Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Secret Prayer (Matthew 6:5-6)

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5–6, ESV)

After instructing His listeners not to give for the public recognition they would receive, Jesus next tells them not to pray in the same way. He pointed to the hypocrites who stood in the synagogues and on the street corners and loudly prayed so that all might see and hear them and think how wonderful and righteous they must be. For all of the show they would give, Jesus said that the human recognition, praise, or even sense of self-gratification was going to be all they got. This human pat on the back would be their reward, and there was to be no more.

Rather, He again emphasized that what we do is to be done wholly to God and not for the recognition of men. This does not mean that we don’t come together to pray, for the Bible instructs us to do that. What it does mean is that our private prayers are to be just that. When we pray in this way we are to get away and pray to our Father in secret.

As I read this I thought about a couple of people who were examples to us from the Bible. One of them was Daniel. Daniel had grown in favor with the kings under whom he was captive, and others grew jealous to the point of wanting Daniel removed from the favor of King Darius. In fact, they wanted him dead. So, they devised a plot which they laid before the king concerning prohibiting anyone from petitioning any god for thirty days under penalty of the lions’ den. King Darius, who was soon to put Daniel over the whole kingdom, fell for their plot and signed the irrevocable decree (Daniel 6:1-9).

What the officials, who set the trap, knew was that Daniel was going to do exactly as he had been doing, which was to slip away to his own room three times a day where he would open his windows toward Jerusalem and kneel in prayer. Scripture records that he did exactly that (Daniel 6:10-13), and they brought the news to the king that someone had violated his decree and reminded the king that his decree was irrevocable. Then they told King Darius that the man was Daniel. “Then the king, when he heard these words, was much distressed and set his mind to deliver Daniel. And he labored till the sun went down to rescue him.” (Daniel 6:14, ESV) Knowing that he could not violate his own decree the king was bound to order Daniel thrown to the lions, and so he was. But God shut the mouths of the lions and Daniel was found safe there in the morning when the king ran to check on his fate. The king was both overjoyed and upset. He was overjoyed at Daniel’s salvation and upset with his officials. He promoted Daniel and he did to the officials what they had plotted to have done to Daniel.

Daniel did not respond to the decree by openly declaring that he was going to violate it, bowing down in loud prayer right before them. No, he did as he had been accustomed to doing which was to go away quietly to his room where he knelt before God in prayer. And in the most dramatic way we see how God heard and honored his faithfulness and even provided for his immediate protection and deliverance.  The impact of Daniel’s salvation on King Darius affected his whole kingdom.

“Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: “Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.” So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” (Daniel 6:25–28, ESV)

The other person I thought of was our Lord Himself. I thought of His regular practice of slipping away from the masses and even His disciples in order to pray to His Father, and I thought of the specific time of prayer on the night He was arrested. On that night He had finished supper with His disciples, after Judas left to betray Him. He and His disciples walked to Gethsemane. Upon arriving He told most of His disciples to remain there while He went to pray, and He took Peter, James, and John with Him. After moving a little further He told them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38, ESV) Verse 39 then continues, “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”” (Matthew 26:39, ESV) Scripture continues to record that Jesus went in to pray three times, coming back periodically to find His disciples asleep. He confronted them with His request that they keep watch each time and returned for prayer.

The account recorded by Matthew continues, “And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”” (Matthew 26:40–46, ESV; See also Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46)

Luke records for us the intensity of Jesus’ prayer with these words, “saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:42–44, ESV) Jesus, being fully God, knew from the beginning why He had come. Jesus being fully man prayed to His Father, totally submitted to His will, that there might be another way. Luke records that the agony of His prayer was so intense that His sweat became like big drops of blood. He also records that the Father sent an angel to strengthen Jesus during this very difficult time.

In the case of Daniel we saw that it was God’s will to deliver Him from the lions and to promote Him to a position of honor and power. In the case of Jesus, God’s deliverance also was soon to come. Daniel had to endure the accusations of his enemies and be sentenced to death, enduring the night of the lions and by God’s hand, coming out in the morning without a scratch. Jesus was going to have to endure the accusations of His enemies and also be sentenced to death. But in Jesus’ case He was not to be delivered without a scratch. He was despised, beaten, and crucified with His hands, feet, and side pierced for us. Daniel was delivered alive the next morning. Jesus would be placed in a grave.  But then, on the third day Jesus rose from the dead and proved the power of God over more than just lions. He conquered death itself. And after some time appearing to His disciples and many others, Jesus ascended to heaven where He regained His seat at the right hand of the Father as our Lord of lords and King of kings forever.

Daniel and Jesus knew without a doubt that prayer was not merely a public show of religiosity, but it was communion with their Father who is in heaven. They knew that God was going to listen to their prayers and that He was going to answer them. And they both trusted Him to answer them in the best way possible—according to His good and perfect will.

Jesus said, “and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” He knew what He was talking about, and Scripture tells us that He even sits at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:34) and that the Father has sent to each believer His Holy Spirit to indwell us where among the many things the Spirit accomplishes we read, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26–27, ESV)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Serving for Eternity (Matthew 6:1-4)

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1–4, ESV)

As we move into chapter 6 we move into a series of statements from Jesus about sincerity of heart and purpose where He speaks in numerous ways of not doing things for the rewards and recognition here but for those that come in eternity. In verses 1-4 Jesus speaks a warning to those who purposely “practice” their righteous acts in such a way that they will be seen and applauded by others. He gives the example of those who make a public display of their giving with trumpet flair or an admiring entourage who praises them for their goodness to others. He calls them hypocrites because they do it for the show and for their own glory and not necessarily for the benefit of others.

