Your Eyes Reveal It All!

I’m very excited to have another guest post on the blog as part of the 2018 Blog Tour. Today’s post comes to us from Johnathan Woodall. Jonathan is the minister for the GracePointe church of Christ in Elizabethtown, PA and blogs on the church website www.gracepointechurchofchrist.org and on his personal page at www.jonathanfwoodall.com. He is the spouse of Hayley and they have two children–Brynn and Aidric. Jonathan has also served as a worship minister, campus minister, and adjunct instructor of communication.

Your eyes reveal it all! As soon as I heard the theme for this year’s blog tour, my mind immediately went to a short passage in Matthew 6. I love this passage. First, I like it because the ancient conceptualization of the human eye as a “lamp” is intriguing to me. Second, the passage is really about the notion of focus and the idea that what you seek is ultimately what you find. So, let me share the passage with you, taking into consideration the overview provided by Matt in his post pertaining to the Sermon on the Mount.

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! – Matthew 6:22-23

So, let’s have some fun! It only seems right to share some pictures with you and ask what it is that you see in the picture?

Here is the first one

rabbduck

Picture: http://mathworld.wolfram.com/

And the second

Picture:

https://www.reddit.com/

And one more

Screenshot 2018-10-22 15.44.33

Picture: https://www.moillusions.com/

Now, to the passage. The eye was seen as the body’s lamp because just like lighting a lamp allowed you to see the room in the dark, so to opening the eye allowed you to see the world. So, if you had a healthy eye, you could see pretty well. However, if you have a “bad” eye, that is an eye that is unhealthy, then you can’t see very well. Blindness was a condition in which the eye couldn’t be “switched on” and so the body could not move about in the light…but stumbled around in the darkness.

In context, sandwiched between the warning not to store up materialistic treasures where moth and rust destroy, and thieves steal; and the reality check that a servant cannot serve two masters at the same time—our eye as the lamp passage serves to tell us that the ability to see and to focus on what is right in the sight of God is extremely important.

In the pictures above, there isn’t a right answer! Congrats! You saw a duck or a rabbit in the first picture based upon the aspects of the picture you focused on. In the second picture, you either saw a young woman or an elderly woman again based upon the aspects of the picture you focused on. In the third picture, you either saw a vase or two side profiles looking at each other depending on your eyes’ focus. It is a fun experiment to do, and perhaps you saw both options in each picture. (Or you can go back and try to see the other option.)

When it comes to the eyes of faith that Jesus asks us to develop in his Sermon on the Mount, the aspects of life you focus on really do matter. Jesus asks us to focus on people and relationships instead of stuff and possessions…heavenly treasure that makes us rich in the ways of God. Jesus continues that we cannot serve money and God.

Our eyes must be healthy, they must be focused, and they are a gateway to our, “shining before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

So, what are you seeking?

  • If you were to evaluate what your eyes tend to watch, what would it be? Another way to say it, what catches your eye?
  • Would you say that you have “blind-spots?” What are persons and things that you might fail to see?
  • When people use you as a “lamp” to light up the darkness…what do they see from your good works?
  • How healthy are our eyes of faith?

Your eyes may just reveal it all!

2018 Blog Tour Posts

  1. What Are You Seeking… Really?, By Peter Horne
  2. The Seekers Heart, By Matt Stidham
  3. Regaining the search for the Search, By John Dobbs
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Assured Salvation

Our Gospel reading this week comes from John 5 – 6:21. In this article I would like to focus on the words of Jesus that address a struggle many people seem to face: “Can I really know that I am saved?”

John’s Gospel shows more than any other gospel writer that true believers in submission to Jesus are saved now. It’s not something we have to wring our hands over, and worry that if we’re “good enough” God might save us. That type of teaching borders on heresy because Scripture is full of clear statements concerning this (Rom. 8:1, Col. 3:3, 1 John 5:13, etc.) But here, John includes language by Jesus himself that contradicts this misguided teaching.

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” – John 5:24

What’s important about 5:24, as well as several other texts in John, is that we do not have to wait until judgement day to know how we stand with the Lord. You can know in the present that you are saved! Notice how Jesus uses present tense language in describing this: “..has eternal life…”, not will have…HAS!

Far too many live in doubt of their salvation instead of living confidently and victoriously in the present time. Some believe we can never know about our salvation until the final judgement. But think about that belief for a moment. Can you know that you are lost? If so, why can’t you know you are saved? How can you know one and not know the other?

