Heart Problems

Our Gospel reading for this week is Matthew chapters 5 & 6. This is part of what we commonly refer to as the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’ longest teaching passages in the Gospels. I’ve heard people say that this passage of Scripture is a checklist we need to keep in order to please Jesus, but if you view the Sermon on the Mount as a checklist, you’ve missed the point.

Jesus is addressing a number of topics in this passage: Attitudes (5:1-12), Actions/Witness (v13-16), Righteousness (v.17-20), Conflict (v. 21-26), Marriage, specifically Adultery (v. 27-30) and Divorce (v.31-32), Honesty (v.33-37), Revenge (v.38-48), Giving (6:1-4), Prayer & Forgiveness (v.5-15), Fasting (v.19-24), and Worry/Self Dependence (v.25-34). All that said, Jesus really addresses one topic in this whole passage, and applies it to different areas. What’s the one topic? The heart.

In every instance, Jesus is teaching us how our heart should be focused. We can try to follow checklists all day, but without our heart being right we’ll never be able to accomplish God’s will. Let’s look at one example in particular.

Matthew 5:16 – “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Matthew 6:1“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.”

How are we supposed to keep both of these? There’s no way to check these off a list. If people see me I can’t check one, and if they don’t see me I can’t check the other. What’s the difference? The heart. It all boils down to what our heart is searching for – honoring God and glorifying Him, or showing off and honoring ourselves. If the heart is in the right place, we are doing what Jesus commands. It really boils down to this: do we treasure God, or praise from others?

Matthew 6:21- “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

If our hearts are right our attitudes will be right when we’re mistreated (5:1-12). If our hearts are right we will be salt and light (both elements which change every situation they enter) for God’s glory (v. 13-16). If our hearts are right we will want to be righteous in our actions (v.17-20). If our hearts are right we won’t mistreat our brothers and sisters (v.21-26). If our hearts are right we will honor our spouses by remaining pure and committed to each other (v.27-32). If our hearts are right we will deal in love with honesty and not seek revenge when we are wronged (v.33-48). If our hearts are right we will give generously, not for our own glory, but to honor God (6:1-4). If our hearts are right we will pray heartfelt prayers that lift up others and don’t glorify ourselves…we’ll forgive others as we’ve been forgiven (v.5-15). If our hearts are right we’ll focus on God because of our want of relationship with him, not to impress others (v.19-24). If our hearts are right we’ll rely on Him for our needs without worry (v.25-34).

To quote the first words of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life: “It’s not about you!” The Pharisees and teachers of the Law in the first century had missed this. They had taken God’s word and twisted its application to be all about themselves and how righteous they were by how well they kept the rules.

Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

It’s not about you. It’s about God. Keep your heart focused on honoring Him in everything you do. Only then will we see the Sermon on the Mount carried out in our lives. – Matt

Advertisements

Nobody Else Can Claim This!

We’re doing something different this year with our church, and I’d like for you, my readers to join us. The goal is as a church family we will read through the Gospel of Matthew by Easter, and the other three Gospels by the end of the year. I will be writing at least one article per week that goes along with the reading…not really a complete commentary on the Gospels, but rather a reading guide. We’ll be reading roughly two chapters per week (four short chapters this week). This is an easy to accomplish reading plan for the year, but at the same time we will spend the entire year focused on the life of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I hope you choose to read with us! Click here to download the Yearly Gospel Reading Plan

This week we’re looking at the first four chapters of Matthew. The Gospel of Matthew was written by a Jew to a Jewish audience, so there are some major Jewish themes, explanations, and topics that Matthew brings up. The major focus of these first few chapters is who Jesus is, and where Jesus came from. The genealogy that many might skim over was very important to Jews, and is full of information that teaches us about Jesus.

Because space is limited I’ll only focus on the women mentioned, which in itself is odd. Women were never included in official Jewish genealogies because during this time they had no legal rights and were considered property rather than people. But notice that God doesn’t see it that way! He includes Tamar the adulteress (Gen. 38), Rahab the prostitute (Joshua 2), Ruth the Moabite (Ruth), and Bathsheba the adulteress (2 Sam 11&12). Here Matthew shows us two things: 1) The barriers the religious elite had put in place are being removed, 2) Somehow God can even use those who have gone through tragic and sinful situations to accomplish His purposes, even bringing His Son into the world through their lineage!

