SO IN EVERYTHING

There are tons of instructions in the Bible that apply in different situations but wouldn’t be great to do in other situations.  But when Jesus reached the point in the Great Sermon on the Mount to give what we know as the Golden Rule He made it absolutely clear this was a command that related to all times and all situations with all people.  “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”  While similar statements have been found in other places, including the Book of Proverbs and other religious writings, they tended toward the negative side of it of not doing to anyone else what I wouldn’t want them to do to me.  But Jesus carried the point much further when he spoke, not of not doing, but of the positive side, to actually do the things that one would want done to them to others.

What if we actually carried out this command and took it very personally?  How many Facebook posts would need to be taken down?  How many books that have been written to attack another person, would have to be destroyed?  How many sermons that have been preached to attack the beliefs of another would need to be unpreached?  How many editorials that have been written about someone to try and destroy their reputation or simply to make them out as someone who can’t be trusted would have to be removed from the papers and magazines that have carried them?  In reality, how many magazines would have to be completely put out of business or entirely change their business plan to remain in business?  How many programs on radio and TV would suddenly be removed from the airwaves if they were to even try to obey what Jesus taught in this verse?  The truth is, it would make a massive change in life as a whole.  But a deeper question is, how would it change your life and mine if we really obeyed what Jesus taught in this verse?  It is easy to go after the media or public figures about their failure to follow the Golden Rule, but I’m not certain that they do any worse at it than the rest of of us.  To get even more personal, how much better do those of us who claim to follow Jesus in life do in following his teaching on this matter than those who do not even claim to follow Him?

Let me suggest for all of us that we start a personal campaign to fully engage in doing to others what we would have them do to us, in particular realms of life for a start and then build from there.  For example, suppose I make up my mind right now that in my relationship with my family, in my home that I be completely obedient to the Lord’s teaching on the matter. If you didn’t tell anyone what you were doing and simply made the change in your dealings with your husband or wife and with your children, how long do you think it would take for them to notice a difference?  It always makes more sense to start in a small circle and then build from there to take the same principle to my life at work or with the people I get together with regularly.  Perhaps take it to church with me so that with fellow church members I determine to treat them exactly like I would like to be treated by them.  If we kept on expanding the circle until we actually reached the stage we treated those who were from a different political party or beliefs from me as I would like to be treated by them, what an amazing difference it would make in society as a whole.

In some areas, I suspect this wouldn’t go as I might immediately think.  Treating others as we want to be treated wouldn’t mean we were never corrected on anything.  I don’t want to go through life mistaken on particular issues with no one having the courage to help me rethink and change my mind about it.  Disagreeing with others is normal as long as we are both thinking people.  What the Golden Rule does it affect the way I disagree with others.  It changes us from put-downs and sarcastic remarks to kind, considerate and loving statements to the people I encounter.  Just think if we followed this teaching when we are driving on the interstate or when we are in line at Walmart, it could be a massive difference for all.

But notice, Jesus didn’t end with the simple command to treat others as I want to be treated.  He then said, “for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Look at the Ten Commandments God gave as the center of the Law to Israel.  The first four relate to one’s relationship with God.  We are to have no other gods before him, not to make or bow down to any images we make, not to take his name in vain and to remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.  But the other six commands all relate to how we treat each other.  We aren’t to murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet and we are to honor our father and mother.  The remainder of the law and the prophets expanded on these laws and applied them to different challenges and situations faced by the people.  Jesus said, it was all summed up in following the Golden Rule to do to others as we would have them do to us.

Now it is true that this isn’t the only time that Jesus said that some command summed up the law and the prophets.  When he gave the greatest command to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as our self, he said about it that it summed up the law and the prophets.  In Romans 13 Paul said love fulfills the law and the prophets.  But the point that stands out is this, God gave all the many commands of the old Law and the Prophets to try to get us to treat each other with love, kindness and respect, to treat them like we would like to be treated.  Now that wasn’t the only purpose of the law or prophets, but the point is that was the heart of the message.

“O God, our Father in Heaven, treating others as we would like to be treated is a huge challenge.  Please guide us, help us and open our eyes to how our own words and actions affect others, especially those who are closest to us.  Please lead us to be the people who follow Jesus and treat all people with such love and respect.  In Jesus name, Amen.”

