Archive for October, 2015

Matthew 7:15-20
True and False Prophets
As we draw closer to the end of the Sermon on the Mount, we notice that Jesus begins turning from a singular focus on who we should be to a more outward focus on how we should discern what is of God and what is not in the world around us. In Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus says,

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

This is going to be the ugliest message that I have written so far in this study of Matthew. It’s gonna be ugly. It’s gonna have warts and I am gonna say it has warts. I have warts. You have warts. In this passage, I see two points that Jesus is trying to stress. Discerning holiness around us. Discernment about our own holiness.

Jesus uses imagery in this passage that his contemporaries of the day could relate to directly. In a society very familiar with herding sheep and other animals, the people listening to his words when they were actually spoken would have gone, I sure to know about wolves coming into a flock of sheep. As Adrian Dieleman says in his sermon, “False Prophets”,

“What happens when wolves get in among a flock of sheep? They start a frenzy of death and destruction and mayhem. The flock is decimated and scattered. Jesus tells us the same thing happens when false prophets get in among the flock of the Lord. When they are unchecked and unstopped they cause death and destruction and mayhem. The sheep of God’s pasture are decimated and scattered.”

The “wolf in sheep’s clothing” syndrome and split, splintered, or even killed more churches that God wants to count. Such “wolves” arise in the midst of believers saying all the right things, quoting Scripture like its nobody’s business. They have the WWJD bracelet. They have the “In Case of Rapture…” bumper sticker on their car. They volunteer for everything at church. Neither their teachings or their conduct is outrageous nor seems off-base with a normal Christian walk. They seem to be the perfect Christians. There is nothing offensive about the false prophet. He is in “sheep’s clothing” – so attractive, so pleasant; so nice to look at. He has such a nice and comfortable and comforting message. He pleases everybody and everybody speaks well of him.

Then, we the untrained, how do we tell who is a false prophet. Even outside the leadership of a Christian fellowship, how do you tell who is just a troublemaker in the congregation but yet agitates in the name of Christ. How do we know? All this talk all of sudden makes you fearful of trusting anyone in a Christian fellowship setting. It is scary. This is where people often get turned off from the church. The church is full of imperfect people. The difference between the God’s Redeemed and those playing church is in the fruit. As we heard in my initial reading of this Scripture passage, Jesus says, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” But Mark! Sometimes they sound so good and so convincing?

When it comes to preachers? How do we know? I go back to Adrian Dieleman. He says,

“A false prophet tries to remove the offense of the Gospel. With his smiling, pleasant face he preaches about the love of God, but neglects to speak about God’s holiness, righteousness, anger, and justice. He never makes anyone tremble in the presence of a holy and awesome God and avoids all mention of the Final Judgment.. The false prophet doesn’t like to talk about sin and total depravity and man’s inability to do good on his own; instead, he says man is basically good. He doesn’t talk about the need for repentance and conversion; instead, he talks about moral improvement. He doesn’t preach Christ as our substitute Who died on the cross in order to atone for our sins. He talks around the cross. He talks about the people at the cross and becomes sentimental about the arms of Jesus stretched out wide in love.”

Watered-down Christianity is what they propose. Feel good Christianity. Buy a condo at our retreat; God will look favorably upon you! They pick and choose their sweet spots in the Bible and ignore the rest. They don’t take on how difficult it is to be true Christ follower. They tell you that the gate is wide instead of narrow. Thus, their preaching will reveal their fruit.

When it comes to preachers, others in leadership in a Christian fellowship, and even with non-leadership members of your fellowship, the fruits will reveal. A preacher who stands in the pulpit and preaches about love and forgiveness but yet hates his own brother reveals his fruit. A church leader who talks about how much his wife means to him in public but beats her behind closed doors reveals his fruit. A lady member of a fellowship who says “amen” to a sermon about God being the judge of all things but yet gossips on the church steps about what the girl in the pew behind her had the audacity to wear to church today reveals their fruit. A church member who says “amen” to the fact that we are all God’s creatures but yet will not let his kids play with the kids of the new black couple down the street reveals his fruit. These are the very people that every person has ever ran away from the church talks about. Those who have never darkened the door of a church stay away because of these people.

Jesus says examine the fruit. If a church is all about a preacher, examine the fruit. If a church website, has that pastor’s picture plastered all over it, examine the fruit. If a church is all about activities for its people but yet is woeful in its outreach to its community, nation and world, examine the fruit. A congregation that says it pays all its required amounts to the South Carolina Annual Conference of the Methodist Church so we have done enough, yet walk right past needy people on the way to their $50,000 SUV. Jesus says examine the fruit. I am not just picking on Methodists when I say that. Baptist churches who give to the Lottie Moon annual offering for missions who then think they have done their part and are a missional church, examine the fruit. Regardless of denomination, if our churches are their to give us entertainment, but makes no impact for the kindgom of God, examine the fruit. There is a quote out there. I think it is from Christian author, Tim Keller, that says, “if your church closed its doors tomorrow, would anyone in your community notice?” Is your church, is my church, there to entertain me or is it there to train me up to be a missionary in my day-to-day life such that people would be devastated if they lost our church. Are we a people desperate to share the gospel or are we a people who want to be entertained on Sunday morning. Bottom line is the old saying that actions speak louder than words when we were measuring the actions of others against the Scriptures.

Ok. Talking about the failings of others is easy. It is human nature. But here’s the tough part. Examining our own fruits. Measuring our own life by the Scriptures. Am I the wolf in sheep’s clothing. When I complain about someone being unforgiving as if it is a speck in their eye, am I thinking about my own areas of lack of forgiveness – the log in my own eye? Do I talk a big game about what area of Christian service that I want to get into but yet never do a single thing about? Do I feel uncomfortable helping those less fortunate than me? Do I drive by a homeless man on my way to a Clemson football game with my car loaded down with food and DON’T even give it a second thought? Do I whine and complain to myself about not having chosen the ministry as a vocation but yet do not use my sphere of influence (where I live, work and play) to influence others toward a walk with Jesus Christ? Before I begin feeling smug about having laid the wood to all the obviously bad fruit-bearing going on around me, I should check my own fruit. My raspberries are not very tasty when you take a closer look. My peaches are brown and withered looking when you measure my life against the life that Christ wants me to live.

Ultimately, you come to realize that I am hopelessly lost in a sea of shortcomings that leave me outside of Heaven. There was short-story that floated around the internet a few years back called, “The Room” by Brian Keith Moore in which, in a dream, he is confronted by the reality of his sin. A room with file cabinets full of every wrong deed or thought and, too, all the good things he had done. The wrongs far outweighed the good. When Brian is confronted with the hopelessness of trying to be good enough, he begins to sob violently as if he knew that his actions had condemned Him to hell – which of course they had. But Jesus comes into the room, and with the miracle of being God, quickly writes His Name over every card that contained each and every bad deed done by Brian. In the end, Brian realizes just what a miracle and a joy our salvation through Jesus Christ is. The only thing that we can do is get on our knees and ask Jesus to cover us. Without his grace, we have no chance because of our sin nature. Our base self is full of sin and self-centeredness. With grace, we are a possibility. With grace, we have a chance. With grace, our vines can become green. With grace, we can bear good fruit through the action of the Holy Spirit in our souls. With grace, we become so utterly thankful that Jesus will represent us on judgment day that it permeates every part of our life. With grace. Jesus tells us to be as cunning as wolves but as gentle as doves. Certainly, we are to be discerning about everything. We cannot know the relationship another has with Christ, but we can examine the fruits of their spirit. That’s the cunning as a wolf part. Yet, at the same token, we must realize that this Christian life that we live is not about being good enough or doing the right things, it is about complete and utter dependence on God’s grace. It is about being a prisoner set from a death sentence. Help us to be a people who live lives that exhibit the fruits of grace. Let us live lives that scream the joy of salvation. Let us live lives that speak of a person that knows that in the absence of Jesus that they are condemned to eternity in Hell. Let us live lives that are examples of a prisoner set free from a death sentence in the electric chair. Let us be so overjoyed at our newfound freedom that we cannot contain our good deeds. They simply pour out of us. The fruit will spill out of us by the sheer power of thanksgiving. Our fruits will be so fragrant and tasty that others want what we have. Do you have that joy? Let us rekindle that flame and be that people!