Chapter 2 covers the Christmas story, the birth of Jesus and the fulfilled prophecies that further point to who Jesus was and where he comes from. Because this is January most of us have studied the Christmas story recently, and we’ll not dwell here.

Finally we arrive at chapter 3 where we meet John the Baptist who is preparing the way for the Messiah (another prophecy fulfilled) and we see the baptism of Jesus. (Personally I’ve never understood people wanting to be a follower of Jesus, to be like Jesus, but not wanting to be baptized. Even Jesus said he needed to do this “to fulfill all righteousness.” Shouldn’t we want to follow his example, and command? (Mt. 28:19)) In this passage we see two events we often overlook that would be important to Matthew’s readers: Jesus receiving smicha (pronounced smee-hah), which your Bible likely translates as “authority“, or “one who had authority.” 

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. – Matthew 7:28-29

Great teachers became Rabbi’s, meaning they had the “authority” to interpret,  apply, and create new teachings about scripture when they themselves were granted smicha by other Rabbi’s who had smicha. Apparently John the Baptist had smicha (Mt. 21:23-27). The other grantor of smicha? God himself!

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” – 3:17 

Matthew’s Jewish readers would realize that Jesus was the only Rabbi in history who received his smicha directly from God himself. Jesus isn’t some ordinary teacher. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God!

Our reading this week ends with chapter 4. Jesus faces temptation without sin in the wilderness, begins his ministry, and calls his first disciples. But the chapter ends with a message to Matthew’s Jewish readers, as well as to us today, that Jesus’ message and salvation was for a much broader audience than anyone expected.

“Large crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.” – Matthew 4:25

Here we have a listing of areas that were the home of the most well educated religious scholars, and the common folk.  Extremely traditional and conservative teachers, and extremely liberal and radical ones. But it also includes gentiles from the Decapolis. Matthew is reminding us that even early in his ministry we can see that Jesus came from God to save everybody!

Be blessed as you read Matthew’s story of Jesus this week! – Matt

Follower or Fan?

“The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren’t actually interested in following Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them.” – Kyle Idleman, not a fan.

That quote from Idleman really makes me think about why I follow Jesus. What motivates me to follow Him, and am I actually following Jesus, or do I simply stay close enough to get some sort of benefit?

I used to travel I-35 quite a bit between North Texas and San Antonio. Along that highway used to be a church that advertised a “Sunday Morning 20 Minute Worship Service.” Their hope was by keeping everything extremely short and compact that more people would be interested in attending their services. But if our entire motivation in going to a service is that it will require very little of me, can we really call it worship? By the way, the sign and the church have since disappeared.

In Revelation we see Jesus sending a message to several churches. To the church in Ephesus he writes this: But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. – Revelation 2:4-5

To the church in Sardis: I know your works; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead. – Revelation 3:1

To the church in Laodicea: I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth. – Revelation 3:15-16

If Jesus were to look at our level of commitment (follower vs. fan), would he say we had abandoned our love of him? Are we putting something else first? Do we look alive by playing the part, while we’re actually spiritually dead? Is our lack of commitment enough to make him want to vomit?

What does your life say about your commitment to Jesus? Do we actually follow him, or are we simply a fan? Does our schedule, our habits, our finances, our actions truly show that we are committed to following him, even when it costs us? Or are we fans that worship him only when it’s convenient, hang on to bad habits that dishonor him because we like them more than him, and give as long as we don’t have something we want to spend our money on at the moment?

2017 is all but gone. Let’s make it a priority in 2018 to honor Jesus in every aspect of our lives! Commit to truly follow Jesus. Commit to spending time with him regularly in prayer, in Bible reading, and in worship at every opportunity. Be radical! Do what the Bible actually teaches! Commit to giving both financially and physically in the service of the Kingdom. Make following Jesus your first priority above anything else!

But seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” – Matthew 6:33

The Problem with Parenting

There’s a wealth of wisdom to be gleaned when it comes to being a good parent, but there’s something we tend to overlook.  When it comes to kids making poor choices, often the finger is pointed at the parents. “If they had taught that kid better…” has been said so many times, and for no other reason than to cast blame on an already hurtful situation. But what exactly does the Bible say about parenting? Let’s look at a few examples.

Ephesians 6 tells us: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, because this is right. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, so that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land. Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

I think we would all agree that children should obey parents, and parents should train up their children to know and honor God. And let me add that if you are a parent and not teaching your children about God, you’re ignoring one of the key commands of parents in Scripture. Teach your children! Let the church help! Bring them to Bible classes, youth events, and small group. Don’t teach them about life and neglect teaching them about God in the process. Teach your children!