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KEEP ON ASKING,SEEKING AND KNOCKING

What if you really, with all your heart, wanted to find a short, to the point study of the heart of Jesus’ teaching?  After all, we live in a time where everyone seems to be wanting a reader’s digest version of everything.  If I want to look at such a version of Jesus message to the world, the very best place to look is at the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5-7.  It gives a pretty good look at what Jesus taught throughout his ministry on this earth.  One of the many things that stands out when I look at this greatest of all sermons, is that Jesus preached a message about how to live for Him in every day life.  Far too often in our time, we try to put the Christian life into what is done on Sunday morning for an hour or two.  As important as our gathering time is a God’s people, it is amazing that in this comprehensive sermon from Jesus nothing is said about the gathering of the church.  Instead he talked about how we should live every day in our relationship with other people, both fellow disciples and those in the world who don’t know God at all.  He focused a great deal on our relationship with God as well.  It is in our relationship with God that the segment of the Sermon that I want to focus on today, relates.

In Matthew 7:7-8 Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; to the one who seeks finds; and the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Remember as we look at this great promise and challenge from the Lord what had been under discussion when he said this.  He had talked about making judgments of others and challenged us to correct the problems in our own life before trying to correct the problems in another person’s life.  He had then challenged us to not cast our pearls to pigs or give to dogs that which is holy.  This point had to do with the sharing of the gospel of Jesus and the point Jesus was making is that we need to discern the audience before we lay out the message of Jesus.  Remember Jesus telling the disciples that there were many things he wanted to tell them but they weren’t ready for it yet so he would send the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth after he had been crucified and raised from the dead.  Later the writer of Hebrews made the point that there were many things he wished he could share with the church but they had not grown up as they should have and weren’t ready for the message he wished to share.  So, as great as the gospel or good news of Jesus is, there has to be some care given to what is given to the hearer at what time.  You don’t set a sirloin steak before a six month old baby.  The baby is a great child and the steak is good food, but they aren’t ready for that yet.

Jesus turned from that point to discuss people who were honest seekers for Him and salvation through him.  When he makes the point that if we ask we will receive, if we seek we will find and if we knock the door will be opened to us, he wasn’t saying that anything in the world we ask for from the Lord will be given to us or anything we seek from God will be granted or anything we go to God knocking on his door to receive will be granted.  Even Jesus prayed to be delivered from the cup that was set before him in being crucified for the world, but God’s answer was that it had to be done for people to be saved from sin and for Him.  One of the greatest servants of God of all time was the Apostle Paul but in 2 Corinthians 12 he described how God had blessed him in so many ways with visions and revelations, but God had also given him a thorn in the flesh, a minister of Satan to bother him so he wouldn’t become arrogant or proud due to all his blesses from the Lord.  We aren’t told what that thorn was.  I believe it was his struggle with depression since that is the topic that runs through the whole book of 2 Corinthians but others have believed it was problems with his vision, others that it was back problems and I’ve even read where some believe it was migraine headaches.  Since he doesn’t say for sure then I suppose it is alright to think all these and maybe a few others.  But the point of it all is that he said he prayed to God three times to remove that thorn in his flesh.  He was definitely seeking, asking and knocking on the Lord’s door asking for relief.  But God’s answer was, “No”.  He refused to take away his thorn and said that instead he would give him more grace for his strength is made perfect in weakness.

What Jesus is telling us in these verses is that if we are longing for the salvation that comes through him for every person, he will make a way for us to learn how to be saved.  In John 7:17 Jesus said, “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”  Think of the story of Cornelius described in Acts 10.  He was a religious man who was generous with others and prayed to God three times a day.  His whole family was devout and trying to be God’s servants.  As he prayed one day, God sent an angel to him to tell him his prayers and giving had come up as a memorial before God.  Notice that the angel then told him to send to Joppa for a man named Peter who could tell him words by which he and his family might be saved.  He sent messengers to Peter, God prepared Peter to be ready to come when the men arrived and he came to Caesarea to meet with Cornelius and his family.  Peter realized God doesn’t show favoritism and that in every nation those who fear him and do what is right will be saved.  Peter preached to them about Jesus and God sent the Holy Spirit on him and his family so that Peter said to those with him, “Can anyone forbid water that these should be baptized since they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?  He then commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.” Cornelius was seeking, asking and knocking so God arranged for someone to come and teach him the way of salvation.

