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.

Advertisements

What Are You Seeking… Really?  By Peter Horne

This week on the Cross Eyed Christianity blog we’ll be starting the 2018 Blog Tour. You will read several guest posts over the next few weeks, as well as my regular weekly posts as we continue through our reading of the Gospels. This week’s post comes from Peter Horne. Be sure to check out his blog using the link at the bottom of this post. 

Several weeks ago I was having a conversation with someone about worship. Suddenly, it dawned on me how much my thought process differed from other worshippers. 

  1. There are some people who come to church each week asking “Will they sing the songs I like?” “Will the sermon meet my needs?” “Will my friends by there?” “Will my prayers be answered?” “Will my life be improved?”
  2. Then there’s another group of people who come wondering who God will bring this week. They’re praying for opportunities to speak encouragement into someone’s life. They’re looking around for people they can meet and serve, and hoping that some first time guests will attend this week.

At first glance I hope that #2 seems more spiritual, more godly, more mature. Generally speaking, I agree. But generalizations have exceptions. We should bear in mind that we all have times in our lives where we need to receive rather than give. We need to be served rather than serve. Additionally, at some point almost all of us walked through the doors of a church as guests with a list of questions asking whether this was the right church for us.

We were seekers seeking.

Some of us knew what we seeking. Others found the object of our search only when we stumbled upon it. We were all seeking.

Jesus asked a crowd of people a similar question in Matthew 11:2-15. Jesus’ cousin John has been imprisoned by Herod and sends messengers to Jesus. It seems that John wants confirmation that his ministry and now suffering were for the right reason, that they were worthwhile and that they mattered.

Jesus responds by giving a list of examples from his ministry, such as “the blind can see” that can be connected to messianic prophecies in the book of Isaiah such as Is 61:1-3. But then he turns to the crowd and asks this important question:

“Who did you go out into the wilderness to see?”  Who were you seeking?

Matthew 3:5 records that, “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan river.” That’s a lot of people going to see and hear John the Baptizer. Now, some years later Jesus asks, “Who did you go out into the wilderness to see?”

He gives some choices: “Was it a reed, blown in the wind, waving this way and that?” “Was it someone in fine linens who’d make your life more comfortable and prosperous?” “Or did you go to see a prophet.”

Jesus knew well that people came to see him for a variety of reasons: Entertainment, financial gain, truth seeking, overthrowing the Romans, or protecting the status quo.

This blog series challenges us to reconsider our motives as we follow Jesus.

  • Do we participate in his kingdom out of obligation or passion?
  • Does our status as adopted children of God seem real to us, or a theoretical concept?
  • Do we worship to please others, or because we love God?
  • Do we desire to participate in expanding the borders of God’s kingdom, or do we like our church the way it is?
  • Do we long to grow our relationship with God, or are we comfortable with our current level of knowledge and commitment?

What are you seeking? Really?

Imagine you had the opportunity to interview Jesus like you might interview the leader of a church you’re considering attending. What would you ask him?

  • Jesus, will my relationship with God be restored if I follow you?
  • Jesus, will my relationship with my husband be restored if I follow you?
  • Jesus, will my family finally accept me if I follow you?
  • Jesus, how much (or little) money do I need to give you to make you happy?
  • Jesus, will I still get to do the things I really enjoy doing?
  • Jesus, can I keep my friends?
  • Jesus, how much time will I need to give you each week?

Without putting on your holy hat, what would you ask Jesus? What are you seeking… really? Will you take 10 minutes and make your list? When you’ve done that, pray over it. Read it to Jesus and see how the Holy Spirit moves your mind.

Peter Horne moved to the United States from Australia in 1999 to pursue training for ministry. Having filled the roles of children’s minister, youth minister, and college minister in various locations around the US and Australia, he now gladly serves as the minister for the Lawson Rd Church of Christ in Rochester, NY. You can find more of his writing on his blog: www.aussiepete.wordpress.com. He also writes to equip multi-ethnic churches at www.culturalmosaic.org.

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?

Jesus and his Countercultural Truth

The reading for this week is Luke 11:37 through the end of chapter 12. In this passage we have Jesus issuing a warning to not be afraid and to follow him at all costs, to trust God and not worry, to be ready for his return, a realization that following Jesus will strain some relationships, and how to make right choices. In this article I want to focus on the warnings Jesus gives to the Pharisees and experts in the law in Luke 11:37-54.

Jesus was invited to the house of a Pharisee for dinner, something that would have been considered an honor for this man to host such a famous teacher as Jesus. But because Jesus didn’t follow the cultural norm of ceremonial washing before the meal, the Pharisees were shocked. Jesus used this as a jumping off point for addressing  some other cultural practices that went against his teaching.

I would encourage you before you finish this article to stop now and read this passage in Luke in its entirety and underline or highlight the reasons behind the “woe”, the correction Jesus suggests, and the consequences of their sinful actions as told by Jesus. It’s interesting to see the issues at play here. I now want to look at a few of these and comment.

The first correction Jesus brings to the Pharisees is to be generous to the poor (v. 41). It’s very clear what Jesus is calling his followers to do, yet for some reason many struggle to be generous toward those who struggle financially. Jesus doesn’t leave any room for compromise here. They also didn’t pursue justice or a love of God, but rather focused on the external actions (v. 42).

The Pharisees were also prideful, wanting the best seats and greetings (praises) from others (v. 43). It’s clear that a follower of Jesus shouldn’t seek things things, but rather pursue humility. Jesus indicates their actions, policies, and beliefs make unsuspecting people unclean just like unmarked graves (vs. 44). Pharisees held rules and regulations that went far beyond what the Torah required. A person who simply followed the Scriptures to the best of their ability would likely be guilty of the Pharisees’ rules. It seems the Torah experts were also loading down believers with these rules without providing any guidance (v. 46).

From history we know that in 1st century Jerusalem many monuments and tombs honoring long deceased prophets were being constructed at a rapid pace. It seems they were trying to profit off of this endeavor, or at least receive honor for doing this. In doing so, Jesus indicates they are as guilty as those who killed the prophets because they approve of these actions (v. 48) Jesus further indicates that the generation he was speaking to would be held responsible for the deaths of all the prophets , likely because they were about to put Jesus to death, the Messiah that all other prophets pointed toward (v.50-51).

The one that haunts me most is verse 52. “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” – Luke 11:52

Have we ever been guilty of “hindering those who were entering” into the knowledge of God? I pray we never burden those seeking God with endless rules and regulations that Jesus never called us to. That’s exactly what the Pharisees and experts in the law had done. Jesus clearly condemned such actions, as should we. May we never ignore Scripture for it is the true and living Word of God. But we should never make it difficult for those who are turning to God by burdening them with things that Scripture doesn’t teach (Acts 15:10,19).