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.