In Acts 8 there was an Ethiopian treasurer who had traveled by chariot all the way to Jerusalem to worship God.  He was seeking, asking and knocking.  God sent an angel to Philip the evangelist to go to a deserted road where he would meet this man on his chariot and he was to preach Jesus to him.  Philip found him reading from Isaiah the prophet and asked if he understood what he was reading.  He said he didn’t and needed someone to guide him. Philip joined him in the chariot and began right where he was reading and preached Jesus to him.  As they were traveling down the road, the man said to Philip “see here is water, what hinders me from being baptized?”  They stopped the chariot and both got out and went down into the water and Philip baptized the man who then went on his way rejoicing.

God wants all people to be saved.  Peter even said that the reason God delays the coming of the Lord is so that more people may be saved.  He sends us as his people to make disciples in the world for him.  But God promises that anyone who longs for him and seeks, asks and knocks wanting to be right with the Lord that he will provide them with the opportunity to come to him.  It is notable that God didn’t with either the Ethiopian or Cornelius just declare them saved as they sought him but sent a disciple of Jesus to teach them the way to salvation.  Paul explained this point by saying that we have this treasure of the gospel in earthen vessels.  God reaches people through people.  He may send dreams, visions or angels to get the teacher in contact with the one longing for salvation, but he doesn’t side step the teacher to just declare one saved.

Honest seekers are given the promise of the Lord that God will make a way for them to hear, learn and do what God says to do in order to be saved.  If you read through the Book of Acts it is obvious how many times God intervened to make certain a person came into contact with the teacher of God’s will so they could turn from their life to sin to God and by faith obey his will to be saved.  God is constantly at work in the world getting honest seekers in contact with faithful teachers of his word so they can turn from sin to him.  Please notice that each of the words Jesus used in this text, (ask, seek and knock) are in the present tense indicating it is to keep on asking, keep on seeking and keep on knocking.  This is a picture of a true seeker that knows they need God and are searching for the way to him and are ready to do what he says to have that salvation in him.  So, praise God, He longs for all to be saved.  Praise God he hears the longing and seeking to make certain we have the opportunity to learn the way of the Lord.  Praise God he makes it possible for the teacher who knows the Lord to meet with the one who is searching so God’s will can be done in their life.

Finally, it should lead us who are trying to be the people of God and teachers of his will to be always open to God’s lead in our lives to be brought into contact with the honest seeker of his will.

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GIVE UP JUDGING

I suspect that the most often quoted segment of the great Sermon on the Mount is from chapter 7 and the first few verses.  “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Why do you suppose these two verses are so often referred to in our own time?  It seems that it is reached for under two very different situations.  Many times it is referred to in order to tell us we have no right to judge the actions or words of some other person.  It is then the message, don’t judge me or you will be judged as a result.  The other side of it is that many refer to is as a justification for not making any kind of judgment about anything.  A year or so ago I was informed that my name had come up for serving as a juror.  On the day I was to be there we were called to hear the trial of a man who was accused of being a drug dealer.  What was so interesting to me was that as the judge went around asking people if there was some reason why they couldn’t serve on a jury, several people answered they couldn’t serve because they didn’t believe it was right to judge anyone.  Even more intriguing to me was the fact the judge allowed them to escape serving as a result.  Both of these uses of the command from Jesus is a poor application and misses the real point of the verses.

This isn’t a restriction on all kinds of judging.  Jesus will later command us to judge righteously and James commands us to have judgments that are tendered by mercy.  The truth is if we continue to read the immediate verses to follow it becomes obvious that it isn’t a command to never make any kind of judgment in life.  In verses 3-8 he said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye, when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs.  If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

First, when it comes to judging, we must start with ourselves.  If we are searching for what is wrong in others without doing a close look at ourselves we are setting ourselves us for judgment from God and others.  No wonder Paul told the Corinthians to “examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith, for do you not see that Jesus Christ is in you, unless indeed you are reprobates” (2 Corinthians 13:50).  Also, in I Corinthians 11 as Paul taught about the taking of the Lord’s Supper he said we are to examine ourselves and then eat of the bread and drink of the cup so that we don’t eat and drink in an unworthy manner.  The whole picture of a person with a huge plank in their eye trying to lean over so they can somehow see a small speck of sawdust in another person’s eye is hilarious.  My guess is that when Jesus gave this description he was laughing and all the people around him were laughing.  Why do we need to judge our own hearts, actions and words?  So that we know the truth about ourselves and can correct the problems and mistakes that are there.  If we keep skipping through life never looking at our own failures we will never grow, get better or change anything for the better.  Repentance always begins with a clear look at ourselves.