But every good teacher will tell you that teaching only goes so far. In the end, it is entirely up to the student what they will choose to do. So do we blame the teacher/parent if they are doing their part? Surely if they were a good parent their kids would turn out perfect, right? Scripture tells us that King David was a man after God’s own heart. You would assume everything he did as a parent would go well. It didn’t. One child turned out ok. His name was Solomon and he was the wisest man to ever live. You would assume everything he did as a parent would go well. It didn’t. Scripture shows his children didn’t inherit any of Solomon’s great wisdom, and even less of a relationship with God. In just a couple of generations we went from a man after God’s own heart to grandchildren who refused to obey God.

Maybe we should look back at the perfect Father. God is perfect in all of his ways. He is the perfect example, the perfect law, the perfect teacher, and surely His children would be perfect as well…after all He did say we are to be perfect as He is perfect. But God is another “parent” whose children fell into sin. God does everything perfectly, yet His children sin. Does this make God a bad parent? Absolutely not!

The problem, which is also a blessing, is a concept called free will. God created us with the ability to choose. We can be filled with all the information in the world as to right and wrong, wise and foolish, and yet we still have the choice of how to use that information in our actions. The Creator of the universe saw fit to let tiny, insignificant humans choose to do what we wish! And because we have that freedom we will make some bad choices, often as a result of letting the wrong voices influence us.

Parents, hang in there. When a child falls into sin, or unbelief it doesn’t mean a bad parent is behind that situation. It means the child may have made, or is continuing to make bad choices. Something is influencing the child more than their faithful parents. Keep speaking truth and wisdom into the situation, and continue to pray that the child will accept your influence, but know in the end that free will is in play. Being a lifelong influencer of another human is a difficult job. Bad decisions by a child shouldn’t immediately become a reflection on the parent, just as a sinful person isn’t a condemnation of God’s perfection.

We’re Losing the Battle!

1/168th. That’s the magic number. That tiny fraction is so small. You would feel cheated if we were talking about buying a slice of pie. Yet 1/168th is exactly what most people assume will fix all of their problems.

What is 1/168th? Pretty simple really. No matter how rich, how poor, what ethnicity, what background, what level of education…we all have 168 hours to live life each week. In general, church going people spend about 1 hour in church per week…1/168th of their week. That’s very little influence during the average week! Let’s look a little closer at what other things influence our average week.

The average American sleeps 6.8 hours (we’ll call it 7) per night. Not a whole lot of influence happens when we sleep, but it does consume 49/168ths or our week. Depending on your age or career, we average between 35-40 hours per week at school or work, meaning what we do during the day has between 35 and 40 times the amount of influence that church has on us in any given week! But there’s something that eats up our time even more than school or work.

Electronics. TV, cell phones, tablets, game systems, computers…you know, electronics. The average American spends between 45 and 50 hours a week on an electronic device. Some of that electronics time overlaps at work or school, but on average electronics usage influences us 45-50 times more than our worship service on Sunday. What are we doing with them? Growing in our faith, or watching cat videos and playing games?

If you’re good at math, you’re realizing this is somewhere between 130-140 hours per week. There’s more time, yet we’re really good at filling that time too. Time to worship (yes, worship) sports, hobbies, shopping, activities and fun of all types…and pretty soon, we’ve filled our 168 hours. What I find even more troubling than the 1/168th figure itself is that only 21% of adults spend any time to connect with God. Most aren’t even getting 1/168th!  Why don’t more people connect with God on a weekly basis? The response is simple really: “I don’t have time.”

If you’re a “super Christian” and go to church every time the doors are open, you’re still looking at only 4 or 5 hours of the 168 per week. Still not much influence is it? Yet everyone wants to come to church a few hours a week and magically everything else will fall into place. The truth is simply going to church won’t fix this problem. It’s going to take a complete refocus of our lives!

Matthew 6:33 – But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.

If our entire hope for ourselves, our children, the lost of our world, and the future of the Kingdom hinges on 1/168th, we’re losing the battle. We must be intentional about pursuing God first. Does the way we spend our time truly mirror what our values are? Do we honor TV and sports more than our Savior? 1/168th is only a drop in the bucket of life. Followers of Christ have to be more intentional with every moment of our lives in order to survive, let alone thrive in our faith. Be more intentional!