Matthew 7:13-14
The Narrow and Wide Gates

Back in the 80’s there was a band that had great opening guitar and drum play at the beginning of their songs. The songs themselves were fairly weak, but those opening rifts made many of their songs classic, some of which still get air play today some 30 plus years later. AC/DC is the band. The opening guitar play and pounding drums on the song, “Highway to Hell”, will get anyone’s heart pumping. I think the song is a perfect illustration as we begin to study Matthew 7:13-14. The opening of the song is awash in foot patting guitar rifts and pounding drums. Awesome beginning. The beginning of the song is what made it a classic. But can you remember all the lyrics to the song? Sometimes I just play the beginning of the song and then switch away when the lyrics begin. The song is kind of like the wide and narrow gates. The wide gate sounds good in the beginning but it leads to something less than what you expected – an empty life. The song, though, does have some lyrics that point us to the empty life that is through the wide gate, when the opening stanza of the song says:

Livin’ easy
Lovin’ free
Season ticket on a one way ride
Askin’ nothin’
Leave me be
Takin’ everythin’ in my stride
Don’t need reason
Don’t need rhyme
Ain’t nothin’ that I’d rather do
Goin’ down
Party time
My friends are gonna be there too

I’m on the highway to hell
On the highway to hell
Highway to hell
I’m on the highway to hell

The song represents the road that most of us travel. The wide gate and on it is a well-paved highway to hell. We all want the easy way. Living easy and lovin’ free and a one-way ride. We do not think about eternity only this moment and the pleasure that we can get for ourselves out of it. It’s party time. All we care about is self-satisfaction and the current moment. We want easy, breezy cover girl. We want what makes us feel good. Leave me be to set my own agenda. Let me worship the here and now and screw the future. The wide gate has a well-paved road because it is easy to pave. It is the road of least resistance. It is the road that lets me be my own god. That is the highway through the wide gate. That is the highway to hell. These thoughts, too, remind you of the Don Henley song, “All She Wants To Do Is Dance.” Part of the lyrics of that song goes like this:

Never mind the heat comin’ off the street
She wants to party
She wants to get down
All she wants to do is-
All she wants to do is dance
All she wants to do is dance and make romance
All she wants to do is dance

The song was a searing indictment of American culture where we are so interested in entertaining ourselves that we fail to see the ugliness, hunger, poverty, greed, and hatred that goes on in the broader world. All we care about is the party, the dance. The song warns that if we don’t start caring about what goes on in the world, the world will come to us and crush us without us realizing it. How prophetic is that? That is America. As long as it doesn’t affect my money, my house, my cars, and my toys, I don’t care. The wide road leading to oblivion and all she wants to do is dance.

Well, I guess I had better get to the point here before another song comes to my mind that fits with today’s passage…

As we draw closer to the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus continues to complete the picture of what it means to be his follower and the costs that will inevitably be involved. The entire sermon demonstrates how a life of Christ-following service goes against the grain of the world. Nowhere is it more plainly spoken that here in Matthew 7:13-14, when Jesus says, “13 Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” The first thought that comes immediately to mind when I read this passage is the old parental adage so often used when children do things just because that’s what their friends were doing and it goes, “if your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” My dad used that one plenty of times in my life when I would do things that were wrong just because that’s what the kids I hung around with were doing. Isn’t that what Jesus is saying here?

Jesus’ theme here is that being his follower is not the easy way that we, by human nature, love. It is the tough road. It is road less traveled. The simplistic example used earlier about my Dad and one of his famous sayings to growing up, of which he had many. He was the master of the parental saying. The one I quoted here today though is one I remember the most. Often in my growing up years, there were times that Dad had to use this one me and it mainly had to do with my relationship with my brother. When I was growing up, my brother was less socially graceful than me, to put it mildly. I was able to make friends easily. He was not. I learned through social examples that the easiest way to get along was not to prove to everyone how smart you were. My brother did not learn that lesson. I was a cute little dickens too so the girls always liked me. My brother was a late bloomer in the looks department. He is a handsome man now but when we were young he was kind of awkward because his body grew tall before he filled out. Add to that, his socially awkward relational skills, it was not good. Against this backdrop, I was able to be easily accepted by the crowd whereas my brother was not.

Growing up as Methodist preacher’s kids, moving every two or three years, you can see how this was a recipe for social disaster for my brother. Growing up as a preacher’s kid is tough. Growing up as a Methodist preacher’s kid is tougher. We moved a lot. We were forever being the new kids at school. Have you ever experienced that? Some military brats can give me a witness but most cannot. It’s tough. Kids can just be plain out mean to other kids, particularly when you are the new kid in town. During my growing up years, my dad was still making his way up the ranks of the South Carolina Methodist Church. When I was young, he was too as far as preachers go. So, when we were young, we often lived in small rural, farming towns or small textile towns. In these towns, everyone knew everyone because everyone had grown up there for generations. Imagine trying to break into that kind of society.

Being the new kids, you were often singled out for ridicule by the local kids who had lived in each town all their lives. Like I said, though, I was Bill Clinton-esque in defining what the crowd wanted and giving them that. My brother did not have those “baby-kissing politician” skills that I had. I lived for the approval of the crowd – something I still struggle with today because of the way I grew up. I would find a way to fit in. He did not. I was reasonably popular wherever we lived by giving the crowd what they wanted. My brother did not. So, as you can see the conflicts coming, I was often put in positions where I had to choose between the crowd and my brother. Taking the side that is popular vs. the side that was unpopular. Ridiculing my brother or defending him. I failed my brother more times than not.

As me and my brother have matured over the years, we know have a pretty good relationship. We are not the kind of brothers that call each other every day but when we do we talk for hours. But things were different back then. Surely, my brother made it easy to shoot the guns at him. If my brother was difficult for others to get along with in the public realm, he was doubly more difficult to get along with at home. We literally fought with each other constantly both verbally and physically. My brother belittled my intelligence constantly. Most assuredly, my brother is an intelligent, very intelligent man. He has one of those brilliant minds that leaves everyone else in the dust. Where I have had to bust my tail all my life to make good grades and to do well in my profession, academia comes easy to my brother. He has the ability to retain everything he reads. He can quote passages from books without a thought. He can quote statistics from Champions League Soccer in Europe without maybe having seen one Manchester United game in person in his entire life. He knows the genealogy of our family frontwards and backwards. However, he did not make himself easy to love, like or defend. So, there I was a choice between the crowd, the easy thing, and my brother, the hard thing. A choice between the broad gate and the narrow of which Jesus speaks. I repeatedly chose the broad gate, the gate where the crowd was. I joined in the ridicule of my brother – aiding in making our relationship worse. When my Dad would find out about my actions, there was no room for me saying my brother was a jerk and he asked for it. To Dad, my brother was my family, right or wrong, and that was it. That’s where the old saying would get thrown in, “if your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?”

