Thursday, 31 May 2012

The importance of the one

For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. "What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. – Matthew 18.11-13

We live in a day when success is measured by bigness and numbers. While we never want to be content with a lack of growth and progress, it is important that we remember the importance that Jesus puts on the one.

Jesus came to save the lost. We all know that. We also all know the story that follows about the shepherd and the lost sheep. He tells us about a shepherd who had care of 100 sheep. Ninety-nine of them were safe, but one had gone astray. The shepherd could have said, ‘Ah sure, it is only one sheep. I have ninety-nine of them here. I won’t worry about that one.’

But he didn’t. He secured the ninety-nine and went after the one. Jesus often spoke to large crowds but we also see Him talking to the Nicodemus. That makes sense you might say, he was an important official. But He also made a trip through Samaria to talk to the woman at the well. She was certainly no star, but she was worth His time. Philip was sent into the desert just to reach the one Ethiopian eunuch.

They shepherd rejoiced over finding his lost sheep. There is joy in the presence of angels when one sinner comes to repentance.

In a day when success in the ministry is often measured by numbers and buildings and ministries and facilities may we remember the importance of the one.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Jesus loves the little children

Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. – Matthew 18.5-6

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world

We are going to see more about children in a few days so I almost skipped this, but I was to see just a note about how dear children are to our Lord as well as looking at the teaching in its context.

This is an amazing passage on Jesus and His view of children. It is also a great challenge to us and our attitude toward children.

First we see that our treatment of children reflects how we would treat Christ. ‘Whoever receives one of these children in my name receives me.’ I like how Jesus addresses the importance of even one child. It shows that He sees children as individuals and not just a corporate group. Each child we receive into our lives in the name of Christ is a picture of how important He is to us. The way we treat that ‘snotty nosed little brat’ is important. How are we doing in ‘receiving one of these?’

Then Jesus points to a negative. ‘If anyone causes one of these children to stumble or sin he would be better off if a millstone were tied to his neck and he were thrown in the deepest sea.’

That’s pretty harsh and I am not sure how it plays out. It does however indicate to us how important our treatment of and our example to children is vital. We had better be very, very careful in our treatment of the children in our lives.

I do realise that Jesus is talking about all who are child-like in their faith here. In context He is speaking of those who have exercised that child-like faith in coming to Him.

That is true and all the things I said above apply to folks who are children in the faith, but we also know that Jesus sees literal children as precious to Himself and He does use them to illustrate this spiritual truth.

'Jesus loves the literal children' both physical and spiritual. We need to practice the same love.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Child-like faith

Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 18.2-4

Sometimes we can be very bad about complicating things. Recently I posted about the necessity of counting the cost before deciding to truly follow Christ. That is true but here Jesus points to the other side. Faith is still simple, it is not complicated – it is so simple that even a child can exercise it.

The other night Maddie, Mary, AJ, and I were walking back from town after Mary’s birthday dinner. We had to walk down a rather busy road so I told AJ before we left that if he wanted to come with us he had to stay right with me. He couldn’t run off and he had to hold my hand when the traffic was busy.

His choice was pretty simple. He could trust me enough to get him home and follow my instructions or not. For AJ it was a matter of simple faith. He knew that Grampy would get him home safely.

Theologians and want to be theologians can spend far too much time debating the finer points of faith and salvation. We have all kinds of impressive theological words. I think sometimes we simply like to hear ourselves talk.

Jesus put it this way – ‘unless you are converted and become as like a child you cannot enter God’s kingdom. Those who humble themselves like children will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

We need to show the simple kind of faith Maddie and AJ showed when they walked home with Grammy and me. Simple, humble, and pure child-like faith is the only faith that works.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Mustard seed faith

So Jesus said to them, "Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting." – Matthew 17.20-21

I remember growing up a particular necklace that my mom had similar to the one in the photo. It was a small, simple mustard seed, and tiny thing that was encased in glass. She told me one time that it was a reminder to what the importance of having mustard seed sized faith. I haven't seed that necklace in decades, but every time I read this verse I think of Mom.

In this Jesus talks about the importance of 'mustard seed' sized faith. This kind of tiny faith, according to Jesus, isenough to move a mountain from one place to another. He says that mustard seed faith means that nothing is impossible.

I have said here before that I don’t really understand prayer. I do know through my faith and experience it works, but how?

This verse appears to say that if we have that tiny little bit of mustard sized seed faith we have the power to move mountains from one place to another. Obviously no matter how big our faith I am not going to move any mountain anywhere no matter how much I pray and fast.

So what does this mean? Clearly it is figurative. It speaks to the great power of prayer. How many times have we all prayed in seemingly impossible situations and then watched God work?

Though I don’t know how it works, I do know I can trust God and His word. He tells us here that by prayer and fasting (don't just skip over that bit about fasting) nothing is impossible with our God. There is no request too big to take to Him. He is not going to move Mt Everest to Mexico, but that kind of impossibility is a picture of how God works out the impossible. It also lets me know how vital prayer is to seeing great things done.

