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

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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

Where Do I Start?

From time to time people tell me they want to start reading the Bible, and they almost always share the same question… “Where do I start?”

Last week we talked about how the Bible isn’t just another book. It’s really a collection of writings, and those writings are organized a certain way within the book. Most books are sequential, or chronological in nature. The Bible doesn’t work that way. It’s grouped by type. Let me show you what I mean. We’ll begin with the Old Testament.

The first five books of the Bible make up The Law of Moses (also known as the Pentateuch or the Torah.) These books were compiled and written by Moses and incorporate the earliest history of the Israelites, as well as the books of the law of the covenant between God and his people (such as the 10 commandments.)

The History of Israel is recorded in the next twelve books from Joshua to Esther. Within these writings you can learn about the history of God’s interaction with the Israelites. From entering the promised land, to great battles. Most people know these writings through stories they were taught in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School growing up.

Poetry and Wisdom Literature makes up the next 5 books from Job through Song of Songs. In this section you will find beautiful writings of people who are struggling with God and the pain of this world, songs of praise for God, a graphic description of a man’s love for his wife, and a collection of wise sayings.

The Major Prophets are known as such because their prophecies played a major part in the life of Israel. Many of these writings are quoted by the writers of the New Testament. These books from Isaiah through Daniel foretell of the coming of the Messiah, and include many warnings and depictions of the captivities and destruction that Israel would face in the future because of their disobedience to God.

In a similar way, The Minor Prophets from Hosea through Malachi describe more minor events and prophecies from the history of Israel. These books aren’t any less important, but are more specific in their writings and application. The well known story of Jonah is found here, as well as the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile.

If you are interested in the history of Israel, studying the long anticipated coming of the Messiah, or want to read some beautiful poetry, you can find what you are looking for in the Old Testament. Click Here to read part two about the New Testament.

The Problem with The Bible

The Bible is not a book.

No, I’m not suffering from a head injury. The Bible is not a book…at least when compared to most people’s definition of books.

If you or I were to sit down and write a book, we’d start at the beginning and write in a linear manner. We’d start at the beginning of our thought, then proceed until we had a completed book. We would proofread our work, and go back and make changes if necessary. We would ask our friends to make suggestions and make changes where we thought improvements could be made. We might even reorder some of the chapters to make the book flow better. But in the end, the book would be written by one person.

Occasionally authors will work together to write a book. They will decide which parts each will write, and will work as a team to reach the finished product. Lots of planning and lots of communication between the authors will lead to a cohesive final product.

That’s not how the Bible was written at all! And that’s the problem. We look at the Bible often as just another book. The problem is we don’t really understand how we got it, and what difference it makes. Let me show you a bit of what I mean.

The Bible is a collection of writings. This is why we call the individual sections of the Bible “books.” Although, that’s sort of a misnomer as it’s made up of historical accounts, poetry, wisdom literature such as Proverbs, as well as letters sent between writers and Christians as a means of encouragement and instruction.

The Bible was written by more than 40 people, most of whom never knew or conversed with each other. It was written over the span of about 1,600 years, in at least 3 languages, on 3 continents, and somehow has a unifying theme that ties everything together. Every part of every section relates to another, all telling the story of God’s love for his creation, and His perfect plan to save the people from their sins.

No book has faced more persecution, scrutiny, and attempted destruction than the Bible, yet it is available today in nearly every language, in thousands of translations, in paper and digital copy, for very little or no cost to its readers. There’s no way that this is possible without the Spirit of God being the influence and inspiration behind every word recorded, and without His provision to ensure you have the ability to own one.

And sadly most people never bother to read it.

The Bible is not a book. It’s the Word of God. A book informs, the Bible is designed to transform. And if we fail to realize the difference, we’ll miss out on an amazing gift that our God has created just for our benefit. It’s time to start reading!

But how? Where do I start? What should I be looking for? We’ll discuss that next time. I’m beginning a series of posts on the history, and delivery of the Bible into our hands as we have it today. I hope you’ll follow along!

Can’t Keep Up? 8 Ways to Simplify Your Bible Reading Plan for 2012

Each year I try to set new goals for myself and one of the goals that I started early this year is to read my Bible daily.  Actually, it’s a goal I’ve had for several years now, but it tends to get off track not long after I start, causing my Bible reading for the rest of the year to suffer.  Knowing my tendencies, I began working on this goal a few months ago and I now have a routine in place that helps me keep up with all of the daily responsibilities of work and home, but still keeps plenty of time each day for reading my Bible.  It has been such a blessing to have the daily reminders and reinforcement of God’s Word in my life.  So much, in fact, that I want you to be able to experience the benefits I have.

So to help you get started, here are 8 Ways to Simplify Your Bible Reading Plan for 2012.

