Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Greater than the greatest

Matthew 11:7-19 / Luke 7:24-35…

John was no weak minded, immature believer. He was the most confident man ever. He was fearless against the religious establishment (Matthew 3:7). Jesus said he was not a reed shaken with the wind; that is, he was not tossed about by circumstance. He was a rock, he stood up to Herod and that is why he was imprisoned. He lived in the wilderness, not delicately, and had camel’s hair as clothing, not soft raiment (Matthew 3:4). John the Baptist was used to and prepared for hard living, even the dungeon. John wasn’t weak, and in fact, Jesus said he was the greatest man who had ever lived.

So why does Jesus say that the least in the kingdom is greater than the greatest? From a vocational standpoint, John the Baptist had the greatest calling, but from a spiritual standpoint, we are greater in the sense that salvation is greater than vocation. Now we have the greatest job, proclaiming that the king is coming again. Fellowship with God, with each other, and triumph over sin will all be complete in heaven. The one thing we do here that we cannot do in heaven is telling people about Jesus. How do you “tell” people? You live for Christ, win others to Christ, and edify your brothers and sisters in Christ. To reject this wisdom is to become as a Pharisee or a selfish child.

Still, when you get frustrated, and fail, and fall; when you have doubts, despair, and depression; Jesus doesn’t call you a failure, He doesn’t call you weak, He calls you great. Even when you feel like the least Jesus says you are greater than the greatest. We can fail but He hasn’t so we don’t ultimately. Instead of thinking “I have to do something great for God”, realize God has done something great for you. This is the gospel; this is our peace, our joy, our safety, our satisfaction, our rest. We don’t have to be the greatest for Jesus to give us the greatest love of all.

Monday, March 30, 2020

The crisis of circumstance

Matthew 11:1-6 / Luke 7:18-23…

John the Baptist saw more signs than anyone ever. He had been prophesied as being the herald to the Messiah (Isaiah 40:3 / Malachi 3:1, 4:5-6). He knew it (John 1:23), as did his parents (Luke 1:17, 76) and Jesus (Luke 7:27). He was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15), leaping in his mother’s womb at the presence of Jesus (Luke 1:41). John heard directly from the Almighty (Luke 1:80, 3:2 / John 1:6). He knew his role (John 3:26-30). He knew the role of the Messiah (Luke 3:16). He had humbled himself before Jesus (Matthew 3:14). God told John what the sign of the Messiah would be (John 1:33-34), and he heard God declare Jesus to be His Son (Mark 1:11). John proclaimed Jesus to the multitudes (John 1:29, 36).

All this, but by now he had been in prison for perhaps as much as two years, and had obviously become depressed. Even the greatest of the saints can experience doubt. John’s career had come to an end, and he was wondering if he had understood Jesus rightly. Jesus doesn’t speak to his emotions (and John was family), He sends John back to the Scriptures (Isaiah 35:5-6). Jesus provided reassurance, but notice that this would be faith in the report of others. Jesus was tender, but truthful: John, you’ve done your job, the king has come, and the kingdom has been inaugurated.

God sometimes doesn’t meet our expectations, but we are blessed when we seek Him further instead of draw away in offense. We often are tempted to stumble over God’s providence, but even when we can’t trace His hand we can trust His heart. Sometimes our faith fizzles out. Instead of looking inward (at our lack or our doubt), or outward (at our circumstances or at others), we look upward (at our God and Savior).

The guilt we feel about our doubt is not something that we have to sit under until we outrun it through our good works and obedience. Instead, guilt over sin, doubt and despair are vehicles that drive us to the cross where we see the culmination of Jesus’ obedience for us. Jesus puts the gospel of grace and His own person and work in focus. When we drop the football, remember, Jesus has already scored the winning touchdown.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

When crowds collide

Luke 7:11-17…

Think about this scene for a moment. Here we have two great crowds, going different places, for different reasons, but coming toward each other. One was a fervent crowd, the other a funeral crowd. The one crowd was following death, the other crowd was following Life. When they met in the middle, and Jesus proved to be the master of ceremonies, they all became one fearful crowd. The power of God starts the fearful parade. This fear is a sacred awe of God’s utter holiness. It involves respect and veneration in the presence of such absolute majesty.

When life and death collide…Jesus wins (Acts 2:22-24 / Revelation 1:18). We will all die (Hebrews 9:27), but the question is, do you feel free enough to truly live (John 11:21-26 / Hebrews 2:14-15)?