Second, after we have removed the plank from our own eyes we are able to look more closely and help the other person remove the speck in their eye.  He isn’t saying that if it is just specks of sawdust then just leave it in our eyes, since it is so small.  No, if you have gotten a eye lash or speck of any kind in your eye, you want it out as quickly as possible.  But you don’t want someone with a log in their eye trying to muddle their way around to get your speck out.  So, make judgement of your sins and failures first so you can help another person make the judgments needed in their life so problems can be solved.

Third, recognize that how we go about judging affects both how God and other people make judgments about us and our life or problems.  If we judge with grace, kindness and mercy, we tend to have others look at the flaws in our lives through the those same lens to show us mercy, grace and kindness.  But if we look at the other person’s flaws with a magnifying glass from a perch sitting high above them, then they tend to search for our flaws with even greater intensity and point them out with fervor.  Later Jesus explains to us that if we see someone do something wrong we are to go to them by themselves and talk to them just between us and them so that their lives might be saved.  This is a million miles from the notion of seeing something wrong with another person and getting on Facebook or some such site to write about the other person’s flaws.  In such times we never produce needed change but anger that leads to attacks on us.

Finally, notice that he completes this topic with a call for making a judgment.  Don’t give the sacred to the dogs or cast pearls before pigs.  They will not recognize any value in them and simply destroy them.  The only way we can avoid such poor use of those things that are valuable in our service to God is if we make some correct judgments in the matter.  Remember when Jesus sent the disciples out on the limited commission.  He told them to search for a person of peace when they entered a town and stay there to teach them the way of the Lord.  But if they entered a house and learned they weren’t people of peace they were to leave them and shake the dust from their feet as a witness against them.  In both cases it demands a judgment be made.  We need to recognize the honest, peaceful person who will receive the gospel and be changed by it but we also must recognize the ones who are manipulating and abusing the very gospel of Jesus and move on to another person who has the heart to hear, learn and obey it.

Jesus was challenging us not to make a life of being the judge and jury for other people.  We must not be fault-finders of everyone who disagrees with us.  Instead make a mission of being a good-finder.  It will bless you and the other person.

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DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT

Are you a worrier?  Let’s face it that some people are much more prone to worry than others.  it seems to be part of some people’s makeup that they are always feeling that something bad is waiting for them just around the corner.  It often leads to worrying about what is going to happen.  Others are worried sick about things that have happened already in their life and can’t seem to turn loose of the mistakes made many years earlier.  It is easy for such worry to turn into guilt and for the guilt to turn to depression and hopelessness.  Even though most of us use the word worry from early in life, it is worth thinking about what the word actually means.  Like many of the other words Jesus used in the great Sermon on the Mount this is a strong word and goes beyond mere concern or thinking about what might happen that is bad or even thinking about mistakes and how they have affected us.  Worry is when that concern has gone too far and is taking over our lives.  It has a crippling affect that keeps us from acting to change anything for fear we might make the wrong move.

It amazes me that Jesus spent as much time in this greatest of all sermon to talk about the problem of worry.  He had just pointed out that we can’t serve both God and money when he added the application to that point.  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes” (Matthew 6:25).  That verse introduced the topic that will continue all the way through verse 34 of this chapter.

Focus on the reasons Jesus gives for not being a worrier in life.  First, he pointed out that worry demonstrates a lack of faith in the loving care of our God.  “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?”  God wants us to recognize his love and care for us and to trust his blessings in life.  In Philippians 4:6-7 when Paul spoke on the same point he said, “Do not be anxious about anything.  But in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  When we present our concerns to the Father in prayer we need to stop the worrying and allow Him to handle the problems that have been haunting us.  In verses 28-30 he said, “And why do you worry about clothes?  See how the flowers of the field grow.  They do not labor of spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his spender was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith.”

