facebook. But words alone are not the sole piece of evidence that must be taken into account. Yet I also know that no one is perfect other than Jesus. So where does someone like Joel, or his disciples fall when it comes to being sheep or wolves? I stand by my choice that he and so many others like him are wolves, but each one must choose for themselves.

The Bible says that there are those who are false apostles. Those who disguise themselves as ministers of Christ. And why wouldn't they, since even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light? (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) So I know that I need to be on guard. I cannot turn a blind eye to someone who would deceive me and say it is their fault. I have been warned. I look at the audience of Jesus. Surely as He scans the crowd, He sees sheep and wolves. Sheep, those who are lost and vulnerable. The masses, who are searching for truth, for salvation, for a Messiah. And wolves, those who would prey upon the sheep for their own gain. Perhaps many of them among the Jewish leaders, who were so enamored with themselves that they could not even see themselves as wolves. But their fruit would reveal them, as they would seek to trap Jesus in His words, and ultimately would consent to His crucifixion.

Take Away: There are those who would deceive me. Who would use Jesus and whatever else they can for their own gain and at the cost of my soul. They will be held accountable. But so will I. I have been warned, and if the wolf comes in and kills the sheep, the sheep is still dead. The instruction calls for the sheep to beware of the wolves. Be aware, perhaps. Know that not everyone has your best interests at heart. So I just pray for awareness. And perhaps a bit of fortitude should there need to be a confrontation with a wolf. Or just pray that my shepherd will protect me when the time comes.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Take Away - SOM Part 21

SOM Part 21 can be found here.

Two important thoughts. The first one, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." That is tough. I would rather do unto others as I perceive they have done to me, or as I have experienced what they have previously done to me. It is tough to treat them as I want to be treated. It requires a lot of honesty. I have to be honest about how I would want to be treated, and I have to be honest about how I am treating others

I want to be treated fairly. Okay, maybe not. I want fairness at a minimum. I prefer to be treated beyond fair. If I am owed $5, I prefer to get $10, or at least the 5 with interest. I want the benefit of the doubt. 

Why am I treating others in this manner? Why go the extra mile? Why give away my coat when they only asked for a hat or scarf? Is it because I want to be perceived as generous? Not likely, since good deed are to be done in secret. Is it to gain favor with God? I don't think so, since I owe Him so much more. Then why? I tend to believe that it is because I have a new life, a life where the possessions I have are viewed as being on loan from God, and are ultimately mine to glorify Him. I want others to know that I care about their needs, even those who I might at times view as adversaries. I want God to see me as faithful. 

Take Away: So where do I draw the line? I suppose if I wanted to, I could liquidate my possessions in a short matter of time. I am not sure that such behavior is what God wants. But I also need to be aware of justifying my behavior in keeping what I have as well. I suppose I just need to be honest. Honest with myself, and honest with God. I need to not let my selfishness control my actions. That's gonna take some work.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Take Away - SOM Part 20

SOM - Part 20 found here.

Jesus says stuff that is open to a wide range of interpretations. Like in these verses, where He says to ask, seek and knock, and it will be given to you. Some could interpret this as saying God will give us whatever we ask, and they are forever looking for the formula to get God to do that. Good luck with that. Others could use these verses to show that the Bible is not true, because we don't get whatever we ask for. So what is the truth?

The truth can be found by looking at the context of the sermon. Jesus has already established in His model prayer that when we ask (pray), we ask for our daily bread, not our daily filet mignon. The whatever in this context is a prayer coming from someone who has faith in God. Someone who is asking not for themselves, but asking within the will of God. Someone who trusts God, and understands that God may have a different path than we would prefer.

Jesus makes reference to the way a father gives gifts. I am a dad. I love my children. Yet sometimes I do not give them what they ask for. Does that mean that I really do not love them? No. It means that I make decisions based on what I believe is best for each one and all of them, I make decisions based on the limits of my abilities. But if they ask for a hamburger, I certainly do not give them a bowl of mud. So while they may not get the desired outcome, ultimately their needs are provided for.

Take Away: I need to be careful and aware of how I approach the understanding of Scripture. I also need to be careful and aware of what I listen to and believe when others share what they believe about Scripture. That last part has gotten me into a few pickles over the years, but I stand by the importance of not taking anyone's word on a matter just because of who they are (see Acts 17:11). I think God expects this, and will hold us accountable (and them) for words that are not truth.

I also need to be aware of my motive and expectation when asking God for something. I think of the Garth Brooks song, Unanswered Prayers. In the song, he runs into his old high school flame while with his wife at a football game. He thought his flame was the one for life for him, and must have made that a prayer, for from his current perspective, he now realizes that the way things are are better than what they would have been. He thanks God for the unanswered prayer, saying that such unanswered prayers are among God's greatest gifts. Now I am not here to debate the theology of that song, I just want to make the point that we look at things from our perspective, and we cannot see into the future. God can, and does. And He is a good Father.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Take Away -SOM Part 19

I am still processing the Sermon on the Mount. I have gone through the 25 posts and edited them for clarity and to revisit them for myself. Now I want to look at the applications I should be making for myself.

SOM - Part 19

A man driving in heavy traffic gets pulled over for speeding. He says to the officer, "A lot of others were doing the same thing. Why am I the one who got pulled over?" The officer replies, "Have you ever been fishing?" To which the man nods his head yes, wondering where this is going. The officer then says, "Did you catch all the fish?"

Why do we think the guilt of others makes us less guilty? Because it doesn't. But it does at least somewhat explain why we are so quick to judge others, because it makes us look better. Sure, maybe I cuss, but at least I don't get drunk. Well, maybe I get drunk, but at least I don't do drugs. Sure, maybe I do drugs, but at least I don't beat my wife... I could go on, even to the point of circling back around to some of the same issues again, because the issues of others always seem to be worse that my own issues. 

Take Away: If, as I have stated, the main idea of the Sermon on the Mount is to return us to having a relationship with God instead of trying to be obedient to a level of law, then this section fits in perfectly. It is not that there may be times that I have to make judgments about the behavior of others, it's that I can't use those instances as a justification for my own sins. That is why I first have to remove the log in my own eye. You know, that big, fat piece of wood that is hindering me from seeing what I really need to see. If I really want to help my brother with his issues, I first have to deal with my own. Yet it is not just relationship with my brother that is impacted by this frame of mind, it is also relationship with God. The deepest relationships are also the most honest ones. Lack of honesty leads to lack of trust. Lack of trust leads to a deterioration of relationship.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Take Away - SOM Part 18

 I am still processing the Sermon on the Mount. I have gone through the 25 posts and edited them for clarity and to revisit them for myself. Now I want to look at the applications I should be making for myself.

SOM - Part 18

Jesus teaches us to not be anxious about life, etc. Ever try that? Ever try not to worry about something? Is that even something that can humanly be done? Jesus gives the birds as an example. They don't worry about where their next meal will come from. Flowers do not worry about what they will wear. So stop worrying. 