Don’t try and crowd Jesus out of your life, because Jesus is the ultimate in crowd control, and He will eventually separate everyone into the two groups of eternity (Matthew 25:31-46).

Who are you following? Which way is your crowd headed? Are you on a collision course with God, or with…?

My prayer for you is that if you are going the wrong way that Jesus will meet you in the middle, and take over your show.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The sign of faith

Matthew 8:5-13 / Luke 7:1-10…

Man’s nature is not submission but rebellion; however, Jesus calls submission to authority a sign of great faith. This man had understood that Jesus was in submission to His Father (John 5:17-19, 30). He knew that all he needed was a word from Jesus and his servant would be healed. Humility understands the authority of God and the misery of man without Him. It lifts up its estimation of Christ and lowers itself in submission.

Many problems in life can be traced back to a misunderstanding of submission to authority. We thought we could do it our way and it messed us up. We ruin our relationships and wreck our faith because of rebellious attitudes. We quibble with the clear teachings of the Bible regarding submission and obedience. Obedience is about our actions toward authority, while submission is about our attitude toward authority. God is the focus of submitting to governmental authority (1 Peter 2:13-17), to workplace authority (1 Peter 2:18-20), and even to those who cause us suffering (1 Peter 2:21-25, 4:19). Respect for and obedience to authorities is important because it is an expression of God’s authority over us.

Think about Jesus and His relationship with the Father, and you will realize that the essence of spirituality is submission. The Gospel started by the submission of Christ (Philippians 2:5-11). Therefore, because of Christ, as we learn submission we experience His power (Philippians 2:12-13). Submission is the sign of faith, not to always get what we want, but knowing that God will give us what we need, even when it hurts, especially for the sake of others.

Will you trust God to be the authority in your life? Show Him the sign.

Friday, March 27, 2020

More than confidence

Matthew 7:28-29…

Jesus had just finished His teaching with a warning about being self-assured, and the crowd was amazed. He spoke with authority, without wavering.

The Christian life and witness is to be lived out in a similar way. However, this is not simply about confidence, but about conviction, and these convictions must be the correct ones. We can have firmly held convictions that are formed around falsehood. Many a man sets sail in the soil of his own imagination. Pride blinds our perception, and Jesus told us in the strongest of terms that many will deceive themselves and others.

In teaching, preaching, and witnessing for Christ, our eternal effectiveness does not lie in simply being confident, or in resonating with an unregenerate crowd, but in grounding our proclamations and our practice in the revelation of God’s Word (Isaiah 55:11 / 2 Timothy 4:1-4).

Real authority comes from real authenticity, but this doesn’t mean “just be yourself”, it means you are to be who God wants you to be, the new you (Ephesians 4:22-24). Love and live the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6). If we want to be like Christ, we must remember that we can only exercise authority to the extent that we are under it.

What Jesus had backing Him was not opinion, backing Him was omnipotence.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Irresistible force or immovable object?

Matthew 7:21-27 / Luke 6:46-49…

Jesus closes the Sermon on the Mount by talking about the eventual, eternal implications of either doing or refusing His words. Many, having done a lot, will be quite assured of their standing before God, but are rejected. What does that say to those who are assured and have done nothing, or very little? Being right with God is more than doing things, but it isn’t less than that. Activity and success, as the world defines it, is not the measure Christ will use. Who we are truly trusting, in Christ or our own works, this is the deciding factor.

Jesus illustrated our lives by two houses. One house stands and one falls, both the result of inclement weather. Consider well the fact that both houses had a storm. Yet one served to destroy the house and the other pointed out how secure the foundation was. The truth is that the events of life are an irresistible force; they will come, no matter any of our plans. However, we can be like the immovable object, our being grounded in Christ gives Him glory when the inevitable storms of life come our way.

Make no mistake, in this passage and woven into the whole fabric of the New Testament is the idea that the storms will come. We cannot simply name it and claim it so as to avoid them. No way, because that would not give God the glory He is due, it would only save you from suffering and serve to sever you from sanctification. Besides, what gives more glory to God; to have you gloat about being in His favor, or for people to see you stand in the power of His might?

Friends, faith in Jesus is about the power to withstand the storm, not the power to withdraw the storm. Christianity, from the sanctification side, is less about being an irresistible force, and more about being an immovable object. The rain will fall, the floods will come, and the winds will blow. The question is, will your house stand as a testimony to the faithfulness of God, or will it fall as a testament to a life lived without following God?

