WATCH OUT

Jesus was nearing the conclusion of the greatest recorded sermon of all time, that we know as the Sermon on the Mount.  He had challenged them to enter the narrow gate and walk the narrow road that leads to life and pointed out that the easy way was to simply go with the flow and take the wide gate and travel the broad road that leads to destruction.  If anyone looked at the destination and realized that one way ended in horror and the other way ended in eternal life with God, it would seem that we would quickly choose the narrow road and have the greatest blessings possible.  But we would be fooling ourselves to think that way.  Even in every day life most can’t seem to delay gratification long enough to have a better future, but are willing to sacrifice the future to have what I want right now.

Jesus turned from that challenge to a warning.  “Watch out for false prophets.  They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  By their fruits you will recognize them.”  From the beginning God used prophets to guide the people who followed him in the right way.  Jesus even declared that John the Baptist was greatest among the prophets.  If you look back through the Old Testament you meet lots of great people that God referred to as “My servants the prophets.”  But there were also those people who were false prophets that led people in the wrong direction.  One of the classic stories of the Old Testament with regard to prophets was told when Jeroboam led the ten tribes of Israel away and set up the idol gods for the people to worship.  God sent a man of God from Judah as recorded in I Kings 13 to go to Bethel and condemn the actions of Jeroboam.  Jeroboam was standing on the altar when the prophet cried out, “Altar, altar! This is what the Lord says:  A son named Josiah will be born of the house of David.  On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who made offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you.”  He gave the sign that the altar would split apart and the ashes be poured out.  Jeroboam was horribly upset and cried out for the people to arrest the man, but his arm wouldn’t pull back after that so he then pleaded with the prophet to pray for his arm to be restored.  He did pray and the arm was restored.  Then Jeroboam tried to get him to come home with him and eat with him but the prophet said God had told him not to eat there and headed back home.

But there was an old prophet who lived there and his sons came home to tell him what had happened.  He went out after the young prophet and caught up with him.  He asked him to come back to his house and eat with him but the young prophet explained that God had told him not to eat there and to go straight back to Judah.  The old prophet lied to him and said that God had sent an angel to speak to him to tell him to bring the young prophet back to his house to eat with him.  He believed the lie and went back.  While eating God spoke through that old prophet to say to the young prophet, “This is what the Lord says, You have defied the word of the Lord and have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you.”  On his way home a lion came out and attacked and killed the young prophet for his disobedience.  So, God actually spoke through the lying old prophet to him.  But he suffered because of the deceit of the old prophet and believing a lie.

So, Jesus challenges us to watch out, to test the prophets to see if they are the real thing.  Later in I John 4 the apostle John will pick up the same thread when he commanded us to be on guard against false prophets for many false teachers have gone out into the world.  He told us to test the prophets to see if they were for real.  If a prophet denied that Jesus came in the flesh he wasn’t for real and was really anti-Christ.  Compare this with Jesus point that we can determine if the prophet is the real thing by checking their fruits.  Good trees don’t bear bad fruit and bad trees don’t bear good fruit.

There are two ways a person can be a false teacher or prophet.  One can be false in that they teach the truth but fail to live what they teach.  Jesus told the disciples to do what the scribes and Pharisees said to do since they sat in Moses seat, but not to do as they did because they didn’t live by what they taught.  If the life of the teacher doesn’t match the message they preach or teach then they are a false teacher and shouldn’t be followed.  Now understand that no one lives a perfect life except Jesus.  So in talking about not living the life I’m not saying one must live perfectly as their teaching should be.  But one must be trying to live by the very standards they would place on others.  In Paul’s words we should be able to say, “Follow me as I also follow Christ.”