  • The majority of these statistics, as well as many others can be found in The DNA of D6

You’re Killing Yourself! (And You Don’t Even Realize It)

“I’m so busy…I have so much going on!” How often do you hear that statement? We’re all far busier than we used to be. Busyness and stress have become a way of life for most Americans, and it’s literally killing us!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has collected mounds of data showing that  stress-related disorders and diseases have been steadily increasing across the American population for many years, and middle-aged members of the workforce are dying in increasingly higher numbers each year. The cause? Stress-related disorders and diseases. Our crazy busy schedules are killing us!

I read an article recently that shared the struggle a parent was having just trying to set up a play date between his daughter and her friend. Here’s the quoted exchange: “The mother, a really lovely person, reached for her phone and pulled out the calendar function. She scrolled… and scrolled… and scrolled. She finally said: “She has a 45-minute opening two and half weeks from now. The rest of the time it’s gymnastics, piano, and voice lessons. She’s just…. so busy.”

I think Jesus’ job was stressful. Imagine knowing every morning when you woke up that you must be perfect, not sin, and set an example for the entirety of human history to follow. You would be challenged at every corner, you’re working with unbelievably stubborn people that don’t seem to grasp what you tell them, and you get to do it all over again tomorrow…until it’s your turn to be executed in the most inhumane way possible. Doesn’t exactly sound like the dream job, does it? Yet we see Jesus display great wisdom in facing this struggle. Here’s what he did that you and I should absolutely do as often as possible: He rested.

Luke 5:16-17 – But the news about him spread even more, and large crowds would come together to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. Yet he often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.

The Gospels include many references to Jesus withdrawing from the crowds, getting alone to spend time with God in prayer, and sleeping. Our culture promotes just the opposite…sleep is laziness, don’t ever be alone, and run toward the crowds…especially when there’s a deal to be had on another object to put in your house!

I understand that we live in a far different world than the first century world of Jesus, but I think there are some important principles for this situation. We have filled our lives with so much stuff that there isn’t enough time for God’s presence in our lives. We’ve crowded him out.

As we enter on of the busiest and most stressful seasons of the year, make time for God, make time for your family, and make time for yourself. It’s what Jesus would do!

Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 6

Last time we explored the significance of the cups of wine used in the Passover celebration. This article will examine a reference that Jesus and Paul make to one of theses cups.

The third cup comes right after supper. This cup is mentioned specifically in Luke 22:20 – In the same way he also took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” This third Passover cup is known as the Geulah which means redemption, and is sometimes called the cup of blessing. As mentioned previously, the phrase “new covenant in my blood” is an allusion by Jesus to Jeremiah 31:31-34. “Look, the days are coming”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…”  The passage ends with the words: “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.”

It is a powerful statement Jesus is making by taking the cup of redemption, or cup of blessing, and interpreting it as God’s new covenant with humankind. The third cup reminded the Jews of God’s blessing by redeeming them out of slavery in Egypt on the very night of the original Passover. In a similar, but far greater way, God will redeem his people once, for all time through the events that would begin the very night that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. This was to be a new feast to commemorate God’s eternal redemption of his people.

The apostle Paul alludes to this third cup in his letter to Corinth. The church in Corinth was apparently involved in consuming food that had been sacrificed by pagans to their idols. Some saw nothing wrong with eating the food, while others were deeply offended by this claiming the Christians were worshipping idols in eating these feasts.

1 Corinthians 10:16-17 – The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, since all of us share the one bread.

Barclay offers the following commentary on Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians. “…a man who has sat at the table of Jesus Christ cannot go on to sit at the table which is the instrument of demons. If a man has handled the body and blood of Christ there are things he cannot touch.”

Those of us who have entered into “the new covenant in [Christ’s] blood” have pledged our faithfulness to him. Eating this feast is worship, and when we eat the bread and drink from the cup, we are not only reminding ourselves of his sacrifice, we are recommitting ourselves to this new covenant in Christ which excludes worshipping any other god.

All Christians who eat the Lord’s Supper are “one body” in doing so. Unfortunately we still allow idol sacrifices to divide us today. We often place our allegiance to our denominations, our worship preferences, our schedules, our convenience, as well as other idols before our allegiance to unity in Christ. In many ways, we fail to remember the body (church) of Jesus when we eat this feast.  May God forgive us for our lack of unity, and may God strengthen our bond to him and each other through the body and blood of Christ.