Today’s leading news story shines as an example of the emptiness of this kind of living. A prominent and wealthy public individual had his private thoughts and words exposed to the world this week. This individual is one who had acted friendly and given considerable funds over a long period to the very group he privately spoke against. But his private words did not remain that way, and the public response to this private revelation was quick, loud, and firm. Yet even this response was not universal, for I even heard a willingness to forgive him by others should he be willing to make a significant financial contribution. I do not know him, and I do not know those who said they would back off if he continued to make financial contributions, and I must be careful in making any firm determination. I cannot imagine this individual making these comments in a public forum, but he made them and they became public exposing him for the actor he appears to be.

But this individual is not alone, though maybe more extreme or more exposed, I know there have been times in my life when I have acted one way and thought another hoping my thoughts would not be exposed. I know that my motives have not always been pure, and I think it is pretty safe to say that this is true for all of us.

Jesus said to beware of doing things for the public applause, knowing that what really matters is what will last for eternity. This does not mean that we disconnect from this world, but it means when we connect we do so in such a way that people might see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16). It is Him who knows fully the motives of our hearts, and it is Him who will judge those who are His for their works. This judgment is separate from the judgment that those who have not trusted Christ for their salvation will be subject. In this later judgment their guilt has already been determined, and the only answer to avoid eternal guilt is belief in His Son in this life and calling upon Him for salvation.

The Bible does speak of a judgment for believers in which their works are considered by God. Paul wrote, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5:9–10, ESV) Here he is speaking only to believers for it is believers whose objective is to please God and who recognize that their real home is eternity in His presence. It is we who trust Christ who are told that we will stand before our Lord at the “judgment seat of Christ” to receive what is due for what we have done in His body—the church including good and evil.

Later in chapter 6 of Matthew Jesus tells us, “but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:20–21, ESV) Notice the link He makes between our treasure and our hearts. Those who do things for the recognition they receive in this world will receive all of the reward they will ever get here and now. But in God’s Word we learn that there is so much more—a more that has its blessings here and now but which has its greatest blessing handed to us by our Lord Himself when we appear before Him.

As I said, I do not know this particular individual in the news today. At this time there is likely a lot of turmoil in his life, and I don’t know what the outcome of that turmoil might be. My prayer is that he will hear his own words, repent of them, and look to our God who can turn the darkest of dark into the brightest of bright. Our God can take that which was repugnant and change its fragrance. It is my prayer that the odor of his life might change and that people might give praise to God as a result. Similarly, as I examine my own heart and my own motives at times I realize there are things which I did for what I would get here. But at the same time, I also know that because of what God has done in my heart there are things that will last and bring eternal reward. I know this because of His Word for myself just as I have that same confidence for all who call on His name and submit themselves to His incredible work in their lives.

“For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:11–15, ESV)

A hypocrite is an actor. Jesus says don’t be like the actors who get their applause while they are standing on the stage. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Jesus the Perfect One (Matthew 5:43-48)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48, ESV)

Here we have the last of the “heard it said” items which Jesus dealt with in His Sermon on the Mount, and in presenting this last one He concluded it by setting a bar that no one but God could meet—perfection. This might seem like an unreasonable thing for Him to say, but He was talking to a people of whom many based their lives upon their good works. In focusing on their good works, Jesus systematically demonstrated to them with one issue after the other how short they had come.

In Leviticus 19 we read, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:18, ESV) Notice that only the first half of the comment Jesus referred to is quoted in this verse. The part about hating enemies is not there, but rather it appears to be a construct of the Jewish leaders who had subsequently added to the law or the sayings concerning the law. Jesus reinforced the part that is quoted and He took apart and contradicted that which was not. In fact, He made a very strong statement that this love was even to be extended to their enemies which even included those who were their persecutors. Beyond that they were even to pray for them. It was this love which was to mark them as sons of God who is their Father in heaven.

Jesus went on to say that it is an easy thing to love those who are lovable, but loving those who are not demonstrates a power far beyond that which is common to man.

Most who were listening to Him at this point knew Him as a teacher who had done miracles. They were attracted to Him and His power and they wanted to hear waht He had to say, but they had no idea that He was God become man to save them from their sins. They had no idea that they would turn against Him and insist that He be beaten and crucified. They had no idea that He would submit Himself to their harsh treatment without reviling or verbally tearing them to shreds. They had no idea that His statement that they were to be perfect just as their heavenly Father is perfect was exactly what He was. They had no idea that the man who had no sin was going to bear their sins in order to deliver them from judgment and deliver them to new life.

Jesus knew that there was not one in His audience, just as it is true today, who met God’s standard of perfection, and those who intently listened with softened hearts to His words, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” likely felt themselves lacking. In this we can be thankful that these were not His last words, nor were they the permanent condition in which God left us. This is quickly demonstrated as Jesus continued to speak words which we will look at in the days to come.

But for today, let’s continue to focus on our response in the face of our enemies. Peter, speaking of the example of Jesus who spoke the words above, wrote, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:22–24, ESV) Clearly Jesus had enemies, and rather those enemies He submitted Himself fully to the hands of His Father to accomplish His perfect result. Verse 21, which precedes these words of Peter reads, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21, ESV)

Paul wrote, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:8–10, ESV)

We are saved because the perfect One did not respond to us as enemies, but loved us with the perfect love of God. And in response to that love we are called to do the same even to those who treat us similar to how they treated God Himself. In this we have no room for arrogance because it is not us who have room to boast, but it is because of Christ in us that we have been saved and are made able to love with the love we have from Him.