But I am not a bird or a flower. So how do I do this? Jesus gives some answers. One has to do with your focus. He speaks of the Gentiles and they pursue or focus on, What shall I eat today, or What shall I wear? In other words their focus feeds into their worry about these things. So Jesus says seek first the kingdom. In other words, change your focus to your Heavenly Father who cares for you, and you will be given what you need. What you need. Not whatever you want. What you need.

There are a lot of things we could worry about. World politics, inflation, the weather, our children, our jobs, the list goes on. Truth be told, I doubt we can ever completely remove ourselves from some level of concern regarding these types of things. 

Things changed for me when my parents died. As long as they were alive, I knew they had my back. Whatever situation I might find myself in, I knew that there was someone who would help me out if I needed it, I would not even have to ask. But when they were gone, it was now up to me. I felt the pressure. But what I finally realized was I have another advocate. My heavenly Father. He does care for me.

In the Psalms it says, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10) Be still could also be translated as "relax," so I see this verse as saying, "relax, know that I am God, and I don't fail. I got this. I will be exalted in all of the universe, so there is no need to be anxious"

Take Away: I don't know of anyone who can honestly say that they just stopped having anxiety. I know of some who struggle with issues that makes overcoming anxiety extremely difficult for them. I think we will all have some level of anxiety throughout life. The point being that to lessen anxiety we must increase trust. Again, it seems to boil down to our approach to our relationship with God. Are we working hard because we want to earn His favor, or is our response one of realizing He cares for us, and then responding to that knowledge with a life that is now guided by that realization. I hate to spoil what is coming, but isn't that the whole idea behind the wise and foolish builders?

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Take Away - SOM Part 17

I am still processing the Sermon on the Mount. I have gone through the 25 posts and edited them for clarity and to revisit them for myself. Now I want to look at the applications I should be making for myself. 

SOM - Part 17

Jesus has just finished talking about prayer and fasting. He makes the point with both of these that they should be driven by a desire to draw closer to God, and not to have things go our way or to impress those around us. He continues this thought in these verses by talking about our treasure. I am reminded of these words that I heard spoken by a preacher a few days ago, he said, "Don't focus on the problem, focus on the solution." Focusing on the problem often means focusing on the present. It leads to things like worry and greed. It's not that we should ignore the present or the problem, but it should not be our focus. Jesus says, lay up for yourself treasure in heaven. In other words, focus on your future. If your heart is focused on the problem, then you are focused on self. If you are focused on your future in heaven, you are focused on God. (Now that might be an oversimplification, because first you have to have at least somewhat of an understanding of what it means to be given a future in heaven, and that is what I believe Jesus is addressing in so many aspects in the Sermon on the Mount.)

Take Away: What drives me? It is self-preservation? Is it material things? Or do I really have a heart that is responding to the salvation of God? Where is my treasure? This is something that I must continually ask myself, because I am human and because I continually fall short. It is so easy, even for Christians, to take our eyes off of our goal just for a moment, but that is when the problems start. The Psalmist said, "I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word." (Psalm 119:15,16) The writer of Hebrews said it this way, "

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,   Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1-2) Notice that one thing we see as we focus on Jesus is that He too was focused. Focused on the joy set before Him, the joy of doing His Father's will. I want that focus. I want that joy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Take Away - SOM Part 16

I am still processing the Sermon on the Mount. I have gone through the 25 posts and edited them for clarity and to revisit them for myself. Now I want to look at the applications I should be making for myself.

SOM - Part 16

A lot of what I see in the Sermon on the Mount comes down to perspective, or you can call it focus, or even purpose. The main idea is to ask yourself the question, why am I doing what I am doing? Is it driven by my desire to satisfy some selfish need or is it driven by my desire to draw closer to God? Fasting is no different. God's plan in having us fast it appears to me is to draw us to Him, to remind us of our dependency on His provisions, to cause us to lean on Him through the tough times as well as the good. But like with so many other things of God, this to can be corrupted. Can you believe that some people actually fasted so that others would look upon them as pious? Their purpose was driven by a selfish desire, the desire to look good to others. Interesting thing is, it seems that whatever our desire is, that is what we get out of it. If you desire is to look good to others, you likely will accomplish that, but God is not impressed. If you desire is to draw closer to God, you will likely accomplish that, although others may not look at you any differently.

Take Away: I need to always be on guard against the desires of the flesh. What I want to gain out of doing something is likely exactly what I will get out of it. If I go to church to fit in, to look good, to fulfill some type of moral obligation, that is likely all I will get out of it. I believe this was Jesus's message throughout the Sermon on the Mount, and He drives this home in the parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders. 

Monday, March 21, 2022

SOM - Part 15

I am still processing the Sermon on the Mount. I have gone through the 25 posts and edited them for clarity and to revisit them for myself. Now I want to look at the applications I should be making for myself.

SOM - Part 15

From a purely selfish standpoint, forgiveness stinks. It means that I am letting someone get away with something. It means that I have been wronged or taken advantage of and I don't get to make things even. 

Or does it?

I ask this because there are a lot of other elements to this issue that just the above. Let's look at one example. Say you were bullied in elementary school. You no longer have contact with the bully, and have not since school. Yet hardly a day goes by that you don't think about what they did to you, and it hurts. You often tell others about this, and say that you wish you would run into the bully again, so you could give them a piece of you mind. You refuse to let the issue die, and are not ashamed to say so. My question is, who is being harmed here and by what? You or the bully who does not even know that you are still alive, let alone angry with him? That being said, some issues are not easy to forgive. How do you let go of feelings that have been a part of you for years, maybe even decades? These feelings have been there through thick and thin, and may have even protected you at times. And yet, it seems that this is exactly what Jesus is asking. Sometimes following Him is difficult. 

Difficult yes, but it is not just because God does not want you to be angry. God knows the hurt that events of the past may have brought, but He also sees the destructive force of the anger and the bitterness causes not only on you, but on those around you. It reminds me of the time I got a rather large splinter in me. That splinter had to come out. To leave it in would open the door to all kinds of infection. But taking it out was not going to be without pain either. What to do? Of course, I know the splinter had to go. 

Take Away: Forgiveness is not an option. It is not something that I should wait on until I am ready either. I imagine that if I had waited until I was ready to endure the pain of having the splinter removed it would still be there, that is if I would have survived the infection that surely would have followed. But what about ongoing pain caused by others? I will answer that with another question, how would you be preferred to be forgiven by God? Would you prefer that He wait until you are finished sinning before giving you forgiveness? Choose carefully, because there seems to be a lot at stake.

It may not be easy. News flash, Jesus never said it would be, contrary to what is preached by some today. In fact, He talked about tough things we would need to do beyond forgiveness that would be essential if we were to enter the kingdom of God. Things like carrying our cross (Mark 8:34), loving Him more than we love our family (Matthew 10:37), and facing hatred and persecution (Matthew 10:22,23) to name a few. I am not sure what to say next. I want to say something to soften the blow. I want to make everything okay, I want to draw people in with some comforting words. But sometimes that is not in order. Sometimes we need to experience pain and work through it in order to grow. 