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Wolves in sheep’s clothing

Matthew 7:15-20 / Luke 6:43-45…

Jesus warns us that the devil dresses false prophets in the designer clothes of deception. False teachers seem innocent and devoted, but they are insatiable and devouring (2 Peter 2:1-3, 14-19). They are not discerned by outward appearance and attitude (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). What they speak resonates with the world’s way of religion but not the Apostle’s doctrine (Jeremiah 6:14 / 1 John 4:5-6). We are always to be on the lookout for them (Acts 20:28-31).

Jesus tells us that we can know who they are by the effects. The fruit reveals the root. When the tree is shaken the fruit falls down, when the fruit is used for food the juice flows. Through the pressures and pleasures of life whatever is filling the heart will come spilling out. Doctrine instructs devotion and leads to demonstration.

This goes for those who teach as well as those who are taught. We can be deceived ourselves, not knowing we are wolves. What is truly in the heart will evidence itself, sooner or later, either the greed, immorality, and thirst for power and control, or the goodness, purity, and humility (1 Timothy 5:24-25). This fruit is the inevitable result of who we are.

We are not to judge hypocritically, but in our desire to do things rightly, we must be careful not to let the pendulum swing too far, from overly critical to overly casual. We cannot judge a person’s soul, but we can keep them from peddling rotten fruit in our assemblies.

Are you a false prophet, as in living a false profession? If there is venom on your lips there is poison in your heart. Your true values will be voiced, viewed, and verified by your life.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Eureka

Matthew 7:13-14…

Every person who has ever lived has been looking for something. Jesus says many will find what they are looking for, but few will find what they truly need. To get what we truly need, Jesus says we must first find the gate, but then we must also walk in the way. If your destination is heaven your destiny is holiness. You can find the door but not enter the room. Many may marvel at the door, but dare not enter in.

People want to find God as a means to an end not as the end in Himself. They are looking for what “works,” what they like, and not looking for what glorifies God. To the natural mind, the way of destruction looks good and tastes delicious, and the way to life looks gross and tastes lousy. People aren’t looking for Repentance Road; they are looking for Satisfaction Street.

Walking along the road of true repentance means that the way will be narrow and hard. If we are to keep walking in the way, we must keep renewing our minds to find it in faith. Eventually you won’t have to worry about people holding you back. If you follow a certain path there comes a certain point where certain people won’t follow along. You don’t have to lose the lost; they will lose you (1 Peter 4:4).

Most people are not looking for a way out of the world but a way into what they want. Believe me, or better yet, believe Jesus, if you have found the true way you will follow it. It depends on what you are looking for.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Jesus meets the measurement

Matthew 7:12…

This Golden Rule is the essence of a faithful life (Leviticus 19:18 / Matthew 22:37-40 / Romans 13:8-10 / Galatians 5:14 / James 2:8). This is to be our guiding principle in following Jesus.

The Golden Rule is not…

• Do unto others or they will do unto you
• Do unto others before they do unto you
• Do unto others because they have done unto you
• I won’t do unto others so that they won’t do unto me
• Do unto others as they would have you do
• Do unto others so that they will do unto you
• I won’t do unto others because they won’t do unto me

The Golden Rule is…

• Universal (whatever you wish that others would do to you)
• Positive action (do also to them)
• Grounded in divine revelation (for this is the Law and the Prophets)

We cannot simply say, “Go out and live in perfect obedience to everything God said and then you will be like Jesus.” If anyone could do that, then Jesus was not the unique Son of God. You need Jesus or you will not be able to walk the road, but we can walk it by faith, knowing that He has accomplished the walk for us, and when you fall He lifts you up. It is not your walk, your good works, it is His. Jesus IS the Golden Rule (Matthew 5:17), the way the truth and the life of it. Only He meets the measurement.

By the way, just because you do it doesn’t mean others will...it is the Golden Rule, not the Guaranteed Reciprocal.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The answer is always yes

Matthew 7:7-11 / Luke 11:9-13…

Prayer is the pipeline to the power and presence of God. Jesus tells us to be persistent, and in a sense it is a progression, don’t just ask, but seek and knock, keep bringing it up, keep looking for it to happen, keep causing a stir. If we lack in prayer we lack in experience.