Just a side not before I leave this. We often hear some groups tell us that our prayers are not answered because we don't have 'enough faith.' When this happens they are telling us that Jesus was wrong. They tell us we need to have mountain sized faith, Jesus said that mustard seed sized faith is enough.

Mustard seen faith, with prayer and fasting, means that no mountain in our way is too big for God.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

The tragedy of wasted lives

For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? – Matthew 16.25-26

I normally begin thinking about these devotions the night before I write and post them. In fact I am making a note now on Saturday night because I thought of this verse while watching Eurovision. If have never heard of it that is grand. It is a campy, kitschy, silly song contest between the nations of Europe. After the French entry the Irish commentator mentioned how much she looked like Amy Winehouse.

I honestly had never heard of Amy Winehouse before she died last year at the age of 27. These tragic young deaths intrigue me. She was as immensely popular singer who had everything to live for. She was pretty, popular, and incredibly rich. She was an amazing musical success. But at the end it profited her nothing. After a life of substance abuse and emotional issues she drank herself to death in July of last year.

Amy joined a whole list of great young stars whose lives were tragically cut short despite their attractive looks, incredible talent, and great wealth.

Why does this happen?

Jesus has the answer to that question right here. Some of this folks seem to have the world at their feet. They can do or buy whatever they want. But when they have lost their souls they have nothing.

Jesus says that if our goal is to save and preserve our own loves we are going to lose it all. He asks the rhetorical question ‘What profit is there is you gain everything but lose your own soul? What will a person give up in exchange for their soul?’

We find true life when we are willing to give everything up for Christ. That is the true cost of discipleship, but the rewards are eternal. If we pursue our own life we are going to come up wanting. If we forget about our lives and follow Christ we will one day have it all.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

I have decided...

Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. – Matthew 16.24

There are a lot of folks who tell us today that being a Christian is not that big a deal. Say an ‘A-B-C pray after me’ prayer and everything is grand. Now you are a Christian and all you need to do is go to church and play by a few rules and you will be okay.’

I do realise that salvation is by grace through faith alone. There is no salvific work on our part. In that regard salvation is easy.

However, there is more to being a Christian than just a prayer, going to church, and trying to be good.

Following Christ is a serious endeavour. In our desire to get people ‘saved’ we can gloss over the reality of what following Christ means. Jesus tells us that following Him is much more than just a prayer and half-hearted effort. Jesus put it this way – ‘Anyone who wants to follow me must deny himself, and take up his own cross, and follow Me.’

When we make light of what salvation means I think we do a disservice to the gospel. We end up with burnouts and washouts who did not count the cost before they ‘prayed a prayer.’ We also give people a false confidence in their prayer when we don’t talk about counting the cost.

When people come to Christ they need to know what they are doing. They need to know it is not just a prayer but a life commitment, a new way of life, joining a new family, and truly saying ‘I have decided to follow Jesus.’

Friday, 25 May 2012

When God’s plans make no sense

From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.  Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!" – Matthew 16.21-22

Sometimes God’s plans and His ways don’t make sense to us. This had to be one of those times.

Starting at this point of His ministry Jesus began to let the disciples know that He had to go to Jerusalem, be killed, and rise the third day.

Peter’s response is not surprising if we put ourselves in their sandals – ‘No way Lord! This will not happen to you!’

It looks like Peter, like so many of us, only heard part of what Jesus said. ‘I have to go to Jerusalem and be killed…’

‘Whoa, wait a second' Peter seems to say, ‘That’s just not going to happen.’

Remember, this was the same man who just before this had told Jesus ‘You are the Christ, the son of the Living Go!’ and now he is contradicting what Jesus said.

Jesus had just praised Peter for his earlier response, but now the response is different – ‘Get behind me Satan! You are an offence to me. You don’t speak of the things of God but of the things of men.’

Before we rush into judgement we need to consider how we deal with things that don’t make any sense in our eyes.

How do you and I respond deep down when we hear things that seem like they can’t possibly be the right thing? When God works and we can’t make sense of it the reason is exactly what Jesus said here – we see things from man’s perspective and not God’s. It is only natural – God’s ways and His thoughts are as high above ours as the heavens are above the earth.

We can’t see things God’s way. That is where faith comes in to play. Faith means that I trust God even when He doesn’t make sense to me.

The other day we went swimming with the grandchildren. I was trying to get AJ to not be afraid of the water. We were in the kiddie pool and about half way down the water goes over his head. I am sure it made no sense to go someplace where the water was going to cover your face. He was hesitant and did not want to go for a long time. When we did he clung to me like a baby koala. Finally he went and even let go of me for a few seconds.

I wanted AJ to trust me. I knew it would be okay. I knew he was safe. I knew it would be good for him not to fear the water. He could not see all that, but eventually he trusted me and we did it.