Paul, speaking of instruction he received from Jesus wrote, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9–10, ESV)

The challenge for each of us in the face of those who present themselves as our enemies is to remember the example of our Lord, to rest in His strength, and even to find joy in His ability to hold us up and strengthen us in times of hardship.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Mercy and Grace (Matthew 5:38-42)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38–42, ESV)

In verse 17 Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17, ESV) And following that He proceeded to speak to six specific issues that His Jewish audience had heard said in relation to God’s ordinances for them. In each instance Jesus added a provocative statement intended to internalize their outward actions. Lines had been drawn, and the people knew where they were and what they needed to do in order to stay on the right side of them in their actions. Jesus told them that their line in the dirt needed to be countered by a line in the heart.

Today’s passage looks to the issue of vengeance or retaliation, and Jesus cites an Old Testament civil law which was reaffirmed several times. The people of Israel were a religious people as well as a governed people. These laws dealt with the authority of the people and the nation to govern infractions with appropriate consequences. Each of these laws had a standard behind it which pointed back to the perfect character of God and gave guidance to His people.

In Exodus 21:22-27 we read of laws concerning injury, even incidental injury as a result of some other action, and the obligation of the one causing injury to make things right. In this the punishment was to match and not exceed the crime. In Leviticus 24:17-22 this directive principle of justice is stated again, adding that it is to be administered impartially. And in Deuteronomy 19:15-21, which is the passage we generally look back to for the church restoration/discipline process in Matthew 18:15-17, we find that these allegations leading to judgment require a witness, and should the allegations prove false and malicious the accuser is then subject to the penalty commensurate with his accusation.

It is easy to see in light of this that a people given to drawing lines and then walking as close to those lines as they could without regard to their hearts could become quite rigid even in the execution of judgment. Jesus throughout all of these “you’ve heard it said” issues consistently pointed not only to the issue but also the condition of the individual’s heart. And here He said that we should be willing to go above and beyond in being merciful toward others.

I read the other day the story of an individual who had her wallet stolen in a store. When she discovered that it had been stolen she also knew who had done it based upon her recollection of those around her in the store. She tracked the individual down and gave him the option of returning the wallet and then she would pay for his groceries, or him not returning the wallet and her turning him in to the authorities. The man, according to the story, was quite remorseful and told her the plight of his life that led him to this action. As they moved toward the register he apologized to her over and over again, and as the story goes both lives were impacted by the outcome. I don’t know whether this incident really happened, but the actions and compassion of this woman would definitely be a vivid example of the words of Jesus where she not only forgave him but she paid for his food; she not only forgave him but she had compassion on him and impacted his life for good.

Sure, the law provides for consequences. But Jesus demonstrated that those consequences don’t always have to be borne by the one who is guilty. In His speaking to the people He told His hearers to bear these burdens for others. It wasn’t that much into the future that He Himself did that for us in the most extreme way by going to the cross to pay the penalty for our sins and granting us full forgiveness along with a new life in Him.

When we speak of mercy we speak of not enacting a just consequence or judgment. We speak of holding back something which is due. When we speak of grace we speak of actually giving something which is not deserved or due. In giving the cloak or walking the extra mile, His hearers were instructed to go above and beyond, not only giving what is due but also giving much more and in this, showing the great love of God which has so abundantly been shown to us.

“Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him. As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross.” (Matthew 27:27–32, ESV)

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24–25, ESV)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Good News (John 3:16)

I like doing various wood crafts, and in particular taking my love for birds and turning them into whirligigs. Among the things I had made with scrap and which were sitting in the garage were some birdhouses. This year my wife asked if I could make some more birdhouse as centerpieces for an upcoming Child Evangelism Fellowship luncheon. So I took those I had, added a few more (again with scrap), dug out my paints and went to work. Doing this for her and them was a great reminder to me of the simplicity of the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ as I contemplated how to embody the colors of the Wordless Book in the birdhouses.

Yellow (Gold) - Man was created without any fault or defect to have a relationship with God, to worship Him and enjoy His blessings forever.

Black (Dark) - But man chose to do things his own way and disobeyed God resulting in sin entering his life and him becoming separated from God to live--his heart became spiritually darkened and his judgment death. Everything changed. What was declared very good by God, now was marred by death, disease, and destruction.

Red - Man could not fix the problem he created. God knew this long before the problem happened, and He had an answer. His answer was to send His Son to be born as a man to go to a cross as a sinless, complete, and perfect sacrifice for man's sins. What man could not do, God did by shedding the blood of His Son which covered all of our sins. Not only that, but God's Son (Jesus) did not remain in the grave, but rose on the third day declaring not only His power over sin and death, but also His power to forgive sin and give life to man.

White - God then said that the way to receive this forgiveness and new life was to simply believe that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again, and then ask in faith for that salvation for ourselves. God

promised that we would be saved and that as a result of that salvation all of our sins would be washed away--forgiven--and that the righteousness of Christ would be put upon us, us who on our own there was no righteousness to be found.

Green - Having received God's gift of salvation we are to then grow in Christ, trusting God to complete the work in us that He began with our salvation. This work continues until we step out of these bodies by death or His coming to take His church and we then fully inherit the perfect for which He created us.

This cycle of life for the believer again points to the purity of relationship (symbolized here gold) which man was created for in the first place.