Second, Jesus pointed out that we don’t need to worry about things in life because it is useless.  “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”  One might add that instead we take away hours of life and even the joy that is part of life by spending our time worry about everything.  Most of the things we worry about either can’t be changed since they have already happened or they never will happen at all.  Those things in the past can’t be changed.  They can be repented of and be forgiven by God and others around us.  But we can’t undo what has been done.  Much of what we worry about with regard to the future, never happens at all.  Think about things you worried about ten years ago and how few of them ever happened in any way that we imagined.

Third he said we shouldn’t worry because that is how the pagans live that don’t know the Lord at all.  After all God knows what we need before we can even think to ask him.  Just think of all the things we do in life to try to protect ourselves from what can happen.  Do you remember when cities, churches and groups were building bomb shelters to protect us from the inevitable bomb that was going to fall on us?  What about all the storm shelters that are built, usually soon after the tornadoes have hit an area?  Think of all the alarms that are put into our homes and cameras everywhere to recognize who is coming on our property.  I wonder if these efforts to protect ourselves leads to worry free living or do they call attention to all the things that can happen and lead to more worry than ever.  Jesus challenged us not to live like the pagans who don’t know God and don’t understand his care.

But Jesus was never one to simply say not to do something that was bad.  He offered the a different plan.  First, instead of worrying about everything, “Seek first his kingdom  and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Notice while worry is something that occupies our minds, seeking involves a pursuit that will involve mind, body and soul.  We tend to seek many things in life.  But Jesus points out that the top priority should be given to the kingdom of the Lord.  What does it mean to seek the kingdom of Christ?  First, it involves making Jesus the king, the lord and master of my life.  Remember earlier in the Lord’s prayer he said to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  We become part of the kingdom by being born again of the water and the Spirit.  We live in the kingdom by allowing Jesus to rule and guide our lives in everything.  But notice it isn’t just pursuing the kingdom, but his righteousness in our life.  It involves taking on his heart, character and purpose in life.  When we live by faith in Christ we partake in the righteousness of Jesus.  Just as Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness, so when we believe God and follow his will the righteousness of Christ is counted to our account as well.

Finally, Jesus said “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Instead of worrying about yesterday or tomorrow, live today.  All of us have enough to handle in each day to take up our time and energy.  So don’t move into air castles of the future or the worry cellars of the past.  Live fully today.  It isn’t wrong to plan for the future as long as I understand I don’t have any guarantees that I will be there and I certainly don’t have any guarantees that it will happen as I plan it.  Most likely it won’t.  But if I live fully today it will better deal with a past I wish I could change and a future that is uncertain.

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SAVING TREASURES

What do you treasure?  Hopefully, what we treasure most in life isn’t things, but people, relationships and our faith in God.  But if we narrow the question and ask instead, what things do you treasure most, what would you answer?  Someone asked if you came home to see your house burning, and you knew that no one was inside, and you had only one opportunity to rush in and save what you could grab quickly, what would you think of that you had to get before it could burn?  For some it would be pictures, for others it would be something they have had passed down to them from generations past and for others it would be things related to their children who are now grown.  One reality is that every treasure we hold dear in this life, can quickly be lost.  Relationships can crumble.  Ones we love may die or we may die ourselves.  The things we hid to make certain we don’t lose, can be forgotten only to return to where you thought you had put them to find they aren’t there anymore.

Jesus spoke clearly about treasures in life in the Sermon on the Mount.  “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and were thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure in, there your heart will be also.”  This was a long time before lock boxes, alarm systems and cameras to recognize and stop intruders, but all our efforts to make sure our treasures on earth are secure fail in the long run.  How many people have you known who were sure they had their future planned and taken care of only to have the stock market fall drastically to see their wealth fall to nothing?  How many have you known who were sure their business would prosper and they were secure only to see the business falter and leave them with massive debt instead of secure?  We may think our bank, our bonds, our government or our annuity is secure, but banks fail, governments fall and insurance companies need insurance.  Treasures in this life are never secure because we aren’t secure ourselves in this life.  Disease, death, and decay are always around.

No wonder Jesus pleaded with us to not put our treasures in this life.  He pleaded with us to instead put our treasures in heaven where nothing and no one can invade to steal or destroy our future.  Even Satan who invaded the Garden of Eden can’t get into heaven when we put our treasures there.  Listen to the apostle Paul describe his future when death by execution was approaching fast.  “I am now ready to be offered.  The time of my departure is close.  I have fought a good fight.  I have kept the faith.  I have finished the course.  Therefore there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge will award to me on that day- and not to me only but to all those who longed for his appearing.”  Rather than facing death thinking all was lost, he faced death with the sure conviction that all the reward for his faithfulness to God was waiting for him in glory.