In one of his letters, John puts it this way:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” – 1 John 5:13

Is that clear? “…you may know that you have eternal life.” Not “you will know someday.” You may know now! John is very clear on this. The use of present tense in 1 John, as well as John 5:24 clearly shows that salvation in Christ can be known and experienced now, not just in the future. Does that mean that there’s nothing left to experience in the future? Absolutely not. Salvation is experienced both now, and in the future. The fullness of our salvation will only be experienced at the return of Jesus, but rest assured that you can know that you are saved, and that knowledge and freedom should affect how you live now!

Saved people don’t sit and worry about their salvation. Instead, they tell others about their salvation, what Christ has done in their life, how it has freed them from evil, and how others can experience the same blessing in Christ. Perhaps this is why we struggle so much with evangelism…we’re not sure anyone else wants what we have because we’re not sure we have it ourselves! To use the metaphor from recent sermons, if you’ve been through the water then you’re God’s child. Start living like it!

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” – John 5:24

The Seekers Heart (2018 Blog Tour)

I wrote this post for the 2018 Blog Tour, so it is also being published on a number of other blogs as well. Our theme this year is “What are you seeking?”

“You are what you love.” That’s the title of a book by James K. A. Smith that has challenged my life, particularly my heart. I’ve learned that my heart isn’t always focused on what it should be, regardless of what my actions show. This realization led me to the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’ longest teaching passages in Matthew 5-7. Some view this passage as a checklist we need to keep to please Jesus. But viewing the Sermon on the Mount as a checklist shows you’ve missed the point.

Take a look at this summary of the teachings in this passage:
– Attitudes (5:1-12)
– Actions/Witness (v13-16)
– Righteousness (v.17-20)
– Conflict (v. 21-26)
– Marriage and Adultery (v. 27-30)
– 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)
– Worry/Self Dependence (v.25-34).

That’s a lot of topics! It seems Jesus has something to say about nearly every part of our lives. But Jesus isn’t addressing a bunch of topics here. In reality, he addresses one topic and applies it to many different areas. What’s the one topic? The heart.

In every instance, Jesus is teaching us how we should orient our heart. We can try to follow checklists all day, but without our heart being right we’ll never be the people God calls us to be. Take a look at his teaching on murder, or adultery in the passage. The issue wasn’t outward actions, rather a matter of the heart.

Let’s look at one two more statements. In Matthew 5:16 Jesus says “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Yet chapter 6 starts with “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. Logic says you cannot do both, but it all boils down to what our heart is seeking. Are we honoring God and glorifying Him, or showing off and honoring ourselves? If the heart is in the right place, we are doing exactly what Jesus wants. It all boils down to 6:21- “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Smith puts it this way: “…if the heart is like a compass…then we need to regularly calibrate our hearts, turning them to be directed to the Creator, our magnetic north.” In other words, what we do shapes us into who we become. The life of a Christian should be drastically different than a non-Christian. So how are we doing? Do we have a heart seeking God, or are we chasing after the world? What you love shapes your life. So, what are you seeking?

It’s time for a heart check. If we orient our heart toward seeking God, our attitudes will be God-focused when we’re mistreated (5:1-12). If our hearts are right, we will be salt and light (both of which are elements that change every situation they enter) for God’s glory (v. 13-16). If our hearts are seeking Christ and his righteousness, we will want to be righteous in our actions (v.17-20). If our hearts are seeking the Father, we won’t mistreat our brothers and sisters (v.21-26). If our hearts are centered on the covenental Creator, we will honor our spouses by remaining pure and committed to each other (v.27-32). If our hearts are on the God of justice, we will show love and honesty, and not seek revenge when we are wronged (v.33-48). If our hearts are pure 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).

“You are what you love.” What does your heart seek? Do you seek after the things of God, or chase after whatever the world calls important? Jesus reminds us to “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Keep your heart focused on God. Keep honoring Him in everything you do. Seek him first and foremost. Only then will you have the true heart of a seeker.

 

Matt Stidham is the Preaching Minister for the East Side congregation in Snyder, TX. He and his wife Jennifer have three beautiful children. You can connect with Matt on Facebook (@matthew.d.stidham), on Twitter (@MatthewStidham), or at his blog – www.crosseyedchristianity.wordpress.com.