Sadly, sometimes we never get to the point of trusting God that way. We just sit on the top step and never trust him enough to go out into the water.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

You are the Christ

Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." – Matthew 16.16

As Jesus and His disciples were travelling along He asked them a question – ‘Who do people say that I, the son of man, am?’

They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist. Some say Elijah. Some say Jeremiah or another one of the prophets.’

‘But who do you say I am?’

Peter responded in typical Peter fashion ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!’

Jesus was many things to His disciples. He was their companion, their friend, their fellow traveller, and their teacher. They saw Him in all of His humanity. It would be easy after walking and eating and sleeping with Him to forget who He really was. I think that is why He posed that question.

Despite all of the everyday distractions Peter had the right focus – ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.’

We are something like the disciples. Jesus is many things to us. He is our friend. He is our brother. We are joint heirs with Him. He is our teacher. All of those are wonderful things that we need to keep in mind as we strive to serve Him. It gives us great comfort and great joy. It is wonderful to rest in His love.

But we must never forget who His is. He is ‘the Christ, the Son of the Living God.’

We need to enjoy His fellowship and His presence and His comfort, but while doing that we must remember that He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One who is the true Son of the Living God.’

As such He is due all of our worship, devotion, dedication, and submission.

Remember who we serve today.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

'Lord, help me'

And she said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered and said to her, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire." And her daughter was healed from that very hour. – Matthew 15.27-28

I have always been a bit intrigued by the story of the Canaanite woman who seemingly pestered Jesus till He answered her prayer. Despite Jesus’ initial reluctance to hear her and the disciples wanting to send her away she just kept asking and worshiping and praying. When she first asked Jesus told her that He only came to take care of the Jews. He even told that it was not right to take the children’s food and give it to the dogs. She replied by saying, ‘Yes Lord, even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the table.’

Jesus blessed her persistent faith. After all that Jesus said, ‘O woman great is your faith; you will get what you want.’

Despite the oppositions and objections thrown up to her the woman gives us a great example of persistence in prayer. She had a need, it was desperate. Her daughter was demon possessed. All she knew was that Jesus could answer her prayers and meet her need. Her prayer was simple – ‘Lord help me.’

So she prayed. And she prayed. And she prayed.

Little did she know that it was a test of her faith. It was always God’s will to heal her; that is obvious because He did. She did not persuade Jesus to change His mind. She just persisted.

When we have needs we don’t know God’s will in resolving it. Our prayer may do us more harm than good. Our specific prayer may not be God’s way. When she asked for help she first explained that her daughter was possessed by a demon, but when she prayed she simply said ‘Lord, help me.’

This is a helpful attitude toward prayer. Lay out the need, and then simple ask the Lord to help in the way that He knows best.

Then ask, and ask, and ask. Don’t let the faith demonstrated by prayer fall short.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Out of the heart

But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man."  - Matthew 15.18-20

Do you ever do something, say something, or think something and then be so shocked by it that you wonder ‘where in the world did THAT come from?’

That is a scary thought. The Bible tells us that our unregenerate hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. We are told in the book of Proverbs to ‘keep our hearts with all keeping’ because that is the source of who we really are.

What comes out of the heart? Evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, and blasphemies all come out of the heart.

But there is more to it than that. The passage tells us that man is not defiled by which rituals and traditions he does or does not observe.

It is the stuff that comes out of hearts that defiles us. It is what is in our hearts that is really us. That is why our hearts require guarding. For those of us who are saved Jesus has done a great work in us. He dwells with us. By His power our hearts can be right and our lives can reflect that rightness.

But we have a role to play as well. When we don’t guard our hearts but fill with the kind of things Jesus talks about that is sure be what come back out. That’s where those ‘where did that come from’ moments have their source.

If indeed our words reflect the real us, what will they reflect today?

Monday, 21 May 2012

The danger of tradition

He answered and said to them, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?...Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. – Matthew 15.3-6

In the musical ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ the various family members sing a song about the role of tradition in a Jewish home. For example Tevye and the other fathers sing

‘Who, day and night, must scramble for a living, Feed a wife and children, say his daily prayers? And who has the right, as master of the house, To have the final word at home?

The Papa, the Papa! Tradition.
The Papa, the Papa! Tradition.

Long before the time period of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ tradition had been become a major part of Jewish life. Even today tradition plays a major part in most religions.

Traditions are not always bad. Sometimes they can give us a common purpose and goal. Sometimes they can give us a rallying point. Sometimes they can help us develop godly habits and practices.

But our traditions, just like those of the Jews, can get to the point where they rival scripture and sometimes, as Jesus said, they can even cancel out the ‘commandments of God.’

How do we do this? We do it certain ways of doing things or certain rules or standards become equal to the word of God.