Apart from Christ man is left in darkness and his sentence is separation from God and eternal judgment.

There are so many Bible verses that come to mind in order to share these truths, but there is one that I really want to leave with, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16, NKJV)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Puffed Promises (Matthew 5:33-37)

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:33–37, ESV)

“I swear on my mother’s grave,” or “Honest to God, I swear it’s the truth,” or “pinky swear.” “Oh, by the way, I had my fingers crossed.” There are so many phrases that are thrown around today to signify the promises we make to one another whether we intend to meet them or not, or whether it is to convince of the unconvincing or to attest to the simple. And on the opposite side of this spectrum, there are even those things we say when we don’t want to make a commitment or because we don’t want to say ‘no’—things like “maybe” or “I’ll let you know.” This, of course, does not mean that all uses ‘maybe’ are avoidances, but this can surely be said of some.

Jesus said that basing our assurances on anything outside of our control is wrong. He even said that this comes from evil—it is sin. We are not God nor are we gods who control these things. God and God alone sits on His throne. The earth is His creation and it is under His sovereign hand. As he made clear to Job, none of us were there when He created it, nor do any of us have any sway over its eventual destruction. Heaven and earth belong to God to do with as He pleases when He pleases. He is the Sovereign One, and there is none else. These are the firm and repeated truths of Scripture.

Beyond that and more personal, while we may be able to trim our hair or color it, while we may be able to gain or lose weight, while we may be able to do a number of things to our bodies, not one of us built our bodies and not one of us determined the real color of our own hair. As someone whose hair started turning white way too early from my estimation, I know how little control I have over its color. Even these belong to God.

And as for our days, we don’t even control them. While we may study for careers and pursue life paths, and even engage in productive or destructive activities, we really don’t have the control over our lives that we might like to think we have. As someone who stepped out a while ago trusting God for our next place of ministry and who stands today with that same trust waiting, I know how little control I have over my days. Yet, I have a God who has not only numbered my days, but who has ordained them and has every aspect of them under His control from my hair color to my intended area and place of service.

As such, I am to live simply in regard to my promises. If I am asked to do something, and I believe it is right and within my ability and reasonable control of time, then I am free to say ‘Yes.’ And if I don’t, then I also am free to say, ‘No.’ I am even free to dream, but in my dreaming as even with my days, I am to live with the constant awareness that all of these plans are subject to God’s changes.

His Word is a constant reminder of His faithfulness, and for me there are certain passages to which I run, and in which I find great comfort in times of questioning or uncertainty. Leading the list among these verses are Proverbs 3:5-6 and Psalm 139. These passages remind me that it is in God who I am to trust. It is God who I am to acknowledge or look to in all things, and it is God who will order my life and direct my steps (see Proverbs 3:5-6).

In Psalm 139 I am reminded that it is God who is intimately acquainted with all of my ways, who knows every word on my tongue long before I form it or even form the thought behind it. It is God who is with me at the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and in the darkest of days and the brightest ones as well. There is nowhere that I can go to flee His presence. In fact, He encloses me before and behind and has His hand on my shoulder. As the psalmist said, this knowledge truly is too wonderful for me. My God, who wove me together in my mother’s womb, knew every day of my life and purposed them before there was ever one of them.

I really have been granted limited control and with that control I am to make my promises very simple, doing or not doing with the full understanding that it is God who ultimately permits. The amazing thing is that He calls me to worship Him and serve Him with my whole heart which is His pleasure, but He also permits me to sin and even suffer the consequences of that sin. He does give a lot of latitude to us in our actions, but His command for us is not to take advantage of that latitude and instead seek after and trust Him in all things. Ultimately I know that God has everything firmly in His hands including me and my plans.

Monday I received a phone call about a Tuesday appointment. The person I had the appointment with got sick and needed to reschedule. Was this person irresponsible? No. Did this person have control over her body such that she would not get sick? No. Did she do the right thing by calling and making arrangements to adjust the meeting to a more agreeable and hopefully healthier time? Absolutely, yes.

So, when I set up a conference call today and I said that I will be available, or when I said that I was not able to attend an event because of a schedule conflict later, even these I did knowing that God is free to change that plan. This does not mean that I am to be lax in my answers, but that in giving them I am to do so with the integrity to follow through having trusted God to make His path mine. In this I am not to swear and give grandiose promises for which I have no ability to control all of the details, but rather I am to let my ‘Yes’ be yes, and my ‘No’ be no.

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:13–17, ESV) 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Vow (Matthew 5:31-32)

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31–32, ESV)

We live in a culture where the marriage vow is like many of our other vows in that it is frequently broken. The Jews, even at the time of Jesus, had taken the Word of God and modified it to suit their own desires. Here Jesus speaks to this issue as He also does later in Matthew chapter 19 (see also Mark 10:2-12, Luke 16:18), where he said,

“And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”” (Matthew 19:3–9, ESV)

What the Jews had done was to twist a legal protection for turned out wives established by Moses, and turn it into a directive approved by God. What Moses said was, “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house….” (Deuteronomy 24:1ff, ESV) Jesus, in Matthew 19, points to the reason behind this instruction of Moses—the hardness of man’s heart in response to his displeasure over some shameful act on the part of his wife. But even in this Moses did not command, endorse, or even suggest divorce. He said if you are going to turn her out give her a certificate of divorce in order that she might be free to continue with her life. And Jesus in pointing to Moses’ instruction brought it current to the Pharisees who had raised the question. He said that it was because of “your” hardness and not “their” hardness of heart that Moses said what he said.