Isn’t that what Jesus is talking about here. Jesus is asking you and I, just like my Dad asked me, “if all your so called friends are jumping off a bridge, would you do that with them too?” Jesus is saying that it is certainly easier to walk away with the crowd going through the broad gate. The devil makes it all so appealing to join in with the crowd because it is easy. To stand and ridicule your fellow man instead of defending him to the crowd. To offer a helping hand when it’s just easier to stay in your car and pull away at the traffic light and there is a scrungy, homeless man there. It is easier to say nothing when you witness something wrong or immoral happening and not speak up. It is easier to keep quiet at work when you know the boss is padding the books just to make himself look good to the investors or shareholders. It is easier to do nothing when so much needs to be done in this world. It is easier to say I can’t do that rather than give up your sweet spot, your comfort zone, your comfortable life rather than go off blindly on faith in God into a new profession that is in service to God anywhere that leads. It is easier to take the shortcuts in life. It is easier than serving Christ. Self service is easier than Christ service. Not having integrity is easier than having it. Following the crowd off the cliff is easier than following Christ. Getting earthly benefits is easier than living a life for eternal benefits.

What is the alternative to the broad gate that Jesus says leads to destruction? Taking the narrow gate that leads to life, he says. What does that mean? Taking the narrow gate is Jesus’ symbolic way of saying do not do what the world expects of you but rather what our Father in Heaven wants from us! As my California friends would say, “What does that look like?” or “let’s unpack that thought.” Unpacked, I think it looks like a life that is a life lived in humility. When I say humility, I don’t mean the TV kind of humility where a person puts themselves down all the time. I am talking about spiritual humility. A life of spiritual humility is a life where a Christ follower knows that it is only through the blood of the Risen Lord that we have the right to stand before God’s throne on judgment day and expect to be welcomed into Heaven.

The narrow gate also means having integrity. It means standing against the rushing waters of public opinion, the pressure of what our friends say, and say, “This is wrong!” It means measuring every aspect of life by the Scriptures, and after fervent prayer, being able to stand against the tide. It means always reacting to life through Scriptural glasses, so to speak. It means always having those glasses on. Not just when its convenient. It means having those glasses on when you are alone and nobody’s watching.

The narrow gate means also service to others instead of service to ourselves. When choosing a narrow gate life, a Christ following life, serving our fellow man is the goal. The narrow gate life is stopping to help a homeless man even if we think its easier to go on to our parking place at Death Valley on those wonderful football Saturdays. It means maybe getting out of the car, feeding that man, talking to him, and giving him your ticket to the game. It means not sitting on the couch and doing something that matters with your free time. It may even mean being so convicted by God that you leave your comfy job at BMW and following God’s lead to Manchester, CT to start a church. It may mean quitting a life of a six-figure salary and going to seminary and living off of crackers and peanut butter while you train up to be a full-time minister. It may mean leaving it all behind and serving in a mission to Haiti on a full-time basis.

The narrow gate also means being a missionary where we live, work and play. What I mean by that is that everyone has the ability to influence the world for the kingdom of God. Not all of us are called to drop absolutely everything and move off to a distant state or a distant country to make a difference. Not all of us a called to drop our careers that we have know since adulthood came upon us. God wants all of us. God’s call is to be a witness to your fellow man. God’s call is to be there for your fellow man. We are being narrow gate kind of people when you speak into another person’s life with integrity and God’s love. The narrow gate life is to show we are Christians by our love. The narrow gate life is being open and honest about your Christian faith even in this day and age where to do so is not so popular. The narrow gate kind of life is to help a fellow man in need where we live, work and play. A narrow gate kind of life is to show love to a person that makes your blood boil! A narrow gate kind of life is to help others when every fiber in your body tells you not to. A narrow gate kind of life is to say yes to opportunities to serve and witness instead of saying no.

A narrow gate kind of life is one where you are humbly happy to serve God in any direction he calls you to do so. A narrow gate kind of life is the kind of life where you are happy just to be able show God that you love him in this way for giving you this new lease on life. You are so happy that you are living the forgiven lifestyle that you just cant help but serve your fellow man. A narrow gate kind of life sees Jesus when he sees other people. Thus, to serve others is to serve Jesus. I once wrote a poem called “And Jesus Gets Up and Walks Away”. That poem basically says this same thing. That not serving others is easier than seeing Jesus in the homeless man. It is easier to keep on being self-involved than to get out of our comfort zone to help the family living in their car. It is easier to walk on past when you see a single mom struggling with her four kids at the mall. It is easier to live the broad gate life. The broad gate life plays well with our basic nature of self-interested indulgences. The narrow gate life calls out of our comfort zone.

So, in the end, are you going to stand up for your brother are you going to make fun of him too? Are we going to stand up for what is right when everyone around us is calling us to join them in the wrong? Are we going to have integrity when its easy? Or when it’s hard? Are we going to serve our fellow man to get our egos massaged? Or are we going to serve our fellow man to show humble thanks to God? Are we going to witness to our neighbor or co-worker when those divine appointments arise or are we going to shy away because it is easier?

The narrow gate life, of which Jesus speaks, is not easy. That’s why so few enter through the gate. The narrow gate life calls for sacrifice from our sweet spots. The narrow gate life calls for you to be “all in”, as Coach Swinney calls it. It calls us to not to self-service but to service of others. It calls us to not follow the crowd. It calls us to follow him through the narrow gate!

Lord, thank you to opening my eyes with this writing that you inspired. Lord, make me and my readers realize that it is all about you. It is not about us and what is easy and self-serving for each of us. It is about being your servant with integrity and being your servant with a humble heart. So, give me such a joyful heart at being saved and sanctified before you through your Son that I am no longer self-serving and doing what is easiest for me. In Christ’s name, my Savior, I offer this prayer. Amen and Amen.

Matthew 7:12
The Golden Rule

Back in the day, there was a commercial shown usually only at Christmas time (it debuted in 1971). It was a Coca Cola commercial and some considered it a hippie commercial because of its peace/love/dove message. In the text that superimposed on the film at the beginning of the commercial, it said, “On a hilltop in Italy, We assembled young people from all over the world to bring you this message From Coca-Cola Bottlers all over the world.” This group of young people begins to sing a song specially written for the commercial. The chorus of song in the commercial was this:

I’d like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I’d like to buy the world a Coke
And keep it company
That’s the real thing.

The rest of the lyrics were promoting unity among all people. One of the things that unites the world is the ubiquitous Coca-Cola. The point of the commercial is that we in the world can find common ground and make the world a better place. We’ve done it by sharing a fondness for Coke, why can’t we find common ground on other issues? It was a radical thought at the time. It was actually a controversial commercial at the time because our nation was embroiled in the Vietnam War, improving race relations, the shedding of traditional values by the younger generations, the emergence of terrorism from newly independent and oil wealthy Islamic nations and a host of other domestic and international problems that seemed to big to solve. Just love one another with a Coke and a smile? Pie in the sky hippie dreamers! It is 2015 now and maybe we need the 1971 Coke commercial more than ever. Harmony at home and abroad still seems like a pie in the sky hippie dream. How are we going to ever change this world? How ‘bout the Golden Rule?