It's one thing to offer comfort in times of pain, it is quite another to candy-coat the truth. Or avoid the truth altogether because it is uncomfortable or I don't like it. I speak to myself here. All too often I take the easy way out. But in the long run, I suffer. I need to remember that when I take that easy road. I need to look for and travel the narrow road, the one that leads to life

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Take Away - SOM 14

I am still processing the Sermon on the Mount. I have gone through the 25 posts and edited them for clarity and to revisit them for myself. Now I want to look at the applications I should be making for myself.

SOM - Part 14

The Lord's Prayer. So often recited, and it is a great model for prayer, I don't think Jesus ever intended to make this a substitution for our own prayers. Not that reciting this prayer is wrong, it just needs to be done with the understanding of what Jesus was seeking to accomplish. How ironic, that throughout the Sermon on  the Mount Jesus is trying to direct us toward God and away from ritual obedience, and so many things He stated have become a standard of ritual obedience for many.

Take Away: How easy it is to twist things into what I feel comfortable with. To take what Jesus offered and intended to be a model and turn it in to ritual. Ritual is always easier, as it does not force me to come face to face with my own sinful motives. Just go to church, tithe, pray, don't say certain words, do go to certain movies, say grace before every meal, etc. But don't get to the heart of the matter. You can pray about forgiving others (ritual), but do you do it? You can give your tithe or even more (ritual), but do you really trust God to take care of your needs? You can go through your life never having committed a murder (ritual), but do you harbor unjust anger? They say prayer changes things. I agree, and the first thing prayer should change it me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Take Away - SOM 13

I am still processing the Sermon on the Mount. I have gone through the 25 posts and edited them for clarity and to revisit them for myself. Now I want to look at the applications I should be making for myself.

SOM - Part 13

I believe this section reaffirms and continues what Jesus is trying to get across in the main idea of the Sermon on the Mount, that it is the internal heart that matters, and not the external action. In other words, you can be ding all the right things and yet not receive any "credit" for those actions. In fact, if you do the actions only to receive some kind of credit, you are going in the wrong direction to begin with.

Take Away: We all like to feel good. We all prefer praise over criticism. I do not believe that Jesus is condemning the idea that if we feel good after doing something, that that action then means nothing to God. In fact, I believe that when we do something to honor or please God, we should feel good, just as a child might feel good after doing something that makes their own parents pleased. It is those other motives that destroy our actions that deem them worthless. When I give, it should come from a joyful heart. (2 Corinthians 9:7) Not out of obligation, not out of a desire to earn favor either with God or with others. Not even because I can. I give because I want to honor the God who has given so much to me. Honor Him, not repay Him. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Take Away - SOM 12

I am still processing the Sermon on the Mount. I have gone through the 25 posts and edited them for clarity and to revisit them for myself. Now I want to look at the applications I should be making for myself.

SOM - Part 12

 Jesus continues His teaching with some radical ideas in these verses. Radical even by today's standards. Loving people is fine. Love those you don't know. But love your enemies? Until we realize that God loved us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8), this will not make sense. Jesus has spent quite a bit of time convincing us that we are sinners, that we fall short. I wonder what would happen if many preachers gave this kind of a sermon. Perhaps many would start looking for a new church, or he would have to start looking for a new job. That's a part of the problem with the church structure we have today. 

Take Away: I need to see others through God's eyes, and not through my old, selfish eyes. That is hard! Especially when the offense is ongoing. It is one thing to be harmed and upset by that fact, and then the offending party apologizes. But when the offense continues, and you still have to forgive, you still have to pray for them. But that is being a reflection of the kind of love that God has for us. He not only loved us while we were still sinners, He continues to love us through our continuing sins and imperfections! Just imagine if God loved us the way that we often love others, we would be without hope! So when Jesus tells us that we should be perfect "as your heavenly Father is perfect, I don't believe that He is saying that once we are forgiven we then have to be perfect. I believe He is encouraging us to love perfectly as God loves us. That is still a tall order if taken to heart! 

Monday, March 14, 2022

Take Away - SOM 11

I am still processing the Sermon on the Mount. I have gone through the 25 posts and edited them for clarity and to revisit them for myself. Now I want to look at the applications I should be making for myself.

SOM - Part 11

In the verses covered in this post Jesus continues with the idea of taking the lines that have been drawn by man and extending them farther, to reveal more of God's intention. God's intention was not to solely modify, correct, or cause only a certain behavior. What God desires goes beyond the behavior. God desires relationship, just as we do. I see it like this, when I ask my children to do something, I expect that it will get done. Sometimes it does, sometimes it does not. Yes, I get frustrated when things don't get done in the manner or timeframe that I anticipate. Sometimes I need to give reminders. Sometimes a consequence is called for. Sometimes I just have to let it go. But even when things get done, there is a way of that happening that is pleasing and a way that is not. If there is grumbling and complaining going on the whole time, and I hear how unjust I am or how unfair this is, while the job gets done, it is not very pleasing. But if the job is done with joy, if the response is quick and appreciation is shown because my children know and understand that I too make sacrifices for them, them I take great satisfaction in that moment. That is where the ideas that comes in verses 39-42 come in to play. You see, when my children know and understand what I do for them and show appreciation, that not only speaks volumes to me but also to anyone else who would witness their effort. We turn the other cheek, we share our tunic and cloak, we go the extra mile because we know and understand the depth of God's love for us, and while I believe that He appreciates that, it also becomes a beacon of God's love for those who strike the turned cheek, who receive the cloak and tunic, who have their burden shared for another mile. Those types of behaviors are not the norm, so they stand out. Why would someone do such a thing? Because someone even greater has done so much for them! 

Take Away: To appreciate God is to become a witness for God, to be a light in the darkness, to be salt. To not appreciate God is to not be a witness, to be in darkness, to be unfit, only to be scattered on the path and walked on. God does not desire our appreciation because He needs it. We need it. We need to appreciate Him so that we do not live in bitterness and darkness. To think that the God of the universe is somehow going to have a bad day if I, one of billions on the earth, do not praise Him is to have a selfish and inaccurate view of God. To return to the analogy from before, when my children do what I ask of them, and do it with appreciation, it is not only something that brings joy to me, but it is something that makes their lives better too. Just like the guy who loves what he does for a living will have a better day that the one who despises what they do. Both may get the job done, but what a blessing to spend the day loving it! So even in my praise of God, there is an element where I get something out of it too. That's because God is a good God, and anyone who would tell you differently only has eyes for themselves.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Take Away - SOM 10

I am still processing the Sermon on the Mount. I have gone through the 25 posts and edited them for clarity and to revisit them for myself. Now I want to look at the applications I should be making for myself.