Believe it or not, Jesus is saying that God will always answer our prayers with a yes. He isn’t telling us we can ask for anything we want, and that if we don’t receive it is because we don’t have enough faith. Jesus is saying that the Father will answer all our prayers, not according to our desires, but according to His goodness. He will answer our prayer as if we prayed it knowing what He knows. The answer is not always the yes we want, but the yes we need. Sometimes the yes is a no, because what we are asking for is inappropriate for us, or the time isn’t right yet.

If we ask God for something good He won’t give us something evil, if you ask for a fish, the Father is not going to give you a snake. But that is the test – if you get a snake, you know it wasn’t God who gave it to you. Do you know the difference? You may be hungering for something God doesn’t allow, doesn’t want us to have, or simply doesn’t exist, like some made up anointing that some “prophet” claims we can have. We have to be careful of counterfeits, and there are even good things which God in His providence does not desire for us to have. You can “get’ something, and it not be from God (2 Corinthians 11:3-4). If we ask for something good, He doesn’t give us something bad, and if we ask for something bad, He doesn’t give it to us. But you cannot use this truth as some sort of defense against counterfeit gifts.

The big yes is that the Holy Spirit is with us in prayer (Romans 8:26-27 / Galatians 3:14); we are in communion with God and He interprets our prayer, to answer it as if we were wise enough to know what to ask for. We stop praying because we don’t think it is working, but it is working, it is working on us. God listens to our prayers, and He answers them; will we answer the call to prayer and learn about God in and from our prayers?

Saturday, March 21, 2020

There comes a time

Matthew 7:6…

Jesus is illustrating the problem with treating holy things as common by using a reference to throwing meat sacrificed to God to animals. In His time, dogs and pigs were considered unclean and dangerous (Psalm 22:16, 59:14, 80:13). He is speaking of people who are set in their sinful ways (Philippians 3:2), degenerating (2 Peter 2:22) and deviant (Revelation 22:15). Today, it would be akin to offering the Lord’s Supper to those who hate Him.

There is a difference between destructive criticism and careful discernment. Jesus was warning us about standing over someone as judge when we haven’t yet looked in the mirror (Matthew 7:1-5). Now He instructs us that even when we have looked in the mirror, we should be careful who we are dealing with, because some people are not believers, they remain profane, and to give them wisdom is to invite their wrath (Proverbs 9:7-8). Don’t be mouthy and think this makes you a martyr for ministry.

Some do not value the vision of God (Proverbs 11:22). They are wise in their own eyes (Proverbs 3:7, 12:15, 26:12 / Isaiah 5:21 / Romans 12:16), they despise doctrine and become incensed against instruction. If you try and give them something of value, they may become violent. Yes we are supposed to try and help people (Galatians 6:10), but we must be prudent. We are to present the gospel, but when people become abusive and blasphemous, it’s time to cease.

It is the same in the church. Admonishing, correcting, and exhorting a believer is the right thing to do (2 Timothy 4:2 / Hebrews 3:13), but sometimes people persist in their perversity, and we are to let them go (Titus 3:10-11). If they are hurting, hungry, and hearing what you have to say, by all means, continue. Yes we should plead with people, but there comes a time when we are not to waste our words on those who won’t listen.

Friday, March 20, 2020

More than meets the eye

Matthew 7:1-5 / Luke 6:37-42…

Jesus is talking about hypocrisy, about judging others without first judging yourself. These verses are not some sort of justification or defense for irresponsibility, heresy, or wickedness (1 Corinthians 6:2-3). This is about being hypocritical, which ironically, those who use these verses as a universal prohibition against “judging” are guilty of themselves.

Obviously we must make some distinctions. That requires judging things (1 Corinthians 5:12). The whole idea that we are not supposed to judge ideas, behavior, doctrine, faith and practice is more than ludicrous, it is lawlessness. Indeed, in the same chapter Jesus tells us that we will recognize false teachers by their fruit (Matthew 7:20).

In other words we are all judges. We discern who is following Christ in truth and follow them (Philippians 3:17), while putting away some and staying away from others (Romans 16:17-19 / 2 Timothy 3:5 / Titus 3:8-11). We are supposed to judge (John 7:24), we are supposed to discern (Philippians 1:9), but we are supposed to look at ourselves first (1 Corinthians 11:31).

The account in Luke gives us some more detail. Jesus is talking about the good eye and the evil eye again. The person who has a healthy eye will be generous with grace, merciful and mild. People will most often give grace back in return. The person with the bad eye will be full of meanness, hypocritically judging others, and he will receive the same from others. These things are for our training, so that we may be like our Master.