Notice, Jesus said one of the most powerful things of all Scripture when he said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  Whatever we consider the real treasures of life take our heart, soul and motivation with them.  If our treasures are in heaven nothing in this life will cause us to lose hope or to feel that all is lost.  When we become so angry and attack everyone who disagrees with us about political things, it demonstrates our treasures are laid up down here.  Whatever moves us, upsets us and makes us angry, or fills us with tremendous joy and excitement is also where the treasure of our life is found.  That is the reason it is so important to put the treasures of life with God in heaven rather than on the failing aspects of this life.

Notice Jesus made two other statements on this point that are important.  First, he said, “The eye is the lamp of the body.  If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”  This isn’t about the physical eyes but the thinking behind what we see.  It has more to do with what we look at and and think of when we see a thing.  Peter spoke of those whose “eyes are full of adultery”.  It wasn’t a problem of sight, but of what they looked at and thought about when they saw a woman.  Job said he made a covenant with his eyes not to look on a young woman lustfully.  When our eyes can only see how we can somehow profit from other people’s failures or lack of interest our eyes are on the wrong things.  Our spiritual eyes determine what we see in life.  Amazingly we can all look at the very same scene or event in life and see entirely different things because of what we are looking for in the scene.

Then Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and money.”  There is good reason why Jesus spoke so often about money during his life on earth.  He knew that money and things can easily become the dominant force in our lives.  He also knew that our values in life will drive not only what we do, what we put our interest in, it will also determine where we put our money.  Money and things are great when used as a way to serve God and others.  Money is a horrible god.  It makes a great servant, but a lousy master.  I have no doubt that the reason the Bible speaks so much about giving isn’t that God needs our money, but he wants us and He knows that when our treasures are down here our hearts will follow.  When we use our money for the service of God and for the good of others as well as caring for our own, then our hearts move outside us to focus on God, needs, hurts and people around us.

Consider for just a moment, what is on your mind most of the time when you aren’t involved in work or some project at home?  When we are on our own time and our thoughts are all on sports, politics, or sex, it is a strong indication where our heart is.  When we have personal time and our thoughts go to prayer, to serving others and to being part of the body of Christ on earth it indicates our heart is in heaven.  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

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HOW YOU SHOULD PRAY

Prayer is a tremendous blessing from God.  It is a privilege to be able to take our appreciation, thanksgiving, praise, requests and complaints directly to God and to know he not only loves us and cares about us, but listens and reacts to our prayers.  But prayer is also a tremendous challenge.  It is amazing how many Christians feel guilty about their prayer life.  Many worry that they don’t pray enough or that they pray the same things every day.  We may even struggle with coming up with the right words to express our thoughts to God in prayer.  Even the apostle Paul thanked God for the Holy Spirit who helps us in our weaknesses because we don’t know what to pray for as we should but the Spirit intercedes for us with groans we can’t utter (Romans 8:26-27).

That makes the simple teaching of Jesus to his disciples on how we should pray all the more valuable.  You’ve heard it and likely said it many, many times.  But look at it with fresh eyes today.  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”  Jesus is the one who often rose before day to go out in lonely places to pray to the Father.  He also would go up on the mountain and spend all night in prayer before major events in his life.  The writer of Hebrews pictures Jesus in prayer in chapter 5 and verse 7.  “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears, to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”  He likely was referring to Jesus prayer in Gethsemane before the crucifixion.  In light of Jesus own prayer life on earth it seems odd in many ways that his teaching to us on how to pray is so short, to the point and simple.  It certainly points out that prayer to God isn’t some formal presentation that has to have every word in place for God to hear and answer.  It is a conversation with one we love and who loves us.