SOM - Part 10

 So adultery is wrong? I think that there are many who would argue that point today, even many "Christians." I think Christianity in many regards is not a rock, but a sponge, absorbing culture and embracing lifestyles in order to fit in. I know that is extremely unpopular, and some would even label it as hate speech perhaps. Jesus takes it even farther though, making lust wrong (dare I say a sin?). There are none who are guiltless, are there? I believe that was His point.

I made a statement in the original post of these verses (Matthew 5:27-30) It is that "we may have to make sacrifices rather than alter the meaning of God's commands." I think that today I see a lot more altering than I do sacrificing. How many times have I heard, "Does the Bible really say that?" And if by some chance that answer is yes, it is quickly followed by, "But is that what it really means?" 

Take Away: I am a sinner. Whether it is because I have committed adultery or only had lustful thoughts. I still shudder at how unpopular that thought is. Not only unpopular, but rallied against, even by "Christians." But I am also saved by grace. Whether I have committed adultery or only had lustful thoughts. There is only one unforgiveable sin according to the Bible, and that is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 12:31-33) Although there are different interpretations as to what that actually is, in my understanding I have not crossed that line. The Bible speaks about our behavior a lot. Here are just a few examples:

But these verses from the Sermon on the Mount help me understand what I need to know in order to do those things. First, I need to recognize I am a sinner. I need to have a strong desire to change (repent). So strong, that I am willing to give up those things that are very near and dear to me, even as near and dear as my right eye or right hand. Call it hitting bottom or desperation, I need to understand that without Jesus I am lost. This will lead me to the potential to see and embrace the grace of God. Salvation is not a 90 degree turn to the left where I separate myself from sin. Nor is it a 90 degree turn to the right where I give myself to Jesus. It is a 180 degree turn where I turn my back on sin and embrace Christ. I follow Him completely because I know that ultimately there is nothing more important than living in the grace that God accomplished for me through Jesus. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Take Away - SOM 9

I am still processing the Sermon on the Mount. I have gone through the 25 posts and edited them for clarity and to revisit them for myself. Now I want to look at the applications I should be making for myself.

SOM - Part 9

As I reread SOM Part 9. I am struck by the idea that some men would thin that they can achieve salvation on the heels of someone else, through another imperfect human being, and that some men would gladly fill that role. Are the Jewish leaders and their follower really that different than the way that Catholics practice their faith? Maybe I don't need to go there today, but it reinforces to me the idea that people will believe what they want to believe rather than to pursue truth.

I keep thinking about the fact that Jesus did not come to bring some new teaching, but certainly was bringing a different teaching, a different way to approach God. A way that took out the middle men and paved a pathway for all people to approach the throne of God. No wonder the leaders hated him so much.

In these verses it seems that Jesus is not attacking the law, but rather the way that we approach the law. The law does not save, it reveals our failure and need for someone to save us. Jesus seems to be saying in these verses, the law is not the problem, a corrupt heart is the problem. You think murder is bad? Well, yes, it is. But so is the unrighteous anger, you know, the thing that caused you to want to commit that murder in the first place. 

Take Away: My main take away for today is just about seeking the truth. It is so easy to accept another's version of the truth. Follow the law, tithe, have more faith, God wants you to be happy and have it all, say 5 Hail Marys and 3 Our Fathers and 1 rosary, or whatever you want to believe because it eases your conscience and avoids struggle and pain. Truth can be painful, but it still must be pursued. I need to pursue truth. A part of the truth is that yes, murder is wrong (easy part, since I have not murdered anyone), but so is anger. That is tougher to deal with, but for today, it is something I must wrestle with. Lord, help me as I deal with my unrighteousness, and as I learn what it means to accept and live in your righteousness.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Take Away - SOM 8

 I am still processing the Sermon on the Mount. I have gone through the 25 posts and edited them for clarity and to revisit them for myself. Now I want to look at the applications I should be making for myself.

SOM - Part 8

I find this to be a critical section of the sermon. Jesus knew the hearts of men. He knew how some would twist His words and try to use them against Him. He knew that they would attack this "new" teaching. So Jesus clarifies something important. He was not bringing something new. He was not here to say that God had got it wrong, and that the prophets had misinterpreted what God wanted. He is not here to reinvent the laws of God, or explain why they don't mean what they say. In fact, He is going to take them to a level they had never been taken to before. He is going to demand a stricter adherence than any of the leaders of the Jews. He is going to clarify the purpose of the law.

For centuries the Jews had understood the law to be their pathway to God. If they could follow the law, then they could reap the reward of eternity in heaven. The problem was, they knew they could not be perfect, so they altered the law to make it more attainable. So the very thing they would like to be able to accuse Jesus of, they had already been doing.

This is why Jesus says in verse 20, For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Their righteousness was not God's righteousness. Their righteousness was to earn their way to God, to in a way put God in their debt so that He would have no choice but to grant them entrance to heaven. This kind of righteousness will always fail, as there is no way that we can put God in our debt. 

Jesus knows that this kind of righteousness does not work. From the moment of the fall of man in the garden of Eden, it would fail. Once stained by sin, no amount of righteous behavior will cleanse us. Jesus knew that this is why He came, He would have to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. The righteousness of the leaders was not enough because only the righteousness gained through faith in Jesus would be enough.

Take Away: There are a lot of things I need to take away from this. A big one is the knowledge that my efforts, no matter how good, will never be enough. This should be humbling to me, which happens to be one of the characteristics Jesus spoke of in the Beatitudes. Humbling to the point where I see myself as God sees me, a sinner in need of a Savior, as a Saint, only because I am washed in the blood of Jesus. It also means that I see others as God sees them, which is the same way that He sees me, as sinners in need of a Savior. It is why Jesus will encourage me to not only love my neighbor, but my enemies as well. It is why I should not sit in judgment of others, for I fall short myself. It is why when I pray for forgiveness, I ask to be forgiven as I forgive others. 

Jesus said in Matthew 11:29,30, "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.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” How is this so, when He seems to be taking things even farther than the Scribes and Pharisees had ever imagined? The answer is that He is there with us. Just like oxen yoked together, we are yoked with Jesus. Think a mouse yoked together with and elephant. We know who is doing the majority of the work. We know that the elephant does not need the mouse and could do the job by himself. We rejoice in the thought that together, in spite of our inability, we are a team who will reap the reward together. 

Monday, February 28, 2022

Take Away - SOM 7

I am still processing the Sermon on the Mount. I have gone through the 25 posts and edited them for clarity and to revisit them for myself. Now I want to look at the applications I should be making for myself.

SOM - Part 7

It is easy to get caught up in ideas to the point that you miss the main purpose. I was substitute teaching once, and offered a treat to anyone who could correctly answer a question I posed. Even before a word was said, hands are in the air to respond. So I called on one to ask the answer. They said that I had not even asked the question yet. Exactly. But in an effort to be the one to be called on, hands shoot in the air. 