God never intended divorce nor does He encourage divorce. God’s plan remains that one man and one woman come together in marriage and that they be one. Jesus went on to say that this oneness is not to be separated with very strong words—“What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Sure death happens, and according to Scripture the remaining spouse is then free to remarry. Abandonment by non-believers happens and even in this Scripture seems to say that the believing spouse is then free (1 Corinthians 7). For the believer, however, God’s instruction is that they are not to separate. There does appear to be one exception, and that is in the case of “sexual immorality,” which if we were to go back to the Old Testament as cited in the previous blog it would mean having sexual intercourse with someone (man or animal) other than your spouse. But even in this God does not command divorce, but opens the door for it. And in this we must wonder if somehow this door relates back to the persistent hardness of the other spouse’ heart and a refusal to turn and be restored?

Our God is an incredible God and He can bring healing to the most hurt heart and life to the most struggling of relationships. What He expects of us is to have soft hearts and to trust Him to sustain us and direct us as we walk before Him in the extreme messiness of life.

Our God, who created us to live in a relationship with Himself, also created us to have relationships with others. The most intimate and most enduring of those relationships that we as humans can have with one another is the marriage relationship, and God’s intent is that we would be fully committed to the other person in that relationship just as we are to Him. While God will never sin or violate His promises, He knows that we do and in that He has given us the example of His Son who endured great suffering and even death so that we might have life and a restored relationship with God. The question for us in our relationships, and especially for those of us who are married is, are we going to love others just as God in Christ has loved us?

And if you are one who has suffered already a divorce for any reason, God knows every detail of your life and He loves you. He forgives your sins and He can heal your broken heart. He will never break His vow.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Purity of Eye and Hand (Matthew 5:27-30)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27–30, NASB95)

In these passages of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount we find Him quoting an Old Testament commandment which had been handed down (and even added upon and twisted with new lines drawn by the scribes and Pharisees and others who Jesus referenced earlier in this message). In verses 27-30 Jesus referred back to one of the Ten Commandments where adultery was specifically prohibited (see Exodus 20:14 and Deuteronomy 5:18) and reinforced in other passages. This act is further defined in Leviticus 18:20 and an accompanying penalty for it and other sexual transgressions are specified later in 20:16. All of these violations of God’s law carried a civil penalty of death, which over time was removed by governments and by a lessening by man of God’s standard for sexual purity. But God has never backed off His standard for sexual purity, and specifically in regard to the people of Israel He said, “You are therefore to keep all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them, so that the land to which I am bringing you to live will not spew you out.”

Jesus moved here from the problem of the actual act of adultery to the process of seeing it through in our minds. He uses the word “lust” to describe this strong desire. It is such that the desire to have sexual relations is so strong in the mind that the individual most certainly has mentally worked through actually committing the act and fantasizing about it coming true. This lust is what the Bible describes as “coveting” in the last of the Ten Commandments—“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17, NASB95)

It is this last commandment which deals with the sin of the heart where we strongly desire and chase after in our minds those things which God has not given to us, but has in fact given to someone else. Jesus’ answer to this is to not allow our bodies to be used to harbor such sin, to not give opportunity for it to grow in our hearts and minds. He gives the extreme example of plucking out the eye which is used to look on another in such a way or cutting off the hand which would actually be used to take action. While we don’t generally see a bunch of one-eyed and one-handed people walking around, according to the words of Jesus this would certainly be better than one who keeps both eyes and both hands and who blatantly rejects God’s standard for living. The ultimate of this is losing more than eye or hand but losing life itself for all of eternity.

God takes His rules for life and obedience very seriously. He takes them so seriously that violating the least of them results in judgment and death. It is because of this that all men have been declared dead in their trespasses and sins and are totally incapable of doing anything to rectify the problem. Just as the act of adultery cannot be undone, neither can any sin which man commits. It is also for this reason that God sent His Son to pay the penalty for our sins, to suffer death on a cross, to be buried in a borrowed tomb, and then to victoriously rise from the dead on the third day. It is this process of saving us that we remember during this Easter week and which we particularly celebrate on Easter Sunday. It is this Sunday when we specially commemorate that our Savior did indeed rise from the dead and bring to us newness of life. But it is in the power of this truth that we can daily walk victoriously over sin. And it is because of His righteousness credited to us, that when we do sin that we also know we have an intercessor on our behalf Who has forgiven us and declared us righteous with His own righteousness. In this we confess our sin, turn from it, and commit to seek and follow after Him with whole hearts knowing that His Word was given for our instruction and His Spirit for our enabling.

Job said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes, why then should I look…?” (Job 31:1, NASB95)

“Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.” … “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 119:5-6, 15–16, ESV) 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dealing with Anger (Matthew 5:21-26)

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:21–26, ESV) 

Anger is a powerful and destructive emotion when it works its way from our hearts into harsh or critical action. In the majority of circumstances most would argue that getting so angry that you lash out and murder someone is worthy of judgment. Sure, there may be times when it is argued that this angry response was justifiable in some legal way due to extenuating circumstances, but when anger moves someone to take someone else’s life it is at the least worthy of being taken before the courts for some form of judgment to be weighed.