Jesus doesn’t say we cannot help others unless we are perfect, He is telling us that our vision may also become clouded. If you look into the mirror and can’t see who you really are, then you are blind and will lead others into the ditch of deception with you. When you don’t believe that you can be deceived that is when you already are. He says we shouldn’t just be a hearer or a talker but a doer (James 1:23-25).

In other words, Jesus says ministry starts with the mirror.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Worry to worship

Matthew 6:25-34 / Luke 12:22-32…

Jesus is not telling us to be careless. He is changing our priority, reorienting us away from worry and into worship. Life is more important than the things needed to sustain it. Yet we have the habit or being overly concerned with the everyday needs of food and clothing, in other words, stuff, to the detriment of devotion to God. We even turn stuff we want into stuff we need and we fall right off worship way and onto anxious avenue.

Thank God that He is concerned about our personal, physical, daily needs. We are valuable in the eyes of the Creator. He takes great detail to sustain those things which are lesser and so He does us even more. Yes, you still have to do the work, but God has provided a way, a process for you to prosper. But you must remember that proper prosperity puts God as the priority.

Worry doesn’t enable or empower us with anything but negative energy; it cannot help us up even one step. If it can’t even do that, why are you anxious about the rest (Luke 12:26)? The people who don’t know God are in the place of no peace; their whole lives are consumed by such things. Those who may know God but who are indulging in their worries instead of investing in their worship fall back into that place.

Seek the things of God, and in the midst of that the basic essentials will be taken care of. Living for today by having an eye for tomorrow means we can live one day at a time by thinking about our eternal source. We can rely on our eternal God and His eternal plan while giving each day all we’ve got, not having to worry about tomorrow but eating our daily bread. If God is in control you will have enough, because trust is the currency of Christ.

Worry isn’t serving God; it makes us our own god. You have no reason to worry, and every reason to worship, if your source is greater than your self.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Master plan

Matthew 6:24…

Jesus has been presenting choices; there is the choice between two treasures, the choice between two eyes, and now a choice between two masters. You can’t serve both, and each moment you are serving one or the other.

The world gives what it thinks is noble advice: master your money, don’t let it master you. However, this is where people get fooled. Trying to be the master at all is the problem in the first place. Jesus rightly tells us that this is not an option; we are the servants, and either God or money will be the master.

For the Christian there is not supposed to be any question, we are bought with blood money (1 Corinthians 6:20 / 1 Peter 1:18-19). It isn’t “get control of your money before it gets control of you”, it’s “if God isn’t in control of your money, He isn’t in control of you, and then money is your master, not you”.

Whatever you place your trust in is your God. We are supposed to be slaves of God who are stewards of what He entrusts to us, instead of slaves to ourselves and what we entrust ourselves to. People think this isn’t subtle but it is, and the slave of money will obey money while pretending to obey God. We must plan to build spiritually by purposing to serve God financially, otherwise, we will fall prey to the wrong master.

Will you be mastered by God, or mastered by greed? There is no middle way.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The windows of the soul

Matthew 6:22-23 / Luke 11:34-36…

Jesus was talking about where we put our treasure, and how it affects our heart. Now He talks about how we look at, view, perceive these things, and how it affects our whole life. Jesus asked us to choose between a treasure that will last and one that won’t, and now He asks us to choose between two “eyes”, two purposes, one that will do your whole life and the life of others good, and one that won’t do anyone any good.

He uses “eye” as a metaphor, with the eye describing a person’s condition, their character. A person with a healthy, or “single” eye, is one who is generous. Their purpose involves being a blessing. The opposite is a bad, or evil eye, a person who has a stingy spirit (Matthew 20:15). They are usually begrudging.

The eye is the lamp, and we must keep our lamps filled with fuel, therefore we need to be looking to Jesus if we want to see clearly. Our ethical perception can become clouded by greed, covetousness, envy and jealousy, and darken our whole person. The person who is about Jesus will be a giving person, looking to deny themselves in the interest of others. The person who is a dark soul is always about me, me, me, and never listens to the cries, complaints, concerns, or counsel of others.

What comes in and what goes out matters. The eye is the means of illumination. If it is working well, your whole body, your every facet of life will be lit up. If it is working poorly, every facet will be under darkness. If the means of illumination is not luminous, how dark will your life be?