Hurry Up and Wait…and Pray

Our reading for this week is Luke 24. We read of the resurrection, the road to Emmaus, and some instruction and encouragement Jesus gives to his disciples before his ascension. Let’s focus on the last words Jesus speaks to the disciples as recorded by Luke.

This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. – Luke 24:46-49 NIV

Here we have Luke’s version of the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-20). Jesus is clearly calling his disciples to preach the “forgiveness of sins…in his name to all nations…” But did you notice something strange? Jesus has this awesome mission, and I would add urgent mission, for these disciples. They have been called to the most important work someone can do: preaching the Gospel to the world. These men and women would bring the Good News of the resurrection to all people. The work they accomplished is the reason you are even reading this article. But did you notice something strange? The greatest mission that anyone was ever called to begins with waiting.

…but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.

How often do we do things backwards? How often do you set out to do something powerful and meaningful, but fail to wait on God to equip you for this work? How much time do you spend in prayer preparing for your mission?

The book of 2nd Luke (also known as Acts) tells us that:

“They all [the Eleven] joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers…(a group numbering about a hundred and twenty.) – Acts 1:14-15 NIV

Notice that before this group entered into the work of the Lord, they spent time in prayer and waited until God was ready for them to proceed. Why don’t we take this approach more often? It clearly worked for the disciples! Here’s a few takeaways from this passage:

  1. Because you know of the resurrection of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins, you are called to be a witness of this to all nations…that means to everyone you encounter.
  2. By the time of Acts 1, the entire ministry and miracles of Jesus netted 120 disciples. Don’t be discouraged (or overly encouraged) by the size of your congregation. The course of human history was forever changed by the Spirit working through these 120 people.
  3. Before you begin a new ministry, or continue in a current one, bathe the entire process in prayer, and rely on the “power from on high” to power your ministry.

Just the Right Time

This week’s reading comes from Luke 23. Amongst the sayings recorded in the Synoptics stands one ominous paragraph that both Matthew and Mark do not record: Luke 23:26-31. Many atheists will argue that occasions like this in Scripture prove that the text can’t be trusted because something as simple as a quote of Jesus is only recorded by Luke and not the others. However, when we explore the historical background of the text, and look for clues in the text and in outside sources, we can be confident in the truth of the Scriptures we have.

Each Gospel author had a specific purpose in their writing, as well as a unique audience to which they wrote. Recognizing these unique qualities of Luke, what reason might he have in including this otherwise unrecorded statement by Jesus from the cross?  To answer this question we will need to examine the statement, its meaning to the original audience, and the context of Luke’s original audience.

Luke’s statement about a large crowd, including women who were weeping, is critical to our understanding of this comment. In fact, Luke indicates that this very group of women is to whom the warning is spoken by the words “…and said to them.”  Jesus is not rebuking these women for mourning His fate, rather He calls for these women to weep for themselves. Jesus is indicating there is something else coming which will cause greater weeping. Jesus’ indication that these women might wish they never had children shows the severity of this warning.  He then follows this statement with a reference to Hosea 10:8, a passage where Israel and Ephraim are facing severe punishment for the sin of idolatry. According to David Hubbard’s commentary on Hosea, the call to the mountains and hills is a suicidal death-wish brought on by the stark reality of the punishment they now face.  Jesus is applying this same sentiment to the situation that would eventually face Jerusalem.

Finally, Jesus concludes this statement with a reference to their actions by comparing them to green and dry trees.  According to Plummer, this statement could be interpreted three different ways:

(1) If the Romans treat Me, whom they admit to be innocent, in this manner, how will they treat those who are rebellious and guilty?

(2) If the Jews deal thus with One who has come to save them, what treatment shall they receive themselves for destroying Him?

(3) If they behave thus before their cup of wickedness is full, what will they commit when it overflows?

It seems very clear in these few verses that Jesus is once again warning of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, an event He had wept over earlier in the week. Most scholars believe Luke’s Gospel was written just prior to the actual fall of the Jerusalem, and certainly after Mark’s Gospel (see Lk. 1:1-4). It is clear that the Holy Spirit moved Luke to include this specific statement in his Gospel, just as He inspired every word in Scripture. Therefore He equally inspired Mark, Matthew, and John not to include this statement from Jesus.  There was something unique about the time, audience, or intent of Luke’s Gospel that required this admonition from the cross.

Just as you would certainly tell a story differently to your closest friend than to your boss or or a stranger, the Gospel writers each had a different reason, audience, and time they were writing to. The Spirit decided Luke’s original audience would need this passage. How awesome is our God to send just what his people needed at just the right time!