Jesus takes the action of murder and ties it to the motives of our hearts. He said that even this anger is liable or answerable for judgment. And whether this anger works its way out in physical action or verbal attacks it is putting ourselves in the position of judge and jury and making ourselves out as the one who determines the worthiness and the fate of others. But this is not our role. In Romans 14 Paul walks us through an extended discussion of where judgment really belongs, and that is with God alone. In verse 10 Paul poses the question, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother?” To this he adds, “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;” (Romans 14:10, ESV) 

Jesus takes our angry responses to the level that we are worthy of the judgment which we pass on others. And this is absolutely true, for there are none of us who are worthy of God’s love and forgiveness of any of our debts. The Bible tells us that “...God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:8–10, ESV)

Recognizing that we have been forgiven much, we are instructed here by Jesus that if we go before our God who has forgiven us and we realize (likely even due to conviction by God’s Holy Spirit) that we have acted against another that we are then to get up and deal with it with our brother. We are not to procrastinate or ignore the prompting of God’s Spirit, but to deal rightly and right away with others as God has dealt with us. And if we owe this person something because of what we have done then we are to make every effort to settle that account before it is handed over for others to judge. 

Jesus was speaking to a culture which had not only religious laws, but also Roman civil laws, and the people were expected to deal with things in house before taking them to the out of house. While we may not have debtor prisons in our country today, we do have a system of courts that decide liability and pronounce judgment. This is clearly not where we are to deal with each other. In verses 6-8 of 1 Corinthians chapter 6 the apostle Paul said of these believers and their immaturity at that time: “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!” (1 Corinthians 6:7–8, ESV)

Clearly anger can be seen as a downward spiral if nursed. James tells us, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:13–15, ESV)

We all have angry thoughts, but the question is, “What are we going to do with those thoughts?” James says that when we play with these thoughts as we nurse our hurts we then move from having that thought to judging the offender and then even taking action. Jesus deals with this progression which starts with our thoughts that are worthy of being weighed and then leading to our actions which progressively increase and even leads to the very verdict from which the blood of Christ has saved us.

But notice in this downward spiral that there is a place where things change, and that is when anger serves as a lure to consider further action. So far we have only dealt with anger as sin and looked at negative actions which result. But we do have passages in the Bible which seem to acknowledge a difference between anger and sin. In Psalm 4:4 we read, “Be angry, and do not sin….” This is also quoted in Ephesians 4:26, but before going there, let’s look at the rest of Psalm 4:4 and 5 which reads, “ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.” (Psalm 4:4–5, ESV) Notice what is done here with one's anger. It is kept under control and taken before God, even offering to Him right-hearted sacrifices as we place our trust in Him. Remember, He is the righteous judge and He will give us strength and wisdom to deal with whatever situation brought about the anger.

In Ephesians 4:26-27 we read, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26–27, ESV) In Psalm 4 we are told to take this anger to our bed and lay it before God who is the righteous Judge who will quiet our hearts. In doing this we are refusing to allow the anger to fester and refusing to allow it to work its way out in a destructive manner before others. In doing this we are closing the door for the devil to have a hay day with our relationships through which we are driven apart from one another.

“for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20, ESV) 

God knows our every thought. He knows the motives of our hearts. He tells us that our first priority is to love Him, but that we also have a similar second priority (commandment) and that is to love one another. Anger puts up walls, and for that reason we need to be committed to bringing down those walls as we walk right before God and with each other. Just as when we sin before God we confess it to Him and turn from that sin, thanking Him for His forgiveness so that we might continue to walk in intimate fellowship with Him, we are also to treat others the same. If we lash out and hurt them, go to them and admit our transgression, commit to walking with them differently, offer to restore what might be necessary (if possible), and ask their forgiveness. In this there might be some with whom restoration might not happen and forgiveness might not be granted. But even in this we can return to God whose forgiveness is unconditionally settled in the blood of Jesus and pray to our God that their hearts might be softened as we commit to walk rightly before them.

There is so much more that can be said on this topic. It is a huge one in Scripture. Jesus tells us that the anger of our hearts is a big deal and we need to be serious about how we handle it. 

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31–32, ESV)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Perfect Fulfillment (Matthew 5:17-20)

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17–20, NASB95)

There are some that claim that when Jesus came to fulfill the Law, removing them from the power of the Law, they were then free to practice behaviors that were clearly condemned in the Old Testament. They look at things such as the dietary laws no longer applying to all as equivalent to God’s standard for sexual morality not applying as well. Jesus made it clear here that His coming was not for the purpose of getting rid of the Law and that which the Prophets spoke about, but He came as their perfect fulfillment. As God Himself He reinforced God’s Word as given, and He also pointed to the inability of any man to fulfill all that was written perfectly. He said that the person who did this would have to far surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees who saw themselves as the human standards for righteousness—but whom also Jesus called hypocrites as they themselves did not live to the standard they demanded.

Jesus came to fulfill the Law and He alone was able. This did not include the various rules that the religious leaders had added over the years which were above and beyond God’s Word, but it did include all that God had given through His prophets who were moved by His Spirit to record His perfect and inerrant Word. “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:20–21, NASB95)

Jesus fulfilled the moral law by keeping it perfectly. All that was written about how man was to walk before God in both His behavior and His thought were obeyed perfectly by Jesus. We will read more on this as we move through the next portion of His Sermon on the Mount. He fulfilled the ceremonial law by being the final and complete embodiment of all that the sacrifices and temple worship pointed forward to. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice for sin. He was a fragrant aroma to the Father who was well pleased with His offering. And He fulfilled the judicial law by satisfying once for all God’s perfect justice. The price He paid for the transgressions of man were complete and sufficient to satisfy God the Father for all who believe.