Matthew 7:12 is often referred to as the Golden Rule. In this verse, Jesus says, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Some say that this one verse is the essence of the Bible. Jesus says it sums up the Law and the Prophets meaning that it summarizes the Old Testament in a nutshell. Having it spoke here by Jesus in the New Testament affirms and carries forward the Old Testament into the New. This message is found elsewhere in the New Testament as well. Jesus says in Luke 10:27 that we should love the Lord, our God, with all our heart, mind, soul and strength AND our neighbor as yourself. This is the essence of the Christian life. Often, we try to overcomplicate the Christian life, but it boils down to the Golden Rule If we all actually lived by the Golden Rule, the world would indeed be a better place. There are several things that we need to see here. First, Matthew 7:12 comes right on the heels of a passage in which it basically states that we must trust God by submitting to His leadership. Second, have you noticed what comes first in this verse? Finally, we shall see that if we applied the Golden Rule to all our relationships, maybe, we will have that 1971 Coke commercial in our lives.

The first thing that you will notice about Matthew 7:12 is that it follows on the heels of the “Ask, Seek, Knock” passage. That is no mistake. There is nothing random in God’s design for universe and there is nothing random in arrangement of the texts in the Bible. Yesterday, we talked about the fact that there is in its essence in that passage that we do not have something and we must seek it from the Lord. In order for us to seek the Lord, we must first realize that we do not have what we need on our own. We must realize that God is the answer to that which we ask, seek, and knock. He is the Creator and Sustainer and He is our Father. When we realize that we are not in control, when we realize that this universe is not all about us, we can come to the realization that we need God. In seeking Him, we must submit ourselves to His Lordship. It is only then that we can have peace and true joy. When we realize that we are sinners, incomplete, imperfect and in need of intervention, it is then that we are able to submit ourselves to God. It is only then, when we put God first in our lives, that we can live out the Golden Rule that follows in Matthew 7:12. In the absence of our submission the Lord God through Jesus Christ, we are all about ourselves. Me and you battling to get our needs met. Me and you and everyone else fighting to make sure my needs are number one and that they are met. Selfish pride and ambition take over when we are not submitted to God. We think we know best. What is right for me is what matters. Screw you and your rights. It is my rights that matter. How can we treat others unselfishly if we think we are our own god? It should not be lost on us that the content of this verse, Matthew 7:12, comes right after Jesus says that we must swallow our pride and seek, ask, and knock in our pursuit of God. Seeking, asking, knocking are all action verbs that indicate that you have something that I do not have. That means that we don’t have something that we need. There is humility that comes when you realize that you are not “the all to end all!” When we come to Christ, it is because we realize that we need help. We realize that we are screwed up and messed up and we need Jesus to make us new. We realize that we have disappointed God by the mess that we have made of our lives and that we need a Savior, someone to intervene and reconcile us to God. That takes a reality check. That takes humility. When we get to that point, and surrender our will to God through Jesus Christ, we transition from always making sure that our needs are met at the expense of everyone else into a new creature that wants to love as Jesus loved and glorify God in the process. The Golden Rule is glorifying God in action. In order to do unto others as we would have them do unto us requires us to first having been in submission to God. When we realize that God will provide for whatever our real needs are, there is a peace that comes with that. No longer are we so concerned with solely getting our needs met. We are ready to live out the Golden Rule.

The next thing that we see here is the order in which this verse is laid out. It is not stated as waiting to see what others will do to you first and then formulated a response in kind. It requires us to take the first step. It requires action on our part. We are to be the initiators. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That is pretty radical. It makes us take a step of faith and treat others in the way that we want to be treated. It does not say that we must wait and see what others will do first. Jesus says that we should lead with how we want to be treated not with how we are being treated. How radical is that? In Matthew 5:46, if you remember from our earlier blogs, Jesus says, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” We have a higher calling as Christ followers. We must go beyond the action-reaction way of life. We must go beyond the measured response way of life. We are called to treat people that way that we want to be treated first. We are not called to be reactionary. We are called to be revolutionary. We are to initiate change. We are to love those who are not loving us. We are to think in each situation of how we would want to be treated before we act. Our response to the world comes from a place of not meeting someone else’s actions with equal veracity. Our response comes from how we would want to be treated. This is such a radical concept. It changes everything if we would just follow the order of the verse here. Lead with how you would want to be treated. It requires action not reaction. It requires us to respond in the way we would want to be treated rather than in reaction to how we are actually being treated. Hate for hate only leads to more hate. Love in reaction to hate leads to amazement and communication. Negatives reject where positive charges attract one another. Circles of violence on lead to more violence until there is nothing left to win. Man, if we led with unilateral kindness toward others where we are the ones that say enough is enough and set our pride aside for the good of all involved, what a cool place this would be. God sent His Son. He initiated an act of loving kindness toward us. We did not deserve it. God in his full right of justice as the Creator and Judge did not have to do that. He led with kindness in reaction to our rebellion against Him. He did not have to do that. God could have just said we are not worth the trouble and wrote us off into the oblivion of hell that by all rights we deserve. No, though, he did not. He led with love. He was the initiator of that which would solve our sin problem, our rebellion against Him. Man, we did not and do not deserve the loving kindness He showed us. Why can’t we live our lives leading with love instead of reacting to what we are given and continuing the cycle of destruction?

What if we applied the Golden Rule in all our relationships? What a wonderful world this would be! Let us use marriage as an example. What if in our marriages, we placed the marriage above our individual needs. What if we made meeting our spouse’s needs greater than having our needs met? In marriage, we need to be the change that we want to see. We must lead with what we can do for our spouse rather than sitting back and waiting and complaining that our needs are not being met. Marriage is greater than the individuals in it. What makes a championship team? It is a team that is unselfish about who the star of the team is. Maybe this week it is the quarterback. Maybe next game it is the running back. Maybe the next game it is the defensive line. Unselfish. It is team where you have each other’s back. Teams that destroy themselves are those that do not submit individual wills to the needs of the team. We must do the same with our marriages. The needs of the marriage should outweigh our individual needs for personal glory. In marriage, we must lead with seeking to serve the needs of our spouse not wait and see if our needs are going to be met before we venture anything. Isn’t the essence of love meeting the needs of others without expectation of payback? Shouldn’t our marriages be this way? As a matter of fact, should not all of our relationships be this way. With our children? With our brothers and sisters? With our neighbors? With our co-workers? With the other soccer moms at soccer practice? With the cashier at the Wal-Mart? With everyone? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Most of us would say the Golden Rule would be easy to apply if only. If only my spouse would do this. If only my boss would do this. If only…if only…if only. Jesus calls us to be more than “if only.” He calls us to love people even when they don’t do life the way that we want them to. We are so often focused on giving only to see what we can get back in return. That is the way of the world. What if we gave with no expectation of payback? That is the Golden Rule. Loving first. Leading with love without concern if you are going to get something back from it. Loving without restrictions or conditions. Unselfish love. That’s a world in which there will be perfect harmony, as aspired in the 1971 Coke commercial. It starts with you and me. Be the world that you want to see. One person at a time. Jesus led with love even though He knew that you and I might reject his love offer. He loved anyway. Let us lead with love. Let us be the seed planters who take the first step and plant the seeds. The seeds of love. Then, the world will be a better place. One that lives in perfect harmony.