Your eye tells a story.

It also writes one.

Jesus says, “I see you”.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Home is where the heart is

Matthew 6:19-21 / Luke 12:33-34…

It is foolish to make money the focus of your life, because even if you have a mountain of money, the mountain is never high enough (Ecclesiastes 5:10). A wise man restrains his desire (Proverbs 23:4-5). Setting your heart on personal fortune will lead to personal failure in the long run (Psalm 62:10 / Proverbs 11:28 / Ecclesiastes 5:13-14). You don’t know when you are going to die, and we are to be mindful of God more than our things and desires (Luke 12:16-21).

This is not an indictment of wealth; this is about the futility of keeping in storage things that should be in circulation (1 Timothy 6:8-10, 17-19). Saving is good stewardship, but hoarding is not holy. We are here to be channels for the resources God gives us (Ephesians 4:28), to be a conduit of His blessings, not a dead end. Of course, greed and dishonest gain make the matter even worse (Proverbs 28:6 / James 5:1-3). We are supposed to store up, not for our standard of living but for our standard of giving (1 Corinthians 16:2).

We can store it up in heaven by spreading it around on earth. Our time and our talent are also part of our treasure that we are to use for the needs of people (Romans 12:13 / 2 Corinthians 8-9 / James 1:27 / 1 John 3:16-17), the ministers of the church (1 Corinthians 9:14 / Galatians 6:6 / 1 Timothy 5:17-18), and the advancement of the kingdom (Philippians 4:10-20).

Jesus is not just telling us some things; He is teaching us some things. If you want your heart to go after God, then send your treasure His way. Your heart follows along where your valuables go. We are all interested in our investments. If your heart is for heaven, your valuables will be headed that way, too. That’s where the most secure bank in the universe is, and the rates of return are out of this world (1 Peter 1:4).

Jesus said that where your treasure is, that is where your heart is. Home is where the heart is, the question is, where is your home?

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Humility or hypocrisy

Matthew 6:16-18…

Jesus was speaking on hypocrisy regarding giving, praying, and now fasting. He set the tone by saying “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” (Matthew 6:1).

The principle is the same with all three. You don’t prove your piety in public; you prove it by keeping your piety private. Your personal, private piety will lead to an open witness. Authenticity is anointed by God in the prayer closet, but aborted by men in the public square.

Of course, this does not mean that we are to live out our faith in private only. Indeed, we are not to hide our light (Matthew 5:14-16 / 1 John 3:18). The point is that our light is supposed to point to the One who is the Light. You aren’t supposed to avoid practicing the right things in public; you are supposed to avoid practicing the right things in public just to be seen by the right people. All Christians are called to demonstrate a love for God by acting on the principles He has taught, both publicly and privately.

The question is which principle are you operating under? The principle of hypocrisy is a demonstration of devotion in order for the person to be known to people. The principle of humility is a demonstration of devotion in order for Jesus to be known to people. Remember this. If you perform religious acts to impress other people, then you’ll miss God’s reward. Why did you do it, for people to see you work, or to see God work?

Pretense may make you popular with people, but hypocritical fasting just turns God’s stomach.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Pray this way

Matthew 6:5-15…

Jesus addresses two of the great problems we encounter in prayer, being hypocritical and being superstitious, and then gives the antidote to it. After that He gives us a pattern for prayer, and we must avoid taking this pattern and using it in a hypocritical or superstitious way.

Be sincere – don’t be like the others who just want to be seen as holy, you can pray in public but don’t try to be a great performer.

Be secret – make sure you get alone with God, how you pray in private is what you really are, and then if you pray in public it will be real, and powerful, not just a show.

Be succinct – don’t think that having all the right magic words and flowing phrases are what matters, it is not length or loudness that counts. It is okay to use big words and to be fervent, but don’t just keep repeating yourself and getting louder as if this is what God is looking for.

Be sure – we should petition God persistently, but with an understanding of who He is, not as if we must inform Him of who we are, we pray with persistence while relying on Providence.

Thank Him for what you have before you ask Him for what you need – He already knows what you need (Matthew 6:8, 32), but tell Him how much you appreciate what He’s already done.

Tell Him what you have done wrong before you ask Him to make it right – God already knows what you have done wrong. Realizing we are open to God helps us to live a more holy life.

Praise Him for who He is no matter what He does – Prayer recognizes who God is. We cannot glorify God in the world until we have first glorified Him in our hearts.