1.     Start with something you want to read.

Reading material or studying topics that you want to study will help you keep interest in reading your Bible.  It’s practically guaranteed that if you start reading something you want to read, new questions and new curiosities will arise, leading to the desire for more reading and study.  Do you like Paul?  Read about him.  Do the miracles of Jesus interest you?  Read about them.  Don’t let the traditional reading plan of starting in Genesis and falling asleep in Leviticus derail your reading goals for this year.  Start with your favorite part of the Bible and go from there.

2.     Start at the beginning of a book. (Not wherever the page opens!)

Would you enjoy reading a murder mystery novel if you started half way through chapter 6?  Maybe…but you definitely wouldn’t be as engaged in the story and you’d miss out on most of the details.  It’s always easier to get engaged in what you are reading if you start from the beginning. Use the guidelines from tip #1, but try to start at the beginning of that book so you can develop some context for what you are reading.  Knowing the context of a particular verse (what comes before and after) will certainly effect its meaning, so be sure you know what a verse means by starting at the beginning and understanding the context!

3.     Keep it short.

The last thing you need is for something as beneficial and enjoyable as reading your Bible to feel like a time burden right from the start.  Start by setting a goal of reading for 5 or 10 minutes at a time.  You could also begin with one of the short books of the New Testament, like Jude, Philemon, Titus, or James.  All of these books have tons of information you can immediately apply to your lives, and answer some of the deep questions of faith.  All of the books listed above can be read in one sitting or less.  Almost all of us can find 10 minutes of time right before bed, or first thing in the morning, to read a chapter or two.  The goal is to start small and get hooked on reading.  An additional advantage to this approach is having more time to digest smaller portions of Scripture, leading to deeper understanding.

4.     Read with a highlighter and pencil.

I have always found that I get much more reading done when I’m looking for important information.  But I must confess, I don’t always know what I’m looking for!  I have developed the habit of reading my Bible with a pencil or highlighter so that I can underline, highlight, or make notes about any verses that I find interesting and meaningful. The verse may have something to do with a topic I’m studying, a verse I don’t understand and want to come back to, or a verse I really like and want to remember.  It becomes almost like a game to find the next verse I am going to underline. (By the way, I’m going through a new copy of the New Testament this way right now…it really does work!)

5.     Have a designated reading time.

Sticking to a routine can help you stick with your Bible reading.  Make a plan to spend a few minutes at the same time every day (morning, lunch break, before bed, etc.) and most importantly, stay consistent!  Let’s face it, life happens and our routine will need to be a little flexible.  But if this schedule varies drastically from day to day, it just becomes harder to get into a routine of reading daily.  Try to not read at breakfast one morning, and the next day at lunch, and the next at bed.  Have your Bible reading attached to roughly the same time every day so that it becomes as routine as brushing your teeth.

6.     Have a designated reading location.

This might sound like a strange idea, but keep your reading location the same, and leave everything you use in your Bible reading (see #4) in that location.  Reading in the same place every day has helped me greatly because every time I walk past my reading place, I see my Bible and pencil and I’m reminded that I need to get my daily reading in. Having a designated location becomes a memory trigger throughout the day.  Suddenly the chair I watch TV in is now the chair I read my Bible in. If you are a coffee drinker, then read your Bible where you drink your coffee in the morning (most of my Bibles have coffee stains on the pages.) Having the physical connection of a place that you read will greatly improve your chances of keeping your routine. (If you are a person who likes to read in different locations like the porch in nice weather, that’s fine.  Just have a “home base” for your regular Bible reading that will trigger your memory.)

7.     Let others know your plan.

This tip will help you in more ways than one.  If you let your friends and family know that you are making an effort to read your Bible daily, they will probably be willing to help you remember that you need to complete your daily reading.  Another way this will help is that if you stick to tip #5 and #6, your friends and family will know that you are reading, and where you are reading.  This will allow them to do their best not to bother you while you are reading.  Another suggestion here is to share with your friends and family what you are reading.  This can open up avenues of conversation about God’s Word that you may not have any other way.  Just sharing a little of God’s Word with someone may completely change their lives.  It will probably change your life too!

8.     Increase your prayer time.

Anything worth doing is worth doing with God’s help. Philippians 4:13 reminds us that with God’s help anything is possible.  Through prayer we can reach our goals, especially when they are focused on Him.  Increasing our time in prayer continues to focus our minds on God, and on His Word.  It draws us into a closer relationship with our Creator and Savior and allows us to communicate our deepest feelings of hope, anger, despair, and anything else that life throws our way.  Communicating with God will most likely increase your desire for Him to communicate with you.  And how does he do that? Through his Word, the Bible.

All of these tips can be put to use immediately. So don’t just make it a goal to read your Bible more this year.  Make it an all-out Bible reading routine.

What are some of your Bible reading routines?