There is a lot of wonderful information out there about salt and light, and some great spiritual lessons that can be gained. But what is the main point that Jesus is trying to get across here, and do I get it? He is speaking to the masses, there will be no test. He states, "if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet." At this time a major use of salt was to preserve food. But if the salt does not do its job, it gets thrown onto the pathway, where it will be crushed into the ground. The people should have easily understood this. The useless salt, the salt that cannot do its purposed task, gets thrown on the path where it will kill the growth of most anything and create a path that will be walked upon by others. 

Take Away: If we are not living a life that is God-honoring, we are as useless as that salt. It is not just what we do, but how we do it. Is it God honoring? It's not just going to church, praying, giving our time and or money, but it is also about honoring God in the process. If my goal is anything less than to honor God, I have failed and am useless, only fit to be thrown out and trampled on. Note that in the process, I kill everything around me.

Jesus continued, "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." The job of light is to illuminate. Why would you turn on a light and then cover it? It's useless. Note that Jesus even says to let your light shine so that people may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Even having a shining light is not enough if it is not God honoring. 

There will be no test over all of the qualities of salt and light. The only test is the same one found in Matthew 7:15-20. What does your fruit reveal about you?

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Take Away - SOM 6

I am still processing the Sermon on the Mount. I have gone through the 25 posts and edited them for clarity and to revisit them for myself. Now I want to look at the applications I should be making for myself.

SOM Part 6

I recently saw this posted on Facebook in a group. 

Then in the comments, I read this from a pastor:

While I might not have posted the original meme myself, the response has me scratching my head. Are we that "seeker friendly" that we are worried about what the unchurched will think about what the Bible labels as sin? I don't think we need to worry about offending the woke and unchurched, they can find plenty to criticize on their own. I should not be living in fear of saying what I believe to be true because it might offend. Jesus didn't. In fact, He took things even farther, in His very first sermon He equates murder with just being angry (Matthew 5:21-22), says that anyone who divorces his wife makes her commit adultery (Matthew 5:32), tells us to love rather than hate our enemies (Matthew 5:44), and more. Are we so worried about growing the church that we will just ignore or water down the Gospel to get people in the door? And then once inside, do we preach the truth to them? I think a  post like this will offend some, maybe many. But it might also drive some to see their sin and in turn their need for what Jesus has to offer, which is not "your best life now," but salvation. The response, "Why even post this? I think in some form we have all committed most of these acts." leads me to believe that the person who responded wants to downplay or ignore sin, rather than discuss or deal with it. Perhaps the original poster of the meme had the intention of showing that homosexuals are not the only sinners, and we all need Jesus. But who am I to judge? That would be wrong of me, wouldn't it?

Which is a perfect lead in to SOM Part 6. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:10-12)

In the original post, I concluded that the persecution would come both from within and outside of the church. Is the above an example of persecution from within the church, to criticize a brother for calling out what they perceive the Scripture to state about sin? I am not sure, but I do believe that it could be. I have seen worse.

Take Away: Persecution is coming, that is if we believe the Scriptures to be true, and I do believe this. When and how severe, I cannot say. In many places it is happening and it is severe. If and when I do experience it, will I see myself as blessed, happy, or content? Would I be able to be like Paul, instead of singing in the rain he was singing in the chains. (Acts 16:25) I would like to believe that I would.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Take Away - SOM 5

 I am still processing the Sermon on the Mount. I have gone through the 25 posts and edited them for clarity and to revisit them for myself. Now I want to look at the applications I should be making for myself.

SOM Part 5

I want to begin by reiterating something from yesterday, being blessed is not something we receive as a result of performing or having the said behaviors here, it is something that we are and the reason we have these behaviors. Jesus said, "You will recognize them by their fruits." (Matthew 7:16) Grapes are not grapes because they behave like grapes, they are grapes because they come from the grape vine, it is what they are. Blessed, happy, or satisfied is not the result of things like humility or meekness or a desire for righteousness, it is a result of who you really are. Jesus continues His thoughts in Matthew 7 says that healthy trees bear good fruit, and cannot bear bad fruit, and that diseased trees cannot bear good fruit. He says that we will recognize "them" (those who are wolves) by their fruits. (Matthew 7:17-20) He is not talking about actions, for the wolves dress up as sheep to blend it. He is not talking about possessions or blessings, for there are many who are more blessed in possessions that are not Christians. He is talking about in their spirit. They are blessed, joyful, satisfied, and not because of circumstance but because of who they are in Christ.

So what is my take away for today? This is a tough one, because it kind of flies in the face of what most would call religion. In one way or another, most religions boil down to something that we do to appease God's wrath. This varies from following strict codes of behavior to just asking Jesus into your heart. I do not believe either of these are the path to the relationship with God that He desires us to have with Him. It seems to start with a fundamental change of who we are. How does that happen? It is through surrender. Surrender is something that really goes against our basic instinct of self-preservation. Think of prisoners of war, or slaves who have surrendered their rights and as a result faced tremendous suffering and abuse. But we are not surrendering to an enemy, but to a loving friend. There is one thing about surrender that strikes me here. When I have been attempting to do something on my own, and finally surrender to the idea that I might not be able to do it on my own so I seek help, there is a bit of peace that comes with that kind of surrender. Surrender to a friend, surrender to one who loves me is not a bad thing. I think again of the 12 steps of AA. The first step is that realization that we cannot do it, our addiction has a greater power over us than we can handle. The second is to believe that God (a power grater than ourselves) can. Step 3 is surrender to that power. It is only through surrender that change can occur. It is not surrender, then go back to trying again. It is surrender, period. 

Here is where I struggle: What does that surrender look like? It is not the typical surrender to the enemy, where you are imprisoned and can no longer do the things you want to do. It is a surrender where you are still "free" in a sense. Like house arrest, but with no ankle monitor. You are on the honor system. It is a voluntary surrender. For some, they do not choose to surrender until they have reached a certain point of despair. Some might call it hitting rock bottom. Others do not seem to hit that point. It seems to look different for different people. But the commonality is surrender. 

It is a process. It is a struggle. Sometimes it is not pretty. It is a process that we take on our own. No one can do it for us. We can, should, and need others as we take this process on, and yet we are only accountable for our own choices. It is a hard process to watch in others, and we can be there and offer encouragement, but we cannot make choices for others either. Sometimes I do not feel blessed or happy or satisfied in the process, but in an ironic twist, that too is part of the process. It is not a perfect process. It requires effort and honesty, yet ultimately what keeps me travelling on this road is the fact that all my effort and all my honesty are not enough. So I again surrender my efforts to Jesus, the reason I am and can be on this journey. 

Friday, February 25, 2022

Take Away - SOM 4

I am still processing the Sermon on the Mount. I have gone through the 25 posts and edited them for clarity and to revisit them for myself. Now I want to look at the applications I should be making for myself.

SOM Part 4

Matthew 5:5 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

There's that word again, blessed. We like to be blessed, because we like swag. I think some think of blessing as God's swag. The word that is translated as blessing can also be translated as happy. Not quite as good, but still nice. We like to be happy. Based on the context, I would like to change the word happy to satisfied. Not quite as good as blessed or happy, but who doesn't want to be satisfied? That wonderful feeling after Thanksgiving dinner, that lasts until halftime, when the urge for snacks starts to hit. But what if it is not about what we get, but who we are that Jesus is talking about? That changes things no matter how you interpret that word. 