When we say ‘Thus saith the Lord’ we need to be sure it is indeed He who is saying it and not our own take or slant based on our traditions.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Golden Rule

Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets – Matthew 7.12

The word of God has been a part of our western culture for almost 2,000 years. It has made its way into our culture and our conversation. Sadly, in many cases it is combined, confused, and contorted with secular aspects of our culture yet it still endures. Many people think that Shakespeare quotes come from the Bible and vice versa.

Here is one example from God’s word that has endured and that virtually everyone in western culture knows. The ‘Golden Rule’ as it has come to be known has been paraphrased slightly to ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ Jesus said it this way ‘whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them.’ He went on to say that this summarised the Law and the Prophets.

There is not a lot of deep theology and doctrine there. There is however a great lesson for us as believers on how we are to treat others. Sadly, we don’t always measure up.

How would our lives be different today if I simply really took this to heart? What would happen if every word I said to others today were the kind of words I would want spoken to me? What would happen if I treated everyone today the way I would like to be treated?  What if every look on my face was based on the looks I like to see? What if every response in every situation, good or bad, was the kind of response I would expect?

We all know the Golden Rule. The question is whether or not it is a part of our lives.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Ask, seek, knock

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. – Matthew 7.7-8

This is another verse that always reminds me of the chorus to these words. One of the problems with common songs and choruses is that we can get to the point where we just sing them without thinking about them.

At first glance it seems pretty simple – when we ask we will receive, when we seek we will find, and when we knock the doors will be open.

But what happens when we ask and don’t receive? What happens when we seek but do not find? What happens when we knock but the door stays shut? We have all been there if we pray at all.

The Bible tells us at least two reasons for prayers that are not answered. One reason is that we don’t receive because we don’t ask. That is what Jesus is addressing here. I still don’t know all about how prayer works, but it is clear that sometimes we don’t get what God has for us simply because we don’t ask Him. That is why Jesus tells us to keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking.

But sometimes we don’t get what we ask for because we ‘ask amiss.’ We need to examine what we pray for to find out the attitude. We can’t just pray selfishly to fill all of our own desires and ask God to bless it.

When we ask and seek and knock we must do it in the full reliance that God is going to do His will. We can’t get frustrated asking and seeking and knocking because we don’t know the whole scheme of things. We don’t know God’s will. We don’t know God’s timing.

The best thing to do is to try to pray in faith and with the spirit of submission to God’s will. And then just keep asking and seeking and knocking and accepting the result. God will answer according to His perfect will, and that is always best.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

When you point your finger at someone remember…

"Judge  not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? – Matthew 7.1-4

‘Judge not that you be not judged’ is probably one of the world’s favourite verses. It may be the only verse many people know and it is pulled out anytime anyone points out any kind of sin or improper action. ‘Be careful,’ they say, ‘the Bible says judge not that ye be not judged.’

Like all of scripture though it is obvious that context is key. The verse doesn’t stop there. It does indeed say ‘Don’t judge, that you be not judged’ but it goes on to say why. ‘You need to be prepared to be judged the same way you judge others.’

It goes on to make it clear. ‘Why are you so concerned about the speck that is in your brother’s eye while you have a plank that is in your own eye.’

Do you remember the old saying ‘Be careful pointing a finger at someone else because you have three pointing back at you?’ That is the key thing to remember here. The best finger pointers often have far more issues themselves that need to be pointed out.

Even though we may have a plank in our own eye and our brother may only have a speck it is much easier for us to see his speck than our own beam that is so obvious to everyone else. When we choose to judge others we are inviting the same kind of inspection of our lives, and when we do that the plank is clear for everyone to see.

God’s word judges, we don’t. If we would keep that in mind we might take much more care in judging others while missing our own sins.

I find that dealing with my own sins and flaws is pretty much a full time when I do it properly. Next time I am tempted to be judgemental and point my finger, let me remember the three fingers pointing back.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Seek ye first the kingdom of God…

"Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. – Matthew 6.31-34

Worry is destructive. It is not good for our health, it is not good for our emotions, it is not good for our families, it is not good for our churches, and it is not good for our spirits. It distracts us, it causes us to lose sleep, it gets us depressed and discouraged.

Jesus uses the examples here of ‘What are we going to eat, what are we going to drink, and what are we going to wear,’ because those were very real issues for His hearers. We might go on today to say ‘what am I going to do when I get old, what am I going to do if the economy collapses, what am I going to do if I am laid off, what am I going to do about my negative equity, what I am going to do if this and that?’

Jesus puts it this way, ‘This is the kind of thing that non-believers worry about. Don’t worry about all this things. God knows what you need. If you are seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness all of these things will be sorted out.’

That is such a clear statement. He goes on to state it even more clearly. ‘Don’t worry about tomorrow. It has its own worries. ’We don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring or how God is going to work. Most of our worry is full of ‘what ifs’ and ‘what if nots.’ We don’t need to live with what ifs when we have the promise that if we are seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness He will take care of all the things we spend so much time worrying about.

We must learn to deal with each day as it comes and trust God to help us through it. Worry distracts us from dealing with today and that only makes matters worse for the future.

‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things (food and drink and clothes and whatever else) will be added to you.’

May God give us the strength to trust Him today and pursue His righteousness.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Two masters?

"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. – Matthew 6.24

When I read this verse I think about Elijah on Mt Carmel. The people of Israel were going back and forth between trying to serve God while still holding on to their devotion to Baal. Baal had 450 prophets among the people. Elijah challenged the people to stop wavering back and forth. ‘If the Lord is God follow Him, if Baal is god then follow him.’

Here Jesus once again reminds us that we really can’t serve two masters. We can’t serve both God and the riches of this world. We prove who our master is by which one we follow and submit to.

We can spend our lives jumping back and forth between the Lord and Baal or God and mammon.

Who is really our boss? As we go through today may we each be reminded to think about who we are serving in the things we do and the choices we make.

We can’t have it both ways. Who are we really following and serving?

Monday, 14 May 2012

What do we treasure?

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  – Matthew 6.19-21

Most of life can seem like a pursuit of all that we can grab. There is so much out there that draws our attention to our wants and we have no issues going after it. Just a few years ago a good part of the world was going through an economic boom that seemed to catch up everyone in its power. Here is Ireland we called it the Celtic Tiger. The greed of those years has come back to bite us as we are now in tough times and many are suffering without work and with great debts.

Alas, moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal (I’ll ignore the temptation to make a political comment about thieves). We all know now that earthly treasures do not last. Those of us who are starting to get just a little long in the tooth can thing back to many possessions which were once important to us that now mean nothing. Most of the stuff I have owned and held important is now buried in a landfill someplace or has been recycled into a new product.

The verse tells us that the heart of the matter is, well, the heart.  If our hearts are set on all the stuff that is going to one day disappear that is what we pursue, even though it is all temporary. If our hearts are set on the stuff that can be destroyed or stolen our hope is a waste. It is a hard trap to get out of because most of us like our stuff. We like it a lot. In fact we might like it more than the eternal treasures.

In takes a heart procedure to change this. We need to decide what is really important.

It is a simple matter of a personal heart exam. If we examine our priorities today, if we look at what is really important, if we look at where we spend our money, what does it indicate about our hearts?

Sunday, 13 May 2012

When you fast

Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.- Matthew 6.16-18

I have rarely heard a message on Bible fasting. In fact, I don’t think I have ever heard a full message on it. I still can’t figure out why it is so rare. I often wonder if part of the reason is that fasting requires sacrifice. I also wonder if, at least in the circles I came up in, we don’t do it because nobody does it.

Anyway, that’s a matter for another time.

I think that fact is clear that fasting should be a part of our lives. Jesus said, ‘when you fast,’ which certainly gives the impression that it is part of what His followers do, just like praying and giving.

But fasting can’t be for a show. It is between us and God. We know that in Israel and in the early church people fasted together for a common purpose so it is not something that must be totally secret, but it is not a matter of having a religious ritual. It is not something for which we act like we are suffering or sacrificing.

Our fasting is, even if we do it with our church or friends or whoever, is a private matter. If we fast with the wrong heart we might as well not fast.

Jesus talked about some issues that require prayer and fasting. I wonder if the church is fasting as she should.

‘When you fast,’ not ‘if.’

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Our daily bread

Give us this day our daily bread. – Matthew 6.11

When Jesus was teaching His disciples this model prayer it was a different world from what most of us know today. The people Jesus was talking to understood this phrase better than most of us do today. They lived everyday basically to put food on their tables. Their whole lives were occupied with just staying alive. Though tragically there are vast numbers of people around the world who live like that today, most reading this are not too concerned with where their next meal will come from.

So does it even apply today to those of us who live in relative comfort? We may not have much, and may not have everything we want, but we do get by. Do we really need the same reliance on God where we must ask Him to provide our daily bread?

I think we need to be aware that even now He is our great provider. The little comfort and cushion many of us live with is always temporal and could be gone in a flash. I just read an early sci-fi novel called ‘The Way in the Air.’ In it H.G. Wells writes of a great world war that causes an overnight collapse of the world economy. As a result people who had everything suddenly had nothing. Even their daily bread became a struggle.

While we don’t like to think about it even the most secure of us face the same kind of disaster. Another war or natural disaster or financial collapse could turn everything on its head overnight.

We enjoy our comfort. Those of us who have it enjoy the security of knowing that today’s dinner is in the fridge or freezer or down at Tesco or as close as a phone call to a take away. We do need to remember though that Our Father is still our ultimate Provider.

When we forget who really provides our daily bread and become dependent on the bread itself we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and despair.

Jesus’ prayer of so long ago is for us today. Let’s not forget who provides our bread and remember to rely on Him, give Him thanks, and never take Him for granted.

Friday, 11 May 2012


In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. – Matthew 6.9-10

‘Hallowed be Your name.’