We are no longer to office the sacrifices which the Jews were commanded to offer on a regular basis to God, because Jesus fulfilled this need perfectly. We no longer have to satisfy the justice of God, because Jesus met it perfectly. We are called to live in obedience to His moral laws and to continually give ourselves back to Him as living sacrifices pleasing to Him. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1–2, NASB95)

God’s grace is truly amazing. If we believed in His Son for our salvation and have placed our trust in Him then we are promised that all of our sins are at that moment forgiven for all time, even the ones not yet committed. But knowing this does not give us an excuse to continue in sin. Paul dealt with this in Romans chapter 6.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:1–14, NASB95)

Jesus said, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” On our own this is impossible. There is no way we can meet that standard, nor would most of us even try. But Jesus did meet that perfect standard, and He did give Himself for us to satisfy God’s perfect wrath. He credited to us His righteousness so that we are now declared perfectly righteous before God. Now our calling is not to live under the burden of perfect observance which we cannot meet, but to live according to the grace and power which He supplies, knowing that when we fail we are forgiven and our Advocate is Christ.

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” (Galatians 5:16–18, NASB95)

“Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and my advocate is on high. My friends are my scoffers; my eye weeps to God. O that a man might plead with God As a man with his neighbor!” (Job 16:19–21, NASB95)

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:” (1 John 2:1–5, NASB95)

Praise God for His perfect answer in Jesus Christ and for the price He paid for our salvation that we might then live according to His Word by the power of His Spirit.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Let It Shine (Matthew 5:14-16)

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14–16, NASB95)

Driving the mountain passes at night I continue to be amazed how dark it can actually be when I get away from the city lights. And when I am heading home I find it quite affirming to see the glow of those lights rising above the mountains to let me know that my destination is near. After speaking about the purity of our lives and the preserving impact that we have on society when we live unpolluted lives according to God’s ordinances, Jesus gives us another illustration of how our lives are to impact those around us.  

Jesus calls His followers the light of the world, and He speaks about us as light in several ways in order to drive a fuller meaning of what He intended. In our world, where man has suppressed the truth concerning God, we are all of God that many may see because of the darkness in their hearts and minds. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, “in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:4–6, NASB95)

Jesus pointed to the greatness of this light when it sits high upon a hill as a light which cannot be hidden. As I have pondered the various aspects of light, I thought first of the light that shines when the church comes together to shine light on its surroundings. And with this I thought of Jesus’ commands for us as believers and the impact that following those commands will have on those who need light in their lives. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35, NASB95)

And not only does it shine when the world sees how we treat one another, it also shines when we engage with our communities and our love is shown in very practical ways whether that be through rescue missions, food pantries, drop in meal centers, or outreaches to our parks and other places where the needy gather. It is shown when churches unite to provide a tangible benefit to their communities and their organizations. It is shown when we care for teens on the streets or help those with addictions. And it is shown when we go beyond our local borders to help those in other areas. Historically it was the church who founded many of our colleges, provided education to the children, opened and maintained hospitals, and provided countless forms of social welfare and aid. The list of ways of shining light into communities and the world are without limit and as broad as our imagination. In all of these we have the opportunity to reach out and say, “God loves you and so do we. Won’t you please consider what He has for you?”

Jesus also pointed to the futility of lighting a light and then hiding it. What a waste of energy this is, and why would any of us do that? If we are going to make the effort to light a light then it is reasonable to assume we want that light to shine. Sure, as kids it was fun to make blanket forts and have our flashlights inside them, but the only benefit of the light in those times was to those inside the fort. But when we light a light for purposes of seeing we want that light in a prominent place so that it provides the most light to everyone around. The place for this light, before turning a bulb into our electric sockets and flipping a switch, was to put our candles in a lampstand. And as the lampstand stood tall it illuminated the room. As people saved by grace we have the light of God in us, and it is incumbent upon us to live in such a way in all areas of our lives that this light is continually on display. The ways we display this light really have to do with the way we walk right before God and others and evidence the love of God to them in regular and practical ways.

Jesus summarizes our responsibility as light by reminding us of the ultimate purpose of us remaining here as light, and that is that as people look at us and our good works they might see through us our great and awesome God and come to glorify Him themselves.

“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5, NASB95)

“Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”” (Ephesians 5:7–14, NASB95)

And through you!

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel - NO! I'm gonna let it shine.
Don't let Satan blow it out. I'm gonna let it shine.
Let it shine til Jesus comes. I'm gonna let it shine.
let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Savor Purity (Matthew 5:13)

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.” (Matthew 5:13, NASB95)

The last beatitude in Matthew 5 that Jesus spoke of was concerning living righteous lives which reflect the righteousness of Christ which has been credited to us. This word “righteous” to some might come with a sense of aloofness or a better than you attitude. But this form of righteousness is one that is based in the works which the individual has done and as such it is more appropriately seen as self-righteousness. It is this self-righteous attitude which was common to the Pharisees and which Jesus strongly confronted. But the Bible speaks of another form of righteousness which we are to seek after, and it is one that is marked by personal integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking feeling, and acting. This righteousness comes from a heart and mind that knows that all of these are a grateful response to what God has done in us through salvation and as a result of His Spirit working in us to grow us in conformity to the image of His Son.

In the list of the synonyms used to describe righteousness is “purity.” It is this purity that Jesus speaks of in this next statement in Matthew 5, where He speaks of us as being the salt of the earth that does not lose its saltiness. According to all that I have read pure salt cannot lose its saltiness. It is only when salt becomes diluted that it seems less salty. And when it is diluted enough it loses all of its benefit both as a flavoring and as a preservative. It is at this point that salt for all intent and purpose is ready to be tossed aside and even trampled underfoot.