He said, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”  Notice, it is inclusive.  God is Father to Jesus in a special way, but He is our Father in heaven as well.  It certainly isn’t wrong to pray to God as the almighty, all powerful, all knowing God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  But Jesus longs for us to see God as our own father in heaven and to know that just as our father on earth loves us and longs to hear from us our father in heaven is anxious to hear our voices calling upon him.  His name is hallowed, or holy, separate in the he is our unique Father.  Earthly fathers are a wonderful blessing from God.  But our earthly father has both great, loving qualities and inconsistencies and failures in his life. God is a different kind of Father.  He is above and serves as the ideal for every other father in the world.  When we approach God it should be with respect for Him who cares more deeply for us than we can ever comprehend.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Notice the first plea isn’t about our needs but for God’s kingdom or rule to come.  This isn’t particularly about the kingdom of God coming into existence but for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven all the time.  This is a prayer we are to pray and it would make no sense to pray for God’s will to be done on earth when I am not allowing his will to be done in my own life.  It makes all kinds of sense to me that we would prayer this prayer for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven and to add the phrase and Lord begin with me.  The second part of this sentence is his explanation of the first part.  When the kingdom comes, His will is done.  The only way God’s will is done in our lives is when we are willing to yield to his will even if it differs from our own.  Jesus best illustrated this principle when he prayed for the cup of the cross to pass from him but added, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.”  God’s will is done perfectly and totally in heaven.  For his will to be done in that same way on earth seems highly unlikely.  After all Satan is the god of this world and he leads it further and further from the Lord.  This prayer is only fulfilled as we personally yield to him.

“Give us today our daily bread.”  This was the first personal request Jesus mentioned.  It isn’t just about food, but about our normal, every day kind of needs in life.  He tells us to pray to God about the daily concerns of life and know God is interested in those little things like what we will eat today.  It is significant that he placed the request for daily bread before the request for forgiveness of sins.  It certainly doesn’t mean that daily bread is more important.  It likely does recognize that we tend to think first about such daily needs before the problem of sin and what it is doing in our life.

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”  We owe God our lives, our loyalty and our worship.  Every act of disobedience or failure in life puts us deeper into debt to him.  Remember the story Jesus told in Matthew 18 after Peter had asked how many times he had to forgive his brother and asked if it was up to seven times.  Jesus first said to him that it was not up to seven times but to seventy times seven as a way of saying there is no limit.  But he then told the story of a man who owed the ruler of the land $10,000,000 and was called on to pay his debt.  When he stood before the ruler he pleaded for more time and said he would repay it in full.  The ruler had compassion on him and forgave the entire debt.  He went out from this amazing gift to find a brother who owed him $15.00 and demanded he repay him what he owed him.  The man pleaded for mercy and for time and promised to repay it completely but he had no mercy and called for the man and his family to be thrown into prison until he paid every penny.  Other servants told the ruler what had happened and he called the man back to challenge his actions after he had been so totally forgiven and had the man thrown into the dungeon for his actions.  Jesus said that is the way it is when we are forgiven by God of such a huge debt we have with him and then turn around and refuse to forgive something another person has done to us.

He said to pray for forgiveness because we have forgiven others who owed us.  Matthew adds in verse 14 “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  Our appreciation for God’s forgiving us ought to be so great that we are ready and willing to forgive anything that another person may do to us in life.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”  This isn’t to imply that if we don’t ask God we will be led into temptation.  James tells us that God cannot be tempted by evil and neither does he tempt any person but we are drawn away by our own lust and when lust conceives it brings forth sin and when sin is full grown in brings forth death.  Our prayer is for God’s guidance.  It is that God would keep us alert to the temptations of the devil and give us the courage to refuse the temptation.  Notice Jesus explained it further by saying to deliver us from the evil one.  Other translations have it to deliver us from evil.  Neither translation is bad but probably the one that says to deliver us from evil is better.  We need to avoid the evil in life whether it is coming directly from the devil or from life as a whole.  Sometimes the evil is of our own making, yet we still need God’s deliverance.

It is a simple prayer.  But it covers the range of our needs as God’s people.  Whether we pray it as a prayer every day or use it as a pattern to make certain we are praying for the kinds of things God wants us to pray about, doesn’t really matter.  It is vital to remember the heart and the scope of this prayer as we approach God anytime.

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WHO IS WATCHING?

Do you remember that day you walked into the glass door in an office building or at some motel?  What about the day you got off the elevator and missed your step and fell flat on the floor right in front of everyone?  If you remember any such incident in your life, you likely also remember that one of the first things you did was to get up and look around to see who actually saw you?  Often we are so conscious of who might be looking that we overlook what we did to ourselves in the process.  Some years ago I was preaching at a church in Houston, Texas and it was time for me to get to the front of the building to preach, but I was at the back, in the foyer, not paying attention to what was between me and the front of the building and walked right into a glass door that didn’t give much in the process.  I was so set on not being seen as the nut that walked into the door I quickly pushed it open and walked on in, not realizing that I had knocked my glasses all side ways and bent them severely and that blood was coming from the side of my nose where the glasses had hit.  Of course, I made much more of a spectacle than if I had simply stopped and not been concerned about who saw me.