The very first thing that Jesus talks about when He is teaching on prayer is that God our Father and He is in Heaven. The second thing is that His name is Hallowed, or Holy.

This reminds me of Isaiah 57.15 – ‘For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.’

In an effort to make God more seeker friendly and to draw up interest the church today can be tempted to forget just how who we serve. A lot of unholiness takes place to try and draw men to God.

But God tells us in Isaiah who on earth He will dwell with. Though He is the One whose name is Holy, though he dwells in the high and lofty place, and though He is the One who inhabits eternity He will still dwell with those who have a contrite and humble spirit.

When we pray we need to remember who we are talking to. He is not someone who is conformable to our will. Though we are indeed talking to our heavenly Father and can do so with all the confidence of a His child, we are still talking to the one whose name is Holy. We can't let the love and comfort of His fatherhood over ride the truth of His holiness.

‘Hallowed be Your name.’ How can we claim that to be true, and know that God says ‘You be holy as I am holy,' and still carry on with personal unholiness?

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Do we know how to trust?

"Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. – Matthew 6.8

This phrase pops up twice in this chapter, once here and once a little closer to the end. Maybe we need to hear it twice because we are so thick we won’t get it the first time.

What is so important that God had to say it twice?

'The Father knows what you need before you ask Him.'

I will admit that this is an area that I battle all the time. Though not as bad as many years ago I still have a problem trusting God like He really is my heavenly Father who knows that I need.

When our children were young they never worried about going hungry. They never worried about if the heat and light bills would be paid. They did not lay awake at night wondering if what was going to happen the next day.

Why is it that our kids can trust us implicitly and yet we have a hard time trusting our heavenly Father, who is so much more powerful than us, to care for our needs? He is the all-powerful One who loves us and He knows exactly what we need. Do we really believe it or are we just sort of acknowledging that it is probably true?

‘Your father knows what need before you ask Him’ is just as much a part of scripture as ‘For God so loved the world…’

Why is it I can trust the latter so much easier than the former?

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Praying rightly

"And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. - Matthew 5.6-7

This passage is a lot like the one yesterday. It deals with outwards sign of religious practice as opposed to real inward faith practice.

We have all seen them. They are the guys who get called on to pray in church because they are really good pray-ers. They have all the right words, the right inflection, the right emotion, and just the right ‘oomph’ when they pray. They are the prayer superstars who surly must be the ones who get through to God.

This is not to say that they aren’t, if their hearts are real and true and genuine then more power to them.

But sometimes they can remind me of the Pharisees here who pray out loud so that they may be ‘seen of men.’ I once was at a restaurant when a man at another table stood and prayed so loud and so forcefully that everyone in the place heard him pray. I have nothing against praying publically for our food, we try to do it ourselves. But when it is to be seen it is not right.

Public prayer is not wrong, when done with the right heart. However, Jesus says there is something about secret, private prayer. When we pray it is time to shut everything else out. It is our private time with God. When we pray in secret we can trust the Lord to reward us in secret. Our personal time with God should be a precious, honoured, and treasured time.

Another problem with prayer is what Jesus calls ‘vain repetitions.’ In one sense these are the set prayers that are memorised and said in an almost chant-like format. In another sense though, we can be guilty of the same thing when we just pray the same words and same format day after day.

The principle is simple. Prayer is our personal, private time to talk to our Father. We need to make sure that we treat it that way instead of just another ritual.

Pull aside, find a quiet place, and pour out your heart to your heavenly Father today.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Proper giving

"Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. – Matthew 6.1-4

There have been many great philanthropists through history. These are people who are known for their giving and their generosity. Giving is something laudable. I remember church fund raisers where people could ‘buy a brick’ and then a plaque was erected with a list of all the donors. Schools and other organisations have walls listing their donors and contributors so that everyone can know who did the giving.

Real, godly, Bible giving is nothing like that. The guys Jesus was talking about made a big show of their giving. They wanted everyone to know about. Jesus simply said that we are not to give that way. When we give or do a charitable deed we do it so secretly that if possible our left hand would not even know what our right hand was doing.

Our problem with that is that if we do it that way who will ever know? Who is going to get the credit?

What does it matter? Jesus says those who get recognised for giving have all the reward they are going to get.

When we give, whether it as church or in a charitable manner no one needs to know about. We give for others, not for us.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Love your enemy

"You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?  Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.  - Matthew 5.43-48

The teaching just keeps getting harder and harder. It keeps getting more and more difficult to understand. It seems like some of the things Jesus talked about are the things we talk about the least.

Here are words that sound totally foreign to our human, naturalistic ears. ‘Love your enemy. Bless those who curse you. Do good for people who hate you. Pray for the people who persecute you and despitefully use you. Anybody can love those who love them. What good is it if you only treat your brethren well? Anyone can do that.’

It is hard to read anything else more into this than what it says.

How are we really supposed to do this? How do we love our enemy? How do we do good to people who hate us?  How do we really, truly pray for our persecutors?