We live in a world that has suppressed the truth of God written on their hearts as we read in Romans chapter 1, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Romans 1:18–21, NASB95)

In the verses which follow in Romans 1 the apostle Paul continues by illustrating this downward spiral of denying God and turning to “ungodliness and unrighteousness.” The list is by no means inclusive, but it is definitely descriptive to what happens when truth does not direct one’s life nor is purity the objective. Even those who profess Christ as their Savior can be subject to this desalinating process when they let the things of the world creep in and grab hold of various aspects of their lives. This can even affect churches when they are not careful in those they allow to teach God’s Word. In Acts chapter 20 we have a record of Paul’s instructions to the elders of the Ephesian churches in this regard.

“For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:27–32, NASB95)

The apostle Peter wrote in response to the salvation we have been freely given, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” … “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart,” (1 Peter 1:13-16, 22, NASB95)

Sure there are a lot of ways we can look at salt as a vital part of our lives. There are numerous illustrations of how salt can be used, and there are large numbers of phrases concerning it that are even used in our common speech such as “not rubbing salt into someone’s wound” as if to make it even more painful.

Jesus calls us “the salt of the earth.” We are His sanctifying preservative in a world lost in sin, and we are the only ones that the world can look to who embody the work of God to save and change lives. As His ambassadors to this world we are called to live in such a way that others see our good works and glorify God. As we continue to live righteous lives there will be those who are greatly offended, but there WILL be others who truly do taste and see that God is good.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8, NASB95) As Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NASB95) 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Blessed Hope (Matthew 5:10-12)

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12, NASB95)

These beatitudes began with those who are poor in spirit and progressed through mourning, gentleness, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, being merciful and doing so with a pure heart seeking to be peacemakers in a world where real peace is only found in God. The last beatitude deals with persecution and it is a repeated and re-framed one which seems to be a culmination of a progression of all of the earlier beatitudes.

In previous readings of the Matthew 5 I did not necessarily make such a progressive link, but this time I did. I think it has in part to due with what has been a dominant thread in some portions of our news media. Over the past many months (even years) we have seen people who stand for righteousness attacked for their faith positions.

Even today I read of a couple who were denied a hearing by their State’s Supreme Court for their refusal to participate as videographers in a same sex wedding, citing their participation as a violation of their religious conscience. This couple was told by the court that they had to set aside their faith when they entered the public market as a business. I do not know this couple and I do not have access to them to speak with them, but I’m sure their faith means more to them that a court ruling and that this is not the end of their fight nor is it likely to be the end of their persecution for their faith.

I also read today of an update concerning a sports broadcaster who was terminated from his position within 24 hours of beginning his employment with a major sports network because of his biblical position on marriage. He did not get his job back, but had to move on. Today he joined the staff of a major faith based organization given to the cause of defending faith and faith positions in the public arena whether it is in sport, business, politics and legislation, or education including teachers, students, and their subject matter. This individual is now using his talents to help others with the same or similar struggles.

We are clearly in a time when holding sound biblical positions in the public arena is no longer popular among some verbally vehement and powerful groups. These individuals go way beyond normal discourse, using intensely derogatory speech and demanding harsh responses of those who have power over their targets (e.g., employers, courts).

We live in a time in this country where living openly righteous lives is turning from being admired and encouraged to being detested. Jesus saw this in His life and He pointed back to it happening to the prophets who spoke out against the rebellion and sins of the people. In these verses Jesus acknowledges that this persecution will continue. He even spoke of what we are seeing today when people of faith are being accosted with insults and malicious lies. But God has given His Word as truth, and His truth is not subject to public whim or the desires of man and his systems.

Last night I was in a class where I heard the following statement, “Truth is by definition intolerant.” The reason for this is that with truth there can only be one right answer. The world cannot tolerate this position because if we are right, then they by definition have to be wrong. It is for this reason that those who place their trust in God will continue to be a source of consternation for the world and those who insist on living apart from its precepts. It doesn’t even matter to some how we phrase our disagreement or how much kindness or mercy we might show. To a very real degree it is not the method of the message but the message itself and its source, Jesus Christ, to which the world objects.

The cases cited above are not about people standing on a street corner pointing to the sins of those walking the streets, but they are people who live their convictions before Christ in all that they give themselves to. These people are not rigidly legalistic, unkind, or harsh in their speech. From what I have read they have even been very much the opposite. It comes down to them making known in some way that their faith directs their lives, and in that they have to remain true to their conscience before God. And for that, the sake of righteousness, they suffer persecution.

There are none of us who are perfect, nor are there any who follow God’s Word without infraction and even deception. It never has been about us getting our lives squared away before God would accept us. It has always been about trusting Him by faith. Through the sacrifice of Christ, salvation is given to all who believe. With salvation comes the gift of the Holy Spirit to grow us in Christ and lead us in His truth as we learn, rightly handle, and abide by His Word hidden in our hearts.

Every individual is accountable to God. He is the only righteous and true judge. Some will appear before God as His children, saved by faith, to have their works weighed for reward. Others will bow before Him judged for their sins with only their works which will not satisfy. Recognizing this, there will continue to be many who do not agree with or accept God or the precepts of His infallible Word. It is in response to His great love that we love others, even enduring hardship and ill treatment that we might show how real is His love for us and them. God will use our distress and persecution for His glory and our reward. This is a certain promise.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31–39, NASB95)

Beatitude facet number 8: “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”