Job seemed to understand this, at least most of the time. Satan took away almost everything from him, and yet Job refused to curse God. In that moment, Job was blessed, he was happy, he was satisfied. His attitude was not a result of his possessions, but rather a result of his position before God. He was meek, he was humble. He did not complain about what he had before, or what others had, he was blessed.

Or David, when he lost his first son from Bathsheba. The prophet Nathan told him that the child would die, but David pleaded with the Lord, he fasted and went and lay with him through the night. Yet the child died. The servants were afraid to tell David of his son's death, for fear of how David would react. They thought he might harm himself. David saw the servants whispering, and he knew what had happened. He asked, and they told him the child was dead. So what does David do? He gets up, washes and anoints himself, changes clothes, and goes to the house of the Lord to worship. He knew he was blessed. Not the kind of blessing he was hoping for, yet blessed.

Here's my take away. Blessed (or happy or satisfied) is not something I get, it is something I am. If I am a child of God, I am blessed, and that is all that matters. Paul got this. Philippians 4:12,13 states, "I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me." I believe so many read this text wrong. It is not saying that Christ will give me whatever I need, so I should go after great things, it is saying Christ has already given me a great thing, so I can endure whatever might be. There is a huge difference in those two ways of thinking. This is sometimes hard for me, because of being human and all. Just like the child in the AT&T commercial who was given a lollipop, and it all smiles until her brother gets a bigger and better lollipop. Then she determines that "That's not fair!" 

Rather than be grateful, she suddenly loses her smile and feels cheated. Even the dad feels slighted, and sticks out his hand for a lollipop. It is only when she is given an equal lollipop to her brother's that the smile (blessedness, happiness, satisfaction) returns. So the blessedness was not a result of the giver, but of the gift. When my satisfaction is dependent on the gift, rather than the giver, will I ever truly be satisfied? There is always a bigger lollipop to be had.

So that is my take away. There is always a bigger lollipop to be had. So it is best for me not to get my happiness for lollipops, but rather to be grateful for whatever circumstance I am in. Paul knew what he was talking about, the question is do I understand what he was saying? 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Take Away - SOM 3

  I am still processing the Sermon on the Mount. I have gone through the 25 posts and edited them for clarity and to revisit them for myself. Now I want to look at the applications I should be making for myself.

SOM Part 3

Relationships are tough. It does not take much to get them headed in the wrong direction. It did not take long for Adam and Eve to damage their relationship with God. It was not unrepairable, but it would take some work. That work was finished on the cross, or was it? In some senses yes. We do not need to and cannot go above that which Jesus did for us on the cross. However, as we see in the New Testament again and again, there were issues that the apostles had to deal with as the church developed. Those issues continue to this day. Apparently, Jesus's death on the cross did not completely restore our relationship with God from that moment forward. 

As Jesus began His ministry, He wanted to set forth what a true relationship with God should look like. Did He start over? No. Did He do away with the law? No. He took what was there and went even farther with it. Today's verse has to do with mourning. Sorrow. Perhaps regret. I think all of those emotions are valid and present when we face death. We are sad, we will miss our loved on. We think of what it might be like to have just one more day with them, or had we known this would be their time, what we might have done differently. Regrets flood our mind. Jesus wants us to mourn? He wants us to be sad? To have regrets? This is going to help repair our relationship with God?

Yes, provided those emotions are dealt with in a healthy way. But what are we mourning here? I believe it is what we have done to God. We put away our pride and start thinking about the pain that our sin has caused to Him, us, others. Perhaps regret enters in as well. I believe it should. I believe that if we don't see the harm our sin causes, then we won't be as likely to distance ourselves from it. This is what brings repentance. A definition I once heard for repentance goes like this, to be so sorry for something I have done that I wouldn't do it again, even if I knew I wouldn't get caught. I ties in with all kinds of ideas, such as surrender, confession, denying self, etc. But it starts with repentance. It's not just about getting to go to heaven, it's not just about not going to hell. It is about relationship. Real relationship. 

So here is my take away. In order for me to have a relationship with God as it should be, I have to be honest about who I am and what I have done. I have to put aside my pride and see with open eyes. See who I am and see who God is. That should cause me to mourn. If I see the pain of what I have done, it should bring me sadness and regret. Not that I need to stay there. That would be unhealthy. That should drive me to repentance. 

Let the healing begin?

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Take Away - SOM 2

 I am still processing the Sermon on the Mount. I have gone through the 25 posts and edited them for clarity and to revisit them for myself. Now I want to look at the applications I should be making for myself.

SOM Part 2

Blessed are those who are gasping for air, because they are the kingdom of heaven. (my translation)

Jesus made it clear that He did not come for the healthy, but for the sick. (Mark 2:17) He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners. And that is a good thing, because according to Romans 3:10-12, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.   All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” But there are those who think themselves righteous, who think they are healthy. The healthy don't need a doctor. (See Matthew 9:12). Righteous people don't need a Savior. 

If you go to the doctor, he will ask you questions so that he can diagnose you. So you sniffle? Got a sore throat? Perhaps you feel a little dizzy? The doctor will probably calmly continue to discuss your symptoms with you. But walk in gasping for breath, and I bet he takes a different approach. In fact, so do you. If you are gasping for breath, you don't sit in the waiting room until it is your turn. You make it clear that you need a doctor, and need one now! Jesus recognizes the seriousness of our condition. He went to the cross to prove it. But do we? Can you imagine someone sitting in the doctors waiting room, gasping for air, but refusing to go in to see the doctor until it was their turn? 

So here is my take away for part 2. I need Jesus. Desperately. I need to see that need. Not because I can't handle some traumatic issue in life, but because I am a sinner. Sometimes I feel sorry for those who don't truly understand their need for Jesus. Their life is pretty good, no real issues, but perhaps they have been taken in by some smooth talking speaker, who maybe had them say a prayer or even get baptized, but then they walked away thinking that was it, they were saved. But my diagnosis is critical and terminal. I don't just need to take a couple aspirin, I need constant ICU type care. I need to see my doctor every day, and sometimes more. 

I also feel sorry for those who are critical but still don't feel the need for a doctor. They can hardly breath, but insist that they will get over it. 

Gasping for breath is a gift from God that is intended to show me my need for Him. I think we often act as if we can handle things, and when it does get tough, call on God. While it is not a bad thing to call on God in times of need, when we abandon Him when things pick up is a mistake. We need God in the good times and the bad. Once released from the hospital, shouldn't we follow the doctor's plan for our continued care? If the doctor says no more smoking and drinking, but we say that he is being to legalistic and do not follow the instructions, do we really think that all of our issues are and will continue to be resolved? 