Logic tells me it is okay to hate my enemy. Logic tells me that it is okay to repay evil with hatred. Logic tells me that praying for my persecutor is beyond what can reasonably be expected.

So who do I trust? Do I trust my own human logic or do I trust Christ and obey Him?

I don’t know how all this plays out in international affairs and wars and things like that. I tend to think that there are principles that we need to apply there as well.

But rather than debate this I need to examine what it means to me on a personal basis. Anyone can love those who love him. Anyone can pray for those who treat him well. Anyone can repay kindness with goodness. The challenge is to do those things when people are not kind or loving or attack and persecute us.

One of the greatest tests of our testimony is how we act in the face of opposition. Our response can have an impact that we can’t even imagine.

Think about how often situations would be diffused if God’s people responded this way. There really is no answer for loving your enemy. He can’t win if you love him in response to his actions. When we are cursed and mocked and revile what would happen if we responded with love and blessings? What would happen if, instead of seeking revenge, we prayed for those who attacked us? Do you think we would see an impact for Christ?

Here is a simple practice test. The next time someone cuts you off in traffic does something stupid on the road instead of inwardly cursing them choose to pray for them and their family. Pray that God would keep them safe on the road and keep others safe from their driving. Choose godly thoughts over sinful ones.

Who knows? Eventually we may to apply that to all the difficult people we have to face.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The extra mile

If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. – Matthew 5.40-41

‘Going the extra mile’ is a common phrase in English. We all know that it means. It means doing more than just what is expected.

This teaching is in the same context of turning the other cheek. The idea is the same. We need to be less concerned about how we are treated or mistreated and more concerned about the impact on others.

If someone sues you for your tunic, give him your cloak as well. If someone wants you to walk a mile with them, go two. Go the extra mile.

We can easily get into the trap of doing ‘just enough’ in our Christian walk. I doubt any of us would actually say it, but ‘I’ll do what I have to do’ is the attitude many people take.

God says that is not nearly enough. If someone asks for your help don’t just do what they ask, stay with them and makes sure things are sorted.

The Sermon on the Mount is a lot about attitudes. The attitude is clear here. God wants more than half- hearted Christianity. In our walk with others and in our walk with the Lord we need to be sure to not be so worried about how little we can get away with , and more concerned with that extra mile.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

An eye for an eye?

You have heard that it was said, ‘Any eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.'   But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. – Matthew 5.38-39

We seem obsessed with not letting someone get away with anything. We have this idea that there has to be some sort of cosmic balance and that if someone does me wrong I have to balance the scales by doing wrong to them.

The ‘eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth’ concept is the source of all kinds of problems. In the Old Testament it set a standard for the courts; the punishment was to suit the crime. It had since developed into a tradition that allowed people to exact retribution in kind. That kind of thinking leads to fights and wars and squabbles and marital spats and family feuds and church splits and broken fellowship and road rage and all kinds of societal ills. It happens in the world all the time, and sadly it also infects the church.

This is not easy teaching for us to accept. ‘If someone slaps you give them the other cheek to slap. Don’t resist an evil person. You don’t have to respond.’

Obviously Jesus is not teaching some kind of principle where His followers are not permitted to protect themselves from harm. The principle is clear though. It is not our place to seek vengeance or revenge of any kind when we have to deal with evil. The idea is that we don’t have to exact revenge. The phrase translated ‘do not resist’ refers to standing up in opposition. This is the principle expressed in the rest of the New Testament. Our task is not to return evil in the place of evil. ‘Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.’

Revenge should never be our goal or our motivation. Our problem is not taking this teaching too literally; the problem is that we ignore it completely. We need to keep our minds off of revenge and on to being a blessing no matter what we face.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Let your yes be yes and your no be no

"Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.'  But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. - Matthew 5.33-37

Jesus makes it very clear here that a man’s character is important. He warns here about swearing on anything. Don’t swear of promise or take an oath by heaven, or earth, or the throne of God, or by the earth or any place or even by your own head.

Jesus’ view is that our word ought to be enough. If I say ‘yes’ it should mean ‘yes’. If I say ‘no’ it should be ‘no.’ My character ought to be such that no one can justifiably question my word.

There is not a whole lot say here. We never have occasion to say ‘I swear in the name of Jesus that I will do whatever.’ We can’t do that because we don’t really know what God’s will here and when we swear that way we presume on Him.

It’s pretty simple, let you ‘yes be yes’ and your ‘no be no’ and leave it at that. We need to men and women of our word.

On a side note I struggle with this with things like oath in court or loyalty oaths to the country or things like that. As I was mulling this over this morning the thought crossed my mind that in most cases there is not an oath, but a prayer that God will help me tell the truth. I am wondering if, the heart is right, ‘so help me God’ is a prayer and not a violation of this principle.