Matthew 7:7-11
Ask, Seek, Knock

Do you remember the joy of Christmas morning when you were a kid and rushed into the room where the family Christmas tree stood and almost did a second base slide into the Christmas tree. Desperately looking for the presents with your name on them. You have spent the better part of the last 2 months begging your parents for this certain toy. There were other requests for minor things for Christmas but there was always that one thing. That major gift that was going the culmination of Christmas for you. The main toy. The main gift. The centerpiece of your expectations. Remember that? I do too. Remember the exceeding joy that you felt when you opened that main gift! Wow, everything was perfect then! That moment was perfect. That moment was complete in its happiness. Looking back now, it was not Santa Claus that knew. It was our parents. Our parents were attentive to what we wanted and needed. They listened. They did not ignore our pleas. Just think of the love that went in to growing us up to adulthood. Our parents showered us with gifts not just at Christmas. They gave us homes, clothing, food, and met every need we had. In the real world, you have to do something to get something. But our parents gave us all they had even though we did not generally do anything or enough of anything to deserve what they provided to us. Why do parents do that? Because they love us. God is the same way about us. He is attentive. He provides. He loves us. This thought brings us to today’s passage.

Today, we move into another famous passage from the Sermon on the Mount that is often quoted in both the religious and secular realms. In Matthew 7:7-11, Jesus continues the Sermon by saying,

“ 7 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

This passage of Scripture is jam-packed with a lot of good stuff! It may take a while to get through it so please bear with me! The things that we want to look at and analyze in this passage are several. First, we will talk about the concept of action, a theme that has been ever-present throughout our study of the Sermon on the Mount. Second, we will look at the concept of that action in terms of a father’s love for his children and compare that to our Heavenly Father’s love for us.

So, let’s get started!

This first thing that you will notice in this passage is that the first verse (Matthew 7:7) is full of verbs, action words. Ask. Seek. Knock. Deeper than that though is that these action verbs that were chosen by their meaning have to do with trying to get or gain access to something that we do not have.

Ask
By definition, the verb, “to ask”, means “To request; to seek to obtain by words; to petition; to solicit; — often with of, in the sense of from, before the person addressed.” As you can see from the definition of this action word is that “to ask” is to seek knowledge that we do not currently possess. There is a certain sense of humility in that. Isn’t it? In order to ask for something, we first must admit that we do not have the answer on our own. We have two choices in that situation. First, we can let our pride rise up and we continue on without the knowledge and most likely learn the real answers through the mistakes that we make. There is also the possibility that we will not learn the right answer even through experience and will end up dazed and confused on the matter. Second, we can choose to swallow our pride and ask the question for which we need the answer. In such cases, we must go to a person who is wiser than us on the subject in question. It takes action on our part. It takes us getting fed up with “not knowing.” We must make a change. We must put away our own selfish defense of who we are and admit that we do not know. We must take action. Is it not the same way with accepting Jesus Christ into our lives and giving Him control of it? We come to see that wallowing around in our mistakes without the knowledge that we need is a useless existence. Trying to make it without the knowledge means our pride has gotten in the way. Thus, when we “give it up to the Lord”, we finally get on our knees and cry out to God and say I do not have the answers, please help me, Lord. We cry out for the Lord to give us the answers to life and its meaning. For us at this point, we admit that we do not understand what the point to our existence is and that it has become meaningless without Him. We admit that we have failed. We admit that we have screwed our lives up royally in our attempts to control it. We admit that we have been overcome by our mistakes and our sins. We admit that we do not have the answers and that we see nothing but hell’s fire in front of us. We ask the Lord to take it all over for us. We ask the Lord for the answers to all of our problems. WE ASK.

Seek
Now, let’s look at the verb “to seek”. The definition of this verb is “To go in search of; to look for; to search for; to try to find.” Here, we, again, see that we are after something that we do not have or possess. In order “to seek”, we must leave the current state we are in – and I don’t mean going to Georgia! LOL! As part of seeking, it is implied that we are dissatisfied with the way things are currently. We need something else. We are lacking in some way. As with everything Jesus said and did, there was purpose in it. Here in this passage there is purpose in the placement of the words in the verse. In our Christian walk, there is a progression. After we have “asked” and God has given us The Answer that we need, Jesus Christ – that answer being giving over control of our lives to Him, we progress to seeking. Once we have accepted Jesus into our lives, we seek Him. We seek His ways. We seek how He would respond to any given situation. So, we in our walk with Jesus, progress from asking (without knowledge), to seeking (having some knowledge but wanting more). When we ASK God, admitting we do not know what He knows, we receive. When we SEEK him, we WILL find him.

Knock
To end Verse 7, Jesus uses the verb “to knock”. It’s definition is “to strike a sounding blow with the fist, knuckles, or anything hard, especially on a door, window, or the like, as in seeking admittance, calling attention, or giving a signal: to knock on the door before entering.” In this definition we are seeking admittance. There is implied in this that we do not control our entry to the other side. Again with asking and seeking, we must take action to give up our control and give it to someone else. In this case, the one who has control is on the other side of the door. We knock to get their attention to let us in. In our progression through our Christian walk, we realize after asking God to take over, after a life time of seeking more knowledge of him and how to be more like him, we must knock on the door to gain admittance to Heaven. We know that we call are unworthy to just walk in the door. We come to learn that through our faith in the Risen Christ that we stand ready to knock on the door. We know that without that faith, the door will not be answered. We know that only through our faith in Jesus, that the door will be opened. WE KNOCK.

Next we move to the part of the passage that says, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Jesus is telling us here that regardless of a father’s spiritual health, any father who is a real father to his children will not make sure that their children have what they need – not always what they want but what they need. We, as fathers, will make sure that our children have the things that they need to survive in life and to be successful on top of that. If even our earthly father’s do that, then, Jesus say, “C’mon, dude’s we are talking about our Heavenly Father here?” then how much more will our HEAVENLY Father do for us. But, notice we must begin with the ask…”to those who ask him.” The access to the gifts of our Father is through asking. As we have seen earlier, when we ask we are admitting that we are not the all-knowing, all-in-control person that we often think that we are. When we admit that we do not have the answers to it all and come to our Father and ask. In asking there will be willing submission. In asking, there is respect given. In asking, we realize we need our Father. That is all a father here on earth really wants, isn’t it? To be needed? To be respected? When that happens, we open our access to his gifts and do realize the blessing that these gifts are.

Through realizing that we are not in control through the actions of asking, seeking, and knocking that we find humility and submission to our Father’s will, we gain access to the wonderful power of God in our lives. When we are submitted to God and have his love in our heart, we see our fellow man as an opportunity to show the love of God. Showing the love of God – a God who gives us access to Heaven through his Son Jesus though we do not deserve it on our own merits. The Golden Rule as Matthew 7:12 is called, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is the culmination of this progress which we will talk about tomorrow. Through asking, seeking, knocking, we learn that God is our Father and will take care of our needs for eternity through our submission to his place of authority in our life. If we think of ourselves as in control, we are not going to ask, seek, or knock. We think that we have got this. We do not need God. But, just as every rebellious teenager comes to know, they do actually need their earthly fathers, when we learn that we do not know it all is when we are ready to come to the Father in heaven. We learn that child-like dependence on God. What joy we find there. We know that our Father in Heaven loves us through His Son. We know that love means that He will never forsake us. He’s always God our best interest at heart. It is then that we ask Him, seek Him, and knock for Him.