I tend to be wishy-washy. I think we all do, but that does not excuse me. I get closer to God when things are toughest. But I need Him every day. I need to see just how amazing His grace is all the time. Gasping for air is not necessarily a bad thing. What is worse, is being able to breath and then getting run over by a truck. Didn't see that one coming, and now it is too late. Better to keep gasping for air.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Take Away - SOM 1

 I am still processing the Sermon on the Mount. I have gone through the 25 posts and edited them for clarity and to revisit them for myself. Now I want to look at the applications I should be making for myself.

SOM Part 1

In order to do this, I think it is best if I put myself in the shoes of the listeners. Both groups, the Jewish leaders and the common Jews had a certain blindness going on. They had settled in to a groove. A routine. Perhaps without even knowing it, they just followed a pattern of life. The leaders led because that is the way God designed it, right? And the people followed and trusted the leaders because that was what had always been done. Anyone who questioned them was looked upon with disdain. This is what religion had become, and to quote what I said earlier, it was cold, calculated, and done in a manner that kept those in control in control. Now it would be easy here to point fingers, but I want to take away regarding my behavior. How should this impact me?

First, I will put myself in the role of the leader. They were arrogant because they thought they had the answers. Ouch. I need to humble myself and realize that my answers may not be the right answers. My way of doing or thinking or believing might not be the way God really intended things to work. Humility. Surrender. More humility. The realization that I am not and should not be in control of anyone but myself. It is more than enough work just doing that. Not that I can't share my thoughts, beliefs, etc., but not in a way that dictates for others. Sharing is good, but no one responds well to being told what to do or how to live. It is not usually a good thing when others put me on a pedestal, but it is worse when I do it myself. The leaders then separated themselves. This seems a logical thing when you see the mindset they had. But it is not a Biblical thing. We are all sinners, and there is no degree to which we can lay a claim so that we can put ourselves above others. Paul saw himself as the worst sinner there was. (1 Timothy 1:15) Perhaps this is because Paul also saw the depth and beauty of God's grace like no one else. (Romans 11:33-36) I believe that there is a good reason that the terms "servant leader" exists for those who follow Christ. I need to make sure that whenever I am in a role where I have any leadership, it is approached with a servant's heart. 

Second, I will put myself in the role of the common Jew. One of the problems that they had was they were depending on others for their spirituality. They looked to the human leaders as their source of wisdom and instruction rather than God. Not that we shouldn't honor and respect those in leadership positions, but to blindly follow someone because they claim to be a leader of God is also a dangerous thing. I must realize that I am responsible for my relationship with God, and that just going to church, or listening to some preacher, or whatever else I might be doing to put the burden of my walk with God on someone else does not work. "But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load." (Galatians 6:4,5)

As I settle into my pew, ready to listen to a sermon from the Master, I have to begin by asking myself, "Why an I here?" Am I here to hear what others need to do, and then go out and make sure that they do it? Am I hear to be told what to do so that I don't have to wrestle for myself? Or am I here to listen to what God would tell me with an open mind? Am I willing to lay down my preconceptions and look in the mirror with an honest and open mind? Real church is about to start.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 25

Today I want to look at verses 28-29 of chapter 7, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message.

Matthew 7:28-29

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

I think normally I would just skip these verses, as on the surface they don't seem to add much. However, when looking at them in light of the audience and the message, I think they offer a few valuable insights.

The first thing I see is that the crowds were astonished. The masses, but perhaps not all. I see the common people being referred to hear, probably not the Jewish leaders. Rather than astonished, I see the leaders as being upset, put off, irritated. But the crowds were amazed. I think today we might say they were blown away. I have to wonder, what were they blown away by? Did they really get what Jesus was saying, or did they just sense that this was different. Surely they could tell that this Jesus was getting under the skins of the leaders. Here it is 2,000 plus years later, and I think the crowds still don't get it, so I don't think this crowd had it all figured out. But what they could see was the way that He taught. Not wishy-washy, not hesitant or deceptive, but Jesus spoke with authority. I think it is significant that it states that He did not teach like their own scribes did. This was different. 

Makes me wonder about today, and the majority of the teaching we are exposed to. How often have I walked away from a sermon being astonished? Not at the preacher, or  their eloquence, storytelling or joke telling performance, but at the Jesus being preached! (Not very often.) I read through the Sermon on the Mount, and what I don't see is a bunch of promises for a better life or advice on anything from sex to how to be a better parent or a list of behaviors that must be followed independent of the motivation that should drive those behaviors. What I do see is some statements that are challenging, statements that might go against the current status quo.  Statements so offensive, it might cause some to leave. This was not seeker friendly, feel good stuff. But there was something about this teaching. An authority that was evident. 

No apologies, not politically sensitive. Honest. Truthful. Even confrontational at times. But to be honest, Jesus didn't have to worry about losing His job if He offended someone. He only had to worry about losing His life. But that was not a concern for Him, was it?

Edited 2/14/2022


Monday, January 31, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 24

Today I want to look at verses 24-27 of chapter 7, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message.

Matthew 7:24-27

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

So first, let's look at how this passage is normally handled, when it is taken in isolation. On the surface it just seems to be about obedience to Jesus. I think most would take this in a works based sense without giving it much thought. But does that make sense in light of the context and the audience? Would Jesus really tell the people who were proud of their own obedience that what they need is more obedience? I don't think so!

Let's look at a few things about this story that I find interesting. The first is the houses. From what we can tell about the houses, they are the same. They look the same. Probably cost the same, for the house itself. They were probably both crafted with care, and expected to last a long time. But what does the house represent? Is it not the lives of the individuals? Their lives looked the same. Maybe they both went to church. Or both gave to the poor. Or both prayed before meals and at bedtime. They were decent, God fearing folk. Probably both got baptized, maybe on the same day, same church, same pastor. But if that is the case, did they both not hear the words of Jesus? Or was Jesus talking about something beyond obedience to external expectations?

What was Jesus sermon about? Was it about being a good person? Was it about external obedience? Or was it about redefining your relationship with God. Was it about moving beyond externals and moving to internals? Think about it. The beatitudes reveal a life that is humble, pure in heart, merciful. He has shifted the burden of obedience from what leaders did to the individuals, and then magnified that obedience to say that it is not just the act (external), but the internal heart that matters. You don't murder? Great! Ever call your brother a fool? Oops! You haven't committed adultery? Two brownie points for you! Ever look at someone with lust? Oops! You love your brothers? Awesome! How do you feel about your enemies? Oops! I sense a theme here, and it is not about your outward behavior. So what does it mean to hear and obey?

The houses were the same, but the foundations with different. One builder was only concerned with the house. Perhaps the only thing he did to the foundation was to smooth it off, which did not require much effort since it was sand. His efforts went into what you could see. The other builder focused on the foundation. I am thinking that a lot more effort goes into building on a rock than on sand. All that work and no one to see it. But the builder knows. 