In Matthew 6:1-18 Jesus warned about practicing our righteousness in front of others “TO BE SEEN BY THEM.”  He said if we do such good deeds in order to be seen by others then we have no reward from the Father in heaven.  Notice, it isn’t a matter of whether or not we are seen by another person.  Most of Jesus’ great deeds of healing were done before the watching eyes of the people.  It was the motive behind them.  Are we doing the good deed in order to have people see them and tell us what great things we are doing?  Quite often the good deeds that are done in life are observed by others and even if not it is often the case that the one who was benefitted by the good deed will go and tell others what was done for them.  God’s concern is our motive behind the action, not who does or doesn’t see it.

He used three powerful illustrations to make this point more memorable for us.  The first one was, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that you giving may be in secret.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”  Every time I read this I think of my days as a fund raiser for Freed-Hardeman University.  I had the privilege of meeting with some amazing people who were willing to share what they had for the good of the cause of Christ in powerful ways.  What amazed me was that most of the ones who were most generous were also the people who wanted to make certain others didn’t know what they had done.  One incident that always stands out in my memory was meeting with a man under his single car carport one day, who lived in a small two bedroom home and drove an older pickup truck.  He talked about a gift he wanted to make to the college but was very concerned that his name not appear anywhere saying what his gift was. He didn’t want any buildings named after him or any honor received. Looking at his outward appearance I was wondering what he would be giving that would be such a concern for him.  When he said he wanted to give $4,000,000.00 to the school, I almost passed out.

Giving, generosity, sharing are fundamental to Christian living.  There is no such thing as a stingy Christian.  You can be a Christian or you can be stingy, but you can’t be both at the same time.  Following Christ demands that we be willing to share what we have in this world.  But it is always vital that we keep in mind that the motivation for such giving must be to please God and for his seeing, not for praise from anyone on this earth.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that if people know what we have done it makes it bad.  That just can’t be my motivation for the gifts.

His second illustration was about prayer.  “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”  He went on to tell them not to just go on and on in their prayers since God knows our needs before we ask.  Did Jesus mean it was wrong to pray in public?  Certainly not.  Jesus prayed in public and private many times.  The longest recorded prayer from him is in John 17.  The early church had a public prayer time when Peter and John were released from jail after being arrested for healing a man and preaching Jesus to the crowd.  It isn’t how public the prayer is or even whether we stand or kneel as we pray.  It is what the motive of the prayer is.  Are we praying for people to hear us and tell us what a magnificent prayer it was or are we praying to God from our heart without regard to what anyone might say or think?  Motives matter.  Pray from the heart between you and God.  Think of many of the recorded prayers that Paul prayed for the churches he wrote to such as in Ephesians one and the last verses of chapter three.  They are powerful moving prayers for the whole church to see and read, but they weren’t prayed for people to praise Paul but to move the hand of God on their behalf.

Finally, his third illustration was in verses 16-18. “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”  Can’t you imagine these religious leaders going out in town with their hair all in a mess and their faces dirty, looking like they just lost their best friend?  They longed for someone to ask them what was wrong so they could tell them how long they had been fasting in their devotion to God.  Jesus said, they received their whole reward when people noticed them.  Is it wrong for anyone to know you are fasting?  No, the early church had called fast for different reasons, such as sending out missionaries in Acts 13 or when elders were set apart in Acts 14.  It is wrong to fast or anything else in our spiritual lives for the admiration of people.  We are to play to an audience of one all the time.  If I preach so that others can come out and tell me how well I did, God won’t bless me or the preaching.  I’m thankful when anyone says they have been benefitted by a sermon, but I must always remember that whether anyone liked it or not is insignificant compared to whether it was pleasing to God.

Our lives are seen by others.  Our faith and devotion shows.  We are to let our lights so shine before others that they may see our good works and glorify the Father in heaven.  But there is the key.  Do our good deeds bring glory to us or to the Lord?  God help us everyday to live in a way that brings glory to You, Father in a world ruled by Satan.

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