Lord, reach me and show me that I am not in control of this thing I call my life. Through humility, allow me to come to you to ask for your power, to seek more knowledge of who you are and your ways. In so doing, show me that you are first in my life, my Father. In learning that your place is at the head of my life, it frees me to think of others. It frees me to do for others. It frees me to share the gift of grace you gave me through your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Chapter 7
Matthew 7:1-6
Judging Others

It is what I call God’s synchronicity. It is when He teaches me the same message from multiple, different, and unrelated sources. That way I know that He is sending a message to me. When you hear a message from one person or one bible passage, you can say OK well that’s a nice thought and move on. But when you hear the same message from people who do not know each other or you hear a sermon and then the next Bible passage you read in a different part of the Bible and get the same message. You go “whoa! Maybe, God is trying to tell me something that I need to know right now.” This past Sunday, we had a guest pastor deliver the sermon. One of the things that He said that stuck in my head was that “we judge others by their actions and we judge ourselves by our intentions.” Now, whoa, here we are today moving into a passage about judging others. So, there is a message in here for me in God’s synchronicity and maybe there’s one in here for you, too!

Now, it is no coincidence that our Christian forefathers segregated the New Testament in to chapters and verses such that it makes the next passage for us to study the beginning of Chapter 7. In Chapter 6 of Matthew, Jesus is speaking broadly to all of us. In Chapter 7, though, Jesus is going to get specifically personal with us here. He is going to put the mirror in front of our own faces. It’s no longer a conceptual model. It’s personal. It’s about me. It’s about you.

Let’s get into it. Jesus begins this chapter by saying,

“1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

This passage should be analyzed for what it is saying and what it is not saying. The first thing that we will look at is what it is not saying. I think one of the great misconceptions about this famous Biblical passage is that people have interpreted it to me that we should never criticize another person in any way. I do not think that Jesus meant that we could never speak into another person’s life in loving concern. I think that Jesus wants us to be able to hold each other accountable for our actions.

However, speaking into someone’s life should be done in loving concern, not out of injured pride, not out of jealousy, or other negative reactions. For example, a parent can and should speak into their children’s lives when that child is being disobedient at a young age, or that child, as an adult, is about to make a mistake the parent has already made at the same age. In those instances, say with a young child, a parent is requiring discipline of a child which is something a child must learn to function well in society later in life. Trying to prevent your adult child from making the same stupid mistakes that you made at the same age is not being hypocritical but rather sharing the wisdom of experience (when it is shared in love). The same is true outside your family, if a dear friend is traveling the wrong path and you sincerely do not want to see them destroy themselves. Then, speaking into their life totally from the point of view of love is a concept that Jesus has no issue with. As Christ followers, Jesus expects us to help one another in love through the sharing of wisdom and experiences so that others won’t have to go through the pain and agony of a mistake like we did. That is not hypocrisy. That is humble admission of sharing “this is how I screwed up, please don’t do the same.” There is a huge difference!

Now, let’s look at what Jesus IS directly saying here. It, of course, is blatantly obvious. He is speaking of hypocrisy. Etymologically, a hypocrite is someone who is ‘playing a part’, merely pretending. The word comes from the late Latin hypocrite which is derived from the Greek, hupokritēs, ‘actor, hypocrite’. Thus, Jesus is talking about playing the part of someone who is clean of sin and criticizing others when in fact that person has the same sin or similar sin ongoing in their own life. The imagery used here by Jesus is fantastic. We have all had a speck in our eyes before and we can immediately identify with how irritating that can be. Imagine then having a log in your eye! Kind of funny to think of! Jesus is using exaggerated imagery here just has he has done throughout this Sermon on the Mount. The exaggerated imagery is meant to catch our attention. It was meant to get the people who were there at the Mount to turn and take notice.

This imagery is to illustrate what Jesus wants us to hear. Jesus is talking about us proclaiming publicly that we are one thing but that when we are in private we are something. Jesus is talking about criticizing others for sins that we see in their lives but yet we have unconfessed sins in our lives that we are continuing to commit. It’s like criticizing someone for lusting after a woman when you have Penthouse magazines under your bed. It’s like criticizing someone for being an alcoholic but you just spent the weekend at the beach getting plowed. It’s like being a preacher who stands in the pulpit and preaches to us about how we should be better at loving one another while at the same time who has not been home to see his parents or brothers in decades. One of my uncles was like that. On a trivial scale, it is like criticizing the success of your favorite team’s archrival while you are in tied for last place in your division in your own team’s conference. It is like speaking out against adultery when you are secretly having an affair. It is like speaking out against those who steal while at the same time taking things from work for your own use when no one is looking. It is saying one thing and your actions showing that you are committing the very sin of which you criticized others. As we said before, Jesus wants us to hold each other accountable; however, it must be done in love and it must be done from a standpoint where we have confessed our own sins and are no longer committing those sins. It is only through humility that we can offer heartfelt loving advice to others. Thus, Jesus wants to be able to constructively talk to one another in love. We must have a clear heart to do so. Isn’t that what makes Alcoholics Anonymous so effective. When a recovering alcoholic speaks into a practicing alcoholic’s life, he actually does have credibility. He is able to tell the practicing alcoholic, “this is what happened to me when I did what you are doing. I am not doing it anymore, but these are the things that I experienced when I did.” He can say, “hey bud, I know for a fact that you are going down the wrong road….I took that road myself and it does not end well. Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt!”

Well, Mark, are you saying that I cannot speak into someone else’s life unless I have committed that same sin, recognized it, and turned away from it? No, that’s not it at all. What I am saying is that we should examine ourselves before we speak correction into someone’s life. If we are harboring sin in our own lives, we must first consider our own sin before we consider the sins of others. If you are going to speak truth into someone’s life, be honest with them about the sin(s) that you are dealing with. Or deal with your own sin and then speak to them. It is like holding a grudge against your wife for not being as romantic as she used to be but yet at the same time you barely recognize that she exists when you get home. You used to kiss her when you got home but now you go straight to your shop, or go straight to the recliner and turn on ESPN. Wives complain about their husbands in the same way but yet do not do any of the things that they did to attract him in the first place. Sure, romance that comes from passion cools over time. However, that’s when we need to be the most intentional about giving our spouses what they need. We mistake passion for love and give up and it may lead us to marital sin. Sometimes when we complain about what others are doing or not doing, maybe we should examine ourselves before we proceed. Too many marriages break up because we want to throw our spouse under the bus but yet we fail to examine our own failings in making the marriage what it is.

Then at the end of the passage, Jesus says something that does not seem to fit with the rest of what is said when you read this passage for the first time. It almost seems that Matthew looked back through his collection of Jesus’s sayings that he wrote down and just threw this one in at the end of this passage. However, as with all God-breathed and human written Scripture, nothing is ever out of place. Nothing is disjointed. It is through prayer, meditation, and research that we learn more about the Scriptures. When you look at this passage from the sense that Jesus is saying that not only that we should not be hypocritical but that we can speak into other people’s lives but it has to be done in love, then this final verse does really make sense.

When Jesus says, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces,” I think Jesus is saying that there are going to be times, even when you speak into someone’s life in love, you will not be heard because a person is not ready to hear what is being said. In a lot of cases such as this, the hearer will actually turn against you verbally and sometimes even physically. Usually those who protest against advice in anger are those that want to protect their sin and continuing participating in it. We see in the broader today with an easy example. Why is that that it takes reams of paper in magazines, court cases, editorials and constant bludgeoning of us by the media that certain sexual lifestyles are OK, but, yet, God’s plan for sex in traditional marriage requires no defense at all? It is sin that requires extensive justification whereas the truth stands on its own without need for defense. We must remember that when we speak the truth in love, it may not always be accepted. In fact, it may be rejected altogether. People may get angry with you and attempt to extensively justify why there sin is OK. In these cases, you thank them for listening to you and move on. You pray for other opportunities to speak truth. You pray that life’s events will bring them to a place where they will see their sin. You pray too that your concern is from a position of love and not retribution.