Forgiven people become forgiving people – Holding something against someone right now or just being a generally unforgiving person, this is what causes us to be hypocritical. Yet it would be superstitious to think we need to search out all of our past unforgiveness or God won’t answer our prayers. That would go against what we know about God’s forgiveness. We should not be hypocritical or superstitious.

We are not trying to find prayers that “work” we are praying to God because He IS God and through Christ He has done the most important work.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Give your heart

Matthew 6:1-4…

Why do you give? The simple answer is “to help out”. Yes, that’s good, but let me ask again, why do you give? You say, because I know we are supposed to. Yes, that’s true, but let me ask once again, why do you give? You say, because it is the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). Yes, we ought to give because that is what we would want if we were needy. Well, of course we are all needy, but allow me to ask again, why do you give? You say, because Jesus wants me to.

Alright then, those are all good reasons for giving to help the needy, and we can all give of our time, our talent and our treasure. But let me ask you, if the bottom line is that we are giving to magnify the name of Jesus, and we do this by helping the needy, blessing others, and spreading the gospel, then why would we want it known about how much we give, to whom, and all that? Are we trying to look good, when we are supposed to be making Him look good?

Giving in secret doesn’t mean you have to make sure no one ever finds out, it means your attitude is that it doesn’t matter if anyone else ever does. Those that need others to know how much they give are needy in a way they don’t realize, because for all their giving they haven’t given what is really needed for them, their heart.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

The hero proven

Matthew 5:43-48 / Luke 6:27-36…

As if Jesus had not already proven the nature of the self-righteous, and how it does not conform to the spirit of the Law, now He truly steps up as our only hero and asks the impossible.

The religious leaders had taken a positive part of the Law and twisted it to mean something it did not (Leviticus 19:18). They had inferred something that wasn’t there. Now Jesus uses this to bury the spiritually dead. They had taken the “love your neighbor” to then imply that they didn’t have to love those who weren’t “neighbors” and so therefore that they could hate their enemies. Jesus goes three steps further. He says that not only should they not hate their enemies, but they are not just to disregard them either. In fact they are to love them, an active thing. Not attack, and not abandon, but actively love them. Pharisees ancient and modern may be able to pretend that they meet the other standards. But not this one, this one stops all the vain talk. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is one thing, but love your enemies?

We are to bless those that curse us (Proverbs 25:21-22 / Romans 12:20-21). As we become conformed to the image of Christ, this command should become true in our lives. However, this is the one area where no one can even pretend that they have met the standard of Jesus every single time. The world does not teach us this, our nature does not follow this, and even as Christians we must be reminded of this. We aren’t born to do it, we’re not taught to do it, and we don’t want to do it. We don’t want enemies at all, but when they come on the sake of Christ, we want to protect ourselves and strike, rather than humble ourselves and submit. Even if we remain passive we still are not usually of the mind to pray for our persecutors. This is why we are told we must deny ourselves and renew our minds.

We can make major progress along this line, but we cannot hope in this life to fulfill this command in our hearts. When we are born again, we can live out from the same essence as God and become mature, and make this command a vital part of our lives. However, in this life, we cannot be perfect. Thanks to God that Jesus seeks out those who hate Him, and He pours His love out on them (Romans 5:8-10).

Is He your hero, or do you still dream for yourself?

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Grace under fire

Matthew 5:38-42…

Here we see Jesus giving the spirit of the Law about retaliation, justice, and charity (Exodus 21:23-25, 22:25-27). These explanations seem to really put the nail to the coffin of the self-righteous, dead in sin and dead to God humanist hypocrite. You can especially see this when you compare what Jesus is teaching with their worldly counterparts.

“Don’t get mad, get even”
“Don’t be a doormat”
“Don’t let people take advantage of you”
“Don’t give money to bums”

But we in the church also fail at these points. We explain away the explanations of Jesus, saying, “No, Jesus couldn’t possible mean THAT”, and yet what did He tell us about relaxing His commands (Matthew 5:19-20)? Remember, Jesus said that He came to fulfill the Law perfectly (Matthew 5:17-18). This points us to the inevitable fact that no one actually can fulfill the letter of the Law, let alone the spirit of it. No one but Jesus, that is. Jesus is the hero of the story, He is giving the lesson, and in the kingdom, we are the lesser. Not only do you not meet the Law you don’t even meet it at any single point, and you are guilty of it all (James 2:10). No one is good, not at all, except God, and that is who Jesus is (Mark 10:18).