Be Like This Crook. Well, Sort of…

This week’s reading comes from Luke 15-16. This article will focus on one of Jesus’ more difficult parables. In the first fifteen verses of Luke 16 we read about a very backwards and messed up situation.

First, a manager has been embezzling, or at the very least wasting the resources he has been entrusted to manage. His master wants him to give a report of his accounts after he fires him. (16:2)  Knowing he has lost his job, the manager wants to gain favor with people who owe his master money in hopes that he will find a job with them when the dust settles. (16:4) The manager decides to greatly reduce the debt (most likely rent for producing crops on the master’s land) that is owed. In doing this he has gained favor with potential employers, but also reduced his masters income! (16:5-7).

Now after hearing that passage one would assume to hear the master berate the manager and cast him out of the kingdom. But that’s not what happens. Instead, the master commends the manager! (16:8)

Now surely Jesus would tell us that as followers of him we should never act this way. But he doesn’t! Instead he wants his followers to take on at least one characteristic of this crooked manager. In total, Jesus gives us at least four lessons from this passage.

First, we are reminded to be shrewd. Just as the manager saw an opportunity and took it, we as followers of Christ should also take advantage of opportunities we have. (16:8) We often pay more attention to things that don’t matter than we do sharing the Gospel. I like how William Barclay summarized this: “If only people would give as much attention to the things which concern their souls as they do to the things which concern their business, they would be much better human beings. Over and over again people will expend twenty times the amount of time and money and effort on pleasure, on hobbies, gardening or sport as they do on their church. Our Christianity will begin to be real and effective only when we spend as much time and effort on it as we do on our worldly activities.” (Commentary on the Gospel of Luke)

Second, we are taught that we should not hoard wealth, but use it to bless others. (16:9) Helping others, or blessing their lives will bless our friendships and store up eternal rewards.

Third, we must must have integrity. We must be honest at all times, even in the little things. Trustworthiness and integrity not only affect our earthly dealings, but can harm or enhance our witness for Christ. If we are dishonest, who will ever trust what we say about Jesus? (16:11)

And finally, we cannot serve two masters. Focusing on earthly wealth will lead us down the same path as the manger; we will wind up serving our own appetite and fail to serve the master who truly provides. (16:13)

As you go through the rest of your week ask yourself the following question:

Is what I’m doing right now honoring God and building his Kingdom, or am I serving myself and building my kingdom?  

Knowing the difference helps us see our lives as God does. (16:15)

Not Fit for the Manure Pile

This week’s reading comes from Luke 13 & 14. Here we will focus on Jesus teaching about the high cost of being his disciple in Luke 14:25-35.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26

How many people want to use this as the motto their outreach program? Nobody would ever try to recruit followers by saying something so shocking, especially when you consider the great emphasis this culture placed on family!

Jesus makes it clear that in comparison to our love and complete commitment to him, everything else in this life should look like we hate it. Please don’t try to make Jesus say something he doesn’t here. He’s not telling you to abandon your children and spouse as he speaks on that elsewhere (Lk. 18, Lk. 16).

What Jesus is saying is that nothing should be a greater priority in our lives than our complete commitment to following and seeking to be just like him. Nothing! I’ve heard Christians say things like, “My family is everything to me. I’d do anything for them.” I’m glad they have a strong commitment to their family, which seems to be so lacking in our society. But will that same person step up and lead their family in following Christ above anything else rather than always do whatever the family wants?

I heard someone say long ago that Satan’s most effective tool in the world today is to get us so busy and so focused on good things that we don’t have time for God. I think that person is exactly right. Jesus said nothing comes before our commitment to him. Not family vacations, not rest and relaxation, not travel sports, not family. Nothing.

Jesus uses the image of a king calculating whether he can win a battle against a much larger army. If the king can’t do that, he will negotiate a peace deal before entering into battle. He will count the cost and not proceed if he doesn’t think he can accomplish his goal safely.

“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” – Luke 14:33

Do we really have that level of commitment to Christ? I would say the vast majority of Christians do not. Most struggle to even give him one hour of their week! That is nowhere near what Jesus is calling his followers to give. Jesus wants everything! He wants all of you, and wants nothing else to even compete for his attention!

What happens if we don’t? We will be judged not fit for service and thrown out. (Lk. 14:34-35)

It’s that serious. So, what do you need to remove from your life so you can better follow Christ?