So, what you speak to someone first has to be done in humility from a heart that cares rather than one that is trying to justify itself. If we are trying to deflect attention from our own behavior, the first thing the other person will attack is your own credibility to say what you are saying – he who is without sin cast the first stone kind of thing. Integrity, baby! In the end, that’s what this passage is all about – integrity. Can what we say in public be supported by our actions in private! Have we examined our lives for unrepented sin before we condemn others? Integrity, baby! Are we speaking into another person’s life in loving care and concern over the direction of their life or are we simply trying to avoid dealing with our own shortcomings by deflecting attention on to another person? May we hold each other accountable in love. May we attempt to love others the way we want to be loved. May we change the things about ourselves that need changing so that the other person can see that hey if they are willing to change so am I. May we be the change that we want to see. May we pray for each other earnestly. May we pray that God will change us into the little Christs that He wants to be slowly but surely day by day.

Matthew 6:25-34
Do Not Worry

Are you sitting at the table in your kitchen right now worrying about how to pay the bills? Do you have more month left over than you have money? Living the American dream, right? Where does it get us? The newest cars, the finest houses, all the best toys inside the house, and we just accept that this is the way that life is supposed to be. We think that desiring and having the newest everything as the way everyone should be acting. We complain about the lack of ambition of our children but yet we spoil them with every imaginable thing. We are no different as we acquire things we want but cannot afford. Just put it on the credit card. Apply for another one when that one gets maxed out. Why do we live this way and accept that this is the way it is. Worry over money, food, and shelter is an American obsession.

But, yet, I have been to Haiti where the standard of living by American measures is desperately poor. However, the people that I have met there through the local church in Jacmel that my church is partnered with there are some of the happiest, most joyous people I’ve ever met. Their joy is in the Lord. Praise and worship is maxed out there on Sunday mornings and these people just plain out love the Lord. Joy that comes from the Lord is not about having the finest of everything. Joy that comes from the Lord is just joy no matter the circumstance. We can learn some life-changing lessons from our friends in Jacmel, Haiti.

As we continue on in the Sermon on the Mount (which continues on until Matthew 7:29), we now enter one of my favorite passages from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus here talks about our preoccupation with worry. Here, Jesus says,

“25 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

The first thing that you notice here is that in Verses 25-27, Jesus is saying that we are making life too complex with worry. He says just look at the birds of the world. They do not have the natural intelligence that man does, nor do they create new things from the materials of earth, but God takes care of them nonetheless. Birds always have insects and bugs available for their nourishment. So, why do we worry? Are we not the most important thing in the world to God? Thus, worry adds nothing to our life. Indeed, it actually takes away from our life. Worry sucks joy out of our lives. Worry is about something that has not happened yet. Worry makes you focus on things other than the reality that you exist in this moment. Haven’t you found that the people that you have encountered in life that are the most unhappy are those that worry all the time. Worry never accomplishes anything. Worry has never accomplished a project. Worry has never taken an exam. Worry has never paid a bill. Worry is worthless. There are people that each of us knows that worry about what they are going to worry about tomorrow. We all know people who get worried when they have nothing to worry about.

In Verses 28-31, he asks us why we worry so much about what we will wear and what we will eat. The lilies of the field are clothed and taken care by the Lord, so why if he takes care of these seemingly insignificant things that only beautify our world, why would he not take care of us. In a sermon I read at http://www.cc-vw.org/sermons/matthew62534.htm, the writer said,

“Do an analysis of any typical women’s magazine or men’s magazine and you will find it is preoccupied with the very things Jesus told us not to worry about – with clothes, food and drink. Most of the advertisements will focus on the body: with how to shape it, how to ‘take four-and-a-half inches off without moving an inch’; with how to make it more attractive; how to ‘love your lips’, and make them alluring, smooth and more kissable; with how to look younger; how to rejuvenate your skin and make it as soft as a baby’s skin.”

I am not just picking on women here, though there are a lot more women’s magazines out there than men’s. But, we men are not immune, we are taught to want the finest cars, the finest homes, the best job, the trophy wife and so on. We lust after things that do not fill our soul. And, as such, we continue wanting more and more material things. Jesus is telling us that there is more to life than material things. Material things are trivial in the end as I have yet to hear of anyone who took all of the toys they accumulated here on earth with them into the afterlife. Thus, worrying over worldly things simply is like trying to hold on to vapor. Worrying over worldly things simply does not make sense. It is illogical to worry over something that do not last. We should look at the birds of the sky and the lilies of the field. They do not worry over such things. God takes care of all creatures. Most assuredly he will take care of us. Let’s get our mind off these fleeting things and focus on our relationship with God. Worry, thus, gets in the way of our relationship with God. It takes our eyes off him. Anything that comes between God and us is an idol. The things that we obsess over – money, food, clothing – can dominate our lives so much that they become more important than our relationship with God. Yesterday, we talked about how we Americans typically live off of 104% of what we make. We can become so obsessed with having things and then become so overwhelmed with the debt associated with it that we let the maintenance of our budget, or the lack thereof, become our god. It can be so refreshing when you decide that instead of buying the next greatest thing that we begin using our tax refunds to pay off debts. It can be refreshing when we pay off cars instead of trading every two or three years. It can be refreshing when we decide that enough is enough. It is so awesome when we get our expenses under 100% of our income. Think about it. How long do new things make you happy? Not very long. Then, you become slaves to paying for them.

In Verses 32-33, we re-read, “31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” My take on this is that worry is not the trademark of a true God-loving Jesus follower. It is un-Christian. As Christians, when we worry, we are saying to God, “Hey, I don’t really trust you, Lord”. When we worry over things, we are not trusting God. Faith and worry … aren’t they the antithesis of one another. In that sermon, I referenced above, the writer also said, “Why pray when you can worry!” Faith means trust. Trust in God’s care and provision. To be a Christian is to walk in a trusting relationship with God. But sin interferes with that relationship and leads to worry. Worry misses the point of life, is illogical, a waste of time and incompatible with faith. The essence of being a Christ follower is saying to God, I cannot handle this alone. I need you. I lay all my stuff at your feet. Help me. I put my total faith and trust in you. If we do not put our faith and trust in God…hand it all over to him and trust that he will provide for our needs, we are cheating God. We are especially cheating ourselves of the full value of our relationship with God. Worry drops you into the realm of a non-believer. Having a primary concern with material needs is the characteristic of unbelievers says Jesus. Some of these worries may be modest, such as food, drink and clothing. But others are more commonly found in our lives – a bigger house, a new car, a better salary, reputation, fame or power. But all these are pagan because they are self-centered and do not satisfy. When we trust in Jesus and receive him as our Lord and Savior we are born into his family and become children of God. We can be assured that God knows our every need. If our loving Father knows our needs we can trust him for them. Not our wants but certainly our needs. Worry misses the point of life, is illogical, a waste of time, incompatible with faith and is actually something far less than Christian.

Finally, as we re-read the final two verses of this passage again, Jesus says, “33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Jesus is imploring us to put our full faith and trust in him. Think of how relieving it would be to truly put our faith, hope, and trust in God. The apostle Paul also writes, ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ (Romans 8:28). Sometimes, as Paul knew only too well and as Jesus experienced, our situation may be difficult or painful. Yet God will walk with us and hold our hand and uses adversity to build our character. If we are child-like in our trust in God, no matter what we are going through we know that He is using the situation to mold us into the person, the servant that He wants us to be. Paul is such a superb example of a man that knew adversity and troubles…a man who by human standards had a right to worry. However, Paul was child-like in his trust and faith in God. As Jesus later says in Mark 10:15, “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” Paul knew that whatever was happening in his life, it was for God’s purpose and that it was not for Him to complain about or question. God does actually have our best interest at heart as we play our role in His grand plan. I read somewhere or heard someone, somewhere say, “Worry is an invitation to prayer.” We must remind ourselves that God has got our back. My friends in Jacmel, Haiti taught me that just by observing how they lived their lives. We obsess about what we don’t have and don’t trust God to provide. They praise God for what they do have and trust Him to provide what they need to survive.