Either way, the principle is there. We need to be so truthful and honest that when we say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ there is no need for an oath to support it.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Jesus’ view of adultery

"You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. – Matthew 5.27-28

Way back in 1976 soon to be US president Jimmy Carter made worldwide headlines when he, for some unknown reason, agreed to an interview with a major 'men's magazine'. He said something for which he was mocked by the world. ‘The Bible says, "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Christ said, I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman with lust has in his heart already committed adultery. I've looked on a lot of women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times.’

He then went on the say that Christians needed to be careful about becoming self-righteous about other’s sins when they harboured sin in their own hearts.

Think what we may about President Carter' his politics, and his wisdom in granting the interview he did have a point. It is easy for us to sit back and judge and condemn other for their very visible sin and do nothing about the sin in our own private lives.

Jesus was teaching on the Law. The Jewish religious leaders had it pegged. They knew how to play the Law Game. They clearly defined what it meant to obey the Law.

Here Jesus used adultery as an example. ‘You have heard it said that you should not commit adultery.’ ‘Okay,’ the leaders (and many of us) could say, ‘I have been faithful to my wifer, I have never committed adultery, so I am safe on that one.’

But before they could settle on their thoughts Jesus continued, ‘but I say that if you have ever lusted after a women in your heart you are guilty of adultery.’

Wait a second, that’s a whole different story! If I have ever lusted after a woman in my heart I am an adulterer? Now that’s not quite so clear! Jesus drives home a point here – sin is a lot more than what you do, it is also what you think.

We need to be very, very careful that we don’t climb up on some sort of spiritual high horse when we see others sin. What would happen if our thought were as visible as that person’s actions? How could stand up to scrutiny?

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Nip it in the bud

Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. – Matthew 5.23-24

Whenever I hear the phrase ‘nip it in the bud’ my mind goes to a 60’s American television comedy called ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’ Andy Griffith (Andy Taylor) and Don Knotts (Barney Fife) star as the sheriff and deputy in a small North Carolina town. Barney often uses the phrase ‘nip it in the bud’ to describe how important it is to deal with petty crimes and misdemeanours before they get to be real problems.

When I researched the phrase I found out that it goes back at least 1595 when it was ‘nip it in the bloom.’ ‘Extinguish these fond loues with minds labour, and nip thy affections in the bloome, that they may neuer bee of power to budde.’

The modern version first appears in 1607 – ‘Yet I can frowne and nip a passion Euen in the bud.’

Hold on for just a second while we apply this phrase to this passage.

Family conflicts are sad. Even sadder is that they are going to happen. In a perfect world made up of perfect families full of perfect people they wouldn’t. But we aren’t perfect so they do happen.

Jesus knew that – that is why He tells us how to resolve them. I think we can forget sometimes that relationships in the body are vitally important. In another place Jesus tells us that if we have been offended by a brother we need to go deal with it. We go to him and sort it out before we do anything else. In other words, Jesus tells us that when there is a problem with another believer we need, indeed, to nip it in the bud.

Here Jesus tells us what to do when we know that a brother has something against us.

‘If you got to worship and leave your offering to God and realise that a brother has something against you, go to him first, sort it out, and then come with your offering.’

I like these two things put together. Unity in the body of Christ is vital. We cannot function if there is division. We cannot move forward if we are constantly looking sideways at each other. Satan will use division destroy our effectiveness.

It really is pretty simple – if we have an issue with another believer, no matter who is to blame, we both are responsible to fix it. Instead of waiting on the other person to come we both should be working to fix it. I may not know that I have offended someone. They may not know that they have offended me. So no matter what, when I am aware there is an issue I need to approach the other.

What is required to do this? Humility is the answer. Somebody has to be the first one to sort of an offence. If we would only consistently follow the words of Christ we would nip conflicts in the bud and they would never be an issue.

Do you have conflict in mind? Has someone offended you or have you noticed that someone has something against you? Don't hesitate, act now, nip it in the bud.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Jesus and the Law

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5.17-20

As we live in the age of grace we often have a hard time dealing with the Law. What does it mean to us? What is our relationship to it?

This is nothing new. Some of His opponents claimed that Jesus was ‘anti-Law.’ We know that is not the case because He says right here – ‘I am not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it. The Law will always be here, not one iota is going to be erased. If you cannot keep every aspect of the Law you can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. You have to be even more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees.’

We know something now that Jesus’ hearers did not know. We know the truth because of something Paul wrote later. Jesus hints at it when he talks about keeping the whole Law, but Paul makes it clear when he describes the purpose of the Law. ‘The Law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. Now that Christ has come we are no longer bound to the Law. We are free from the Law.’

That does not negate the Law; it just has a different purpose than people thought. What a relief to know that no one can keep the Law, no one.  The Law is vital because it teaches us the absolute necessity of the gospel.

When I read the Law knowing this I am grateful for two things. I am grateful that my eternal fate is not contingent on keeping the Law. I would be hopeless. I am so grateful for my Saviour who completed, fulfilled, and satisfied the Law in my place.