Then come the storms. I note that both houses had storms. The builder on the rock was not exempt from the storm. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend once. We had been sharing our stories. After hearing some of the things I had been through, they remarked, "It's kind of amazing that you still have faith after going through all of that." To which I responded, "No, it is because of my faith that I was able to endure all of that." I am not trying to pat myself on the back, just sharing what I believe. I don't really understand how people who do not have a strong faith, a strong foundation, endure storms. Perhaps this is why so many "lose" their faith. The reality is, they never really had faith. 

"I'll take, Jesus will make my life better for 1,000 Alex" 

"The clue is, These people look good on the outside, but when trouble comes they quickly fall away."

"What is, Who are people who build their houses on the sand."

Edited 2/14/2022

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 23

Today I want to look at verses 21-23 of chapter 7, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message.

Matthew 7:21-23

(21)“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (22) On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ (23) And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

There are some interesting things going on in these verses. First, it appears Jesus is setting Himself up as the doorkeeper to heaven when He says "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, " and again when He says, "depart from me, you workers of lawlessness."  I wonder how each group in the crowd took these words. Surely this is not how the other leaders taught. Maybe that is part of the reason the crowds were astonished at the authority level in His teaching. 

Next, He reaffirms the theme that just calling Him Lord is not enough. You have to follow that up with action. It's not that the action saves you, but action is a result of true belief. If I really believed that something bad would happen to me if I walked out the front door, I would go out the back. Action follows belief. It is a result, and not a cause. I think about the many who answer altar calls of various types today, and walk away with the idea they are saved. As much as I know and believe it is grace and not works that saves us, saving grace does seem to carry with it a change of life that causes one to be sold out to Jesus. How many in the crowd that day thought that their calling Him Lord and doing all of the others things that they did to fill their religious obligations was what assured their salvation? They might say things like, "But Jesus, I prophesied for you, I healed the sick in your name, and did so much other neat and cool stuff, what do I get? Nothing? That hardly seems fair!" But it is not about their efforts, it is about accepting His effort, which takes us back to the whole idea of humility and all of the other behaviors listed in the beatitudes. These are the results of salvation, and not the cause of salvation. You can't manufacture these feelings, can you? Which begs the question, can we choose to be saved? I don't really want to get into that right now, nor do I even feel I know the answer without doubt. But I do believe it is something that deserves to be wrestled with honestly. If that is even possible.

I have heard people say that this is one of the scariest verses in the Bible, and I think that it can be. We should be concerned that all of our efforts might still be in vain. So I think about who Jesus is speaking to, and what He is trying to say. He is speaking to people who were obsessed with their works rather than His work for them. He is telling them, it is not about what you do, nor is there anything you can do to save yourself. Period. Yet when we see and understand what God has done for us through His grace and mercy, there must be some kind of response. We rely on grace, and we respond as imperfect beings to that grace. Didn't Paul address this idea in Romans 6:1-2? What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 

So we end up in this quandary,  to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must do the will of the Father (Vs 21), but we are not saved by our works, it is a gift! (Vs 22-23) So here is my conclusion: works are not the will of the Father. So what is? Faith in Jesus His Son is. But that faith, if merely to escape hell, is not faith in Jesus. (Real faith is accompanied by a change of life that is real and evident. James 1:22-25; James 2:14-17) James 2:18 says, Show me your faith apart from works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

My prayer for today is to have that kind of change in my life. Not the change of trying to get to heaven by my own effort, but the change that comes from knowing and understanding the effort that Christ has done for me.

Edited 2/14/2022

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Sermon on the Mount - Part 22

Today I want to look at verses 15-20 of chapter 7, once again focusing on who Jesus was speaking to, and on the context of the entire message.

Matthew 7:15-20

(15)“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. (16)You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? (17)So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. (18)A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. (19)Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (20)Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

I was thinking yesterday after I had posted, that I really haven't been addressing the idea of who Jesus is speaking to in the last few posts. The leaders and the followers. Two distinct groups, yet with some similarities as well. Sheep and wolves. There were sheep and wolves both among the leaders and the followers. I think the wolves must have been hungry too, for there were probably more wolves than sheep, so not enough food to go around sometimes.

Jesus has been defining relationship with God, and it wasn't what the people were used to hearing. The wolves have had their way for a long time. The wolves look like sheep. They act like sheep. I think of Saturday morning cartoons, and how obvious it would look to me when the wolf put on sheep's clothes. But the sheep bought it. Silly sheep. Can't they see? Look at the paws, or the teeth. But there is a blindness among the sheep. A blindness to the truth. They act like a point. They go to church, dress appropriately, speak right, etc., so what is this fruit that should make me recognize them? According to Jesus, it seems it should be pretty plain, since grapes don't grow on thornbushes nor do figs grow among the thistles. 

I find it interesting when Jesus says, "A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit." This leads me to the belief that Jesus is not talking about actions alone here because a diseased tree cannot bear good fruit, yet a wolf can blend in doing many of the actions of a true sheep. They can give to the poor, go to church, even sing and praise God. In fact, this is what makes them so dangerous, because it allows them to blend in with the sheep. So what are the fruits that will cause us to recognize the sheep from the wolves? I find it a bit hard to explain, but it has to do with the way they do their deeds. We have already talked about how the leaders liked to do their actions to be seen by men, and that the only reward they got was the praise and recognition of men. The sheep just do it naturally. They love God and respond to Him constantly, and don't have to do it for an outward show or even receive any recognition. They do it from the shadows. Maybe they don't need to have their name on a wing of the church or a plaque on the wall. Maybe they don't need a fish on the back of their car. That is because they know that only what God sees matters, and God knows if one of His children is driving the car whether or not it has a fish on the back. Let the silly sheep praise the wolves. The real sheep know that doesn't impress God in the least.

It is not the dress, or the actions that identify them. It must be the spirit that dwells in them. The faith that cannot be denied. It is not the smooth talk or the fancy suit, but the very things that Jesus spoke of in the beginning of this message. Humility, meekness, mourning for the lost souls of men, hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Not the righteousness that comes from our own efforts at following the law, but the righteousness that flows from Christ. They are pure. Peacemakers. Not the peacemakers who stage a sit in while smoking pot, but peacemakers like the strong, well equipped soldiers who guard the borders, willing to defend peace even at the cost of their lives. In other words, if you want to know who the real sheep are, read the beatitudes again.

Think about the audience. There were wolves who only had their own interests at heart. They relied on their righteousness, and it caused them to be arrogant and inconsiderate of others. I keep thinking of the Pharisee prayer his audacious prayer, even insulting the tax collector in the process.  (Luke 18:10-14) He acted like a sheep, praying to God. But that prayer was full of arrogance and insult, its goal was to make the man look good to God and to others. Yet if we look at the words of Jesus in the beatitudes, we see none of those traits in this man. They are instead found in the tax collector. Poor in spirit, he could not even lift up his eyes to heaven, mourning his feeling of separation from God as he beat his breast, hungering for righteousness as he begged for forgiveness. It was evident that these two men, while similar in some ways, were also very different. Different as grapes and thorns, or figs and thistles. 

Edited 2/14/2022