Sure, God want us to plan and not just take life as it comes and be oblivious to our responsibilities in life just so we will not worry. There is a difference between good planning and worrying. Good planning often prevents worry. If you have a good plan for money, it works for you instead of you working for it. Planning for retirement helps you alleviate worry over what is going to happen when you retire. Having a monthly spending plan and sticking to it helps alleviate worry about how you are going to pay your bills. Spending plans help us have discipline about spending and help us reach our goals instead of just spending foolishly and then obsessing over how we are going to pay for our momentary lapses of reason. What God does not want is for us to ignore that He should be the center of our lives. What God does not want is for us to live our lives in such a manner that our things become our gods. What God does not want is for us to live our lives where non-eternal things become the central focus and not Him. There is a an old hymn written by John Sammis back in 1887 that says it best,
When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Refrain:
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

ot a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet,
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.
Amen and Amen.

Matthew 6:19-24
Treasures in Heaven

Isn’t amazing how much more money our Federal government spends than it takes in each year. Our national debt is a national shame. We complain about it. We say that we do not understand it. We say that the government should live within its means. The deficits of our government are staggering. Economists tell us that some government spending in excess of collections can be good as a stimulus to the economy but all agree that it should not be a continuous thing nor should it be to the extent at which our government does it. Our government’s deficit persist and take up a more and more significant part of our country’s annual budgets – the paying of interest on our national debt. Foreign countries such as China purchase our government bonds to help finance the debt. We will one day become beholden to China as a result. China will not conquer us militarily but rather financially. We will be become the servants of other nations because we cannot live within our means as a nation.

As we continue reviewing the Sermon on the Mount, we now visit Matthew 6:19-24. This passage is certainly in contrast to the “I gotta have it now”, credit cards maxed to the limit, keeping up with the Joneses world that we see filling the commercials on television in our society today. It has been statistically proven that the majority of Americans live off of more than they make. Through credit, Americans typically spend 104% of what they make each year. Although we complain about our government, we are no better as a people than our government. We spend more than we make every year just like the government. We rarely pay off debts. We simply refinance them and replace them with bigger debts. We want more. We finance more. We then sit at our kitchen tables and wring our hands as we pay our bills as we sit in our houses that are twice as big as we need, with new cars in the driveway that are more than we can afford, with so many toys in the garage that we can’t park our cars in them. We are slaves to our debt just like our nation is. We spend more than we make just like the government. Our economy now has become so dependent on consumer credit that one out of every five jobs would disappear if there were no credit card debt in America. We have forced ourselves into an ever-increasing dependence on credit card debt. When we all are obsessed with this debt and living beyond our means, we are obsesses with that which does not matter in eternity. Satan smiles and Jesus weeps. Let’s read what Jesus has to say here,

“19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 24 No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Jesus is saying here that things of this earth are temporary and fleeting so why would you make these things important in your life? He is saying that our treasures should be living our life in his model. He is saying that we should place our emphasis on living as he lived, loving as he loved, and leaving behind what he left behind. We should be living our lives in service to our fellow man, sacrificing our needs for those of others, and helping others grow into what God wants them to be. However, we all have our earthly treasures that get in the way seeing that. We have our houses, our cars, our favorite little earthly things that get in the way of hearing God’s call. We become obsessed with these earthly things and think that they will make us happy. If I get this one more toy, I will be happy. If I have more money, I will be happy. As the old saying goes, “show me your checkbook register, and I will show you what you worship.” Therefore, particularly, in the first three verses, Jesus is basically saying that you can’t take it with you so with our souls being eternal, what you should be focusing on is on those things that matter eternally – being a just person, a trustworthy person, a person who cares not if his name is celebrated for the good things they do, a person who genuinely does for his fellow man because he cares about them deeply.

In the second half of the passage, Jesus really lays it out there. He is basically saying that if you have areas of your life what God is not number one then the whole deal is off. He is saying that it really doesn’t matter if you do all the right things in all other areas of your life, but there is this one area that you are not putting God first, then you have undone everything. If you love something more than you love God, we have sinned. That as Jesus says is serving two masters. Jesus is saying that God is the sovereign Lord of the universe – everything else should come second.

Can we claim not to love wealth more than our brothers and sisters in Christ when we see them hurting and do not sacrifice what should matter to us less than their need? While many of us pursue status symbols that television suggests are “necessities” evangelical ministries to the poor claim that forty thousand people die of starvation and malnutrition daily. That means roughly twenty-seven a minute, twenty of whom are children under five years old. (This represents a loss of life roughly equivalent to the first atom bomb being dropped again-every three days). There was a song back in the 80’s that describes us in our society where we are awash in wealth beyond measure and the staggering debt that goes with it. It was called “All She Wants To Do Is Dance?” by Don Henley. The song indicts us as Americans in that all we care about is our pleasure when there is a world out there that is hurting and that it will come back to haunt us one day. All we care about is ourselves and our pleasure and entertainment. Think about how strapped our churches are in today’s world. Most can barely get by because all we want to do is dance. On a typical Sunday in American churches today, only 20% of those who attend church actually give to the church they attend. Even then, that 20% only gives less than 2% of what they make. Although Jesus says that we should lay up treasure in heaven through our obedience to our God, we do not demonstrate anything other than being slaves to our entertainment and comfort. All she wants to do is dance. There are needs in our community that we cannot meet. There hungry people in our city than cannot be fed. There are children that live in abusive homes than cannot be fostered. All we want to do is dance. Bigger nicer houses. Three cars instead of two. LCD display televisions. All are considered necessities to us. All we want to do is dance.

So, again, Jesus is asking us to look at our motivations. Do we have our priorities right? Jesus is saying that money, or whatever it is, cannot be king in our lives. What should be king is serving the needs of our fellow man whether its in our neighborhood or halfway round the world. In order to seek the Kingdom of God, we must be willing to part with our earthly treasures – we must give it away to get the treasures of heaven. What’s important to you? What’s important to me? Do we seek the kingdom of God first in our lives? Let us begin now to do that. Let us quit being an example to the lost of the ones who only care about the dance. Let us work on reducing our debts so that were are not subservient to it. Let us see that keeping up with the Joneses is not what we should be after. It is a frustrating merry go round that we must get off. We are slaves to our money just as much as the non-believer. Let us start right now to live our lives in manner that allows to invest in heavenly matters rather than servicing our debt. Let us all begin to pay off our debts one by one, smallest to largest, so that we can live off of 90% or less of what we make. Let us teach our children the same principles. Let us be a people that can give generously to our corporate body of believers called the church. Let us be a people that empowers our church to be a driving force for expanding God’s kingdom. Let us be a people that allows our church to show uncommon and unwarranted love by meeting needs in our community. Let us be a people that gives sacrificially to the cause of Christ. Let us give generously so that others can hear the gospel and be changed by it.

Or let’s be selfish and only care about that which pleases us. Let us seek those things that do not matter a whit in eternity. Let us care about things and not the kingdom of God. All she wants to do is dance!