Now just because you don’t and won’t meet the standard of Jesus doesn’t mean you are not supposed to do what is right as best you can, and the New Testament gives us guidelines for the practice of these principles (1 Peter 2:19-23, 3:9, 14-17, 4:14-16). We are to show the world our gracious action and attitude because we have received grace.

Yet we must not miss the force of these explanations. Jesus was the only one who could go to the bottom of the well and live out the depths of these things. We must rely on Him and His righteousness if we are to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, and enter into heaven.

We are reserved about fulfilling these commands of our Lord because we wonder what would really happen if we kept them. Would we always be beaten, bare, burdened, and broke? Jesus told us that doesn’t really matter (Matthew 10:28). The truth is that we fear the death of our body less than we fear the death of our standard of living. Think about our excuses, “I need me time”, and “But if I did that, then…” and so on. But Jesus lived this thing out. They took His temporal life, but He had eternal life. You will too if you trust in Him to save you, and not yourself.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Broken promises

Matthew 5:33-37…

We have all said things we didn’t really mean. Or said things we thought we meant but actually didn’t understand. Or said things we wish we hadn’t said. Or said things we wish we could take back. Or made promises we thought we could keep but couldn’t. On and on, we have all made mistakes with our mouth. Many make vows, but few are actually faithful (Proverbs 20:6).

Taking an oath was a ceremonial way of vouching for your character. Jesus’ point is that if our yes is yes and our no is no consistently, the evident integrity of our lives will prove our trustworthiness. This is about being faithful, even when it hurts to do so (Psalm 15:4), and about not being frivolous (James 5:12). Paul put people under oaths (1 Thessalonians 5:27), and he made vows as well (Acts 18:18, 21:23). The point is: do what you say.

Look at the narrowing progression; heaven, earth, Jerusalem, your own head. Jesus is telling us not to go beyond your authority, don’t get out of control, but live with integrity. People want other people to believe what they say, and they will make great boasts of their intended fidelity to some cause, whether it is for Christ or some other noble thing. But here Jesus is saying that trying to prove it with a promise is just about your pride.

People often make claims to pay you back, when you know they won’t. People charge into the church house, vowing to be victorious over some sin forever, or plead that they will now do right where they have mostly done wrong on some score. But we have all failed at some things we thought we wouldn’t fail at, and failed to achieve what we said we would achieve, or thought we could achieve. Jesus doesn’t want us to boast of how we are going to do something; He just wants us to do it. It’s not about the promise it’s about the performance.

These extraordinary explanations of the deeper, spiritual sense of the Law point to Jesus Christ. Your inner hero must die. Jesus is the only one who has never broken a promise. God will help you get holy, but Jesus must be the hero of your story, not you (Galatians 2:19-21).

Monday, March 09, 2020

Deeper than divorce

Matthew 5:31-32…

Instead of simply limiting or licensing certain actions, Jesus looked deeper into the attitudes behind such actions. Legalism can be used to limit people where they should be free, and it can also be used to license people when they should be bound.

The Pharisees thought people had the right to divorce as long as it included a written settlement (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). It was not that the action was always wrong, but that the attitude often was. If there is not a breaking of the vow by the other partner, like committing adultery, then you commit adultery by breaking the vow yourself.

In these matters, we can be overly permissive or overly prohibitive. There is the legalism of license and a legalism of limitation. Why would we want to get a divorce? Marital infidelity gives us cause for concern but even then it doesn’t require divorce, it only permits it. Jesus (Matthew 19:3-12 / Mark 10:2-12) and the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 7) speak of other qualifications. The point is about the heart.

Jesus gets to the heart of the spiritual matter. If your heart has ambition for another then you are not aiming God’s way. Your evil heart will find some way to justify your actions, without regard to the other person.

Jesus wasn’t lacking in compassion for sinful people, He was stacking the deck against the self-righteous. The person who is faithful in their heart is to be protected against the person who is frivolous. If you think that this doesn’t apply to you, that you meet the standard, because you have always had a faithful marriage, or because you have never divorced, remember what Jesus had just said about looking and lusting in your heart. You may have not done the action, but you have had the attitude. In our hearts we are all guilty. Our thoughts, words, and deeds won’t garner the favor of God (Isaiah 64:6).

Your self-esteem must be slaughtered if you are to dive deeper than the Pharisees.