The second way and the one we tend to hear more about is that one may be a false teacher in that what they teach isn’t really what the word of God teaches.  In John’s time many were preaching that Jesus didn’t really come with a physical body like ours but he was a spirit being and only looked like he had a physical body.  Thus when he went to the cross he didn’t really suffer and die as a man for us.  It was all pretense.  John will declare in 2 John 9 that “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.”  Paul’s challenge to his young friend Timothy was to “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.”  He had just pointed out that all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching for rebuke, for correcting and for instruction in righteousness so the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.  Paul referred to some false teachers in Galatians 1:8-9 by saying, “Though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”

There will be false teachers in the world as long as time goes on.  Our challenge is to watch out and be able to identify the false teacher and the one who is true and follow the teacher that is really striving to teach the word of God clearly and striving to live by the same message he is preaching to others.  But how can we know whether a teacher or prophet is real or false?  Jesus said, check their fruit.  Check to see how the lives of those who are being taught is affected.  Check to see how the person who is teaching is actually living themselves in the world.  Only follow anyone who looks like Jesus and helps you follow him more closely all the time.

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DON’T MISS THE RIGHT ROAD

Before the days of GPS it was a constant struggle to stay on the right road.  All the maps in the lap, didn’t seem to assure me that I was heading in the right direction.  Even with the GPS update, I’ve still had some times when I either entered something wrong or the maps got it wrong so that I ended up in some place a long way from where I had intended to go.  Spiritually it is the same problem.  We can easily get off on the wrong road in our spiritual life and be moving further away from God and His will when we believe we are heading in the right direction.

A key passage in the Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew 7:13-14 where Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it.”  In many ways this seems to be a strange teaching.  After all Jesus invited everyone who is weary and burdened down in life to come to him to have rest to our soul.  He even declared that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.  His plea was for us to take his yoke and learn of him.  So the narrow road isn’t found by only a few because there aren’t many invited.  Everyone is invited.  Also, it isn’t the case that not many enter that way because preparation hasn’t been made for them to be saved.  Jesus went to the cross to taste death for every person according to Hebrews 2:9.  When he gave the disciples his great commission it was to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature and he who believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:15-16). Matthew’s account of that same commission was as you go into all the world, make disciples from every ethnic group, baptizing them into the name of the father, the son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you and I will be with you always even to the end of the age.  He wouldn’t have commissioned us to carry the gospel to all people if only a select group of them could be saved anyway.

So, why do the majority of people travel through the wide gate and travel the broad way that leads to destruction? Do they not realize the destination?  Imagine meeting someone at a convenience store who is getting gas and you ask them where they are going.  They tell you they really don’t know where they are going, but it is such a nice, wide road that is so well kept and easy to drive they are just traveling on it without any view to a destination.  What if you then said to them, “Do you realize that there is a bridge out twenty miles down the road and there aren’t any exits between here and there, so it is extremely dangerous and not well marked before you come to the missing bridge?”  What would you think if their response was, “Well, it is such a good road and so well kept, I think we will just keep going and take our chances on the future?”  Most of us would be amazed that anyone would be so thoughtless in light of the warning that you gave them.  You would likely asked yourself, “Did they not believe me?  Should I have been clearer? Should I have tried to stop them and described what it was like if you went off the end where the bridge was supposed to be?”  I often feel that same frustration when talking with someone who is living in sin and makes no attempt to change their life even though they will tell you that they know that if they died as they are they would be lost forever.

So, why do people stay on the broad road?  I am sure there are tons of reasons.  Some stay because it is such an easy road and there is plenty of room on it for them to do as they please and still travel it.  Some stay on that way because of all their friends and family that are there and they don’t want to leave them.  Some stay on that road because the Narrow road seems so difficult to them and they just don’t really believe that they could travel that road.

Just how narrow is the gate and road in that way that leads to eternal life?  It is wide enough for anyone who out of faith in Christ as Savior and Lord, turns from their sins to God in repentance and declares their faith in Jesus, being baptized into Christ where they rise to walk in newness of life.  It is wide enough for me to travel with all my friends and family that make the same commitment to God.  It is wide enough for people to travel it that are weak and struggling, but who put their faith in Christ and walk in his way, being forgiven of their sins and failures as they are cleansed by the blood of Jesus.  It is wide enough for a person who comes to Christ to never stumble or fall on it.  Peter said that if we as followers of Christ add to our faith goodness, to goodness knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control, perseverance and to perseverance, godliness, to godliness, mutual affection and to mutual affection love, we will be fruitful in our service to God and will make our calling and election sure, thus assuring that we will never stumble or fall and will have an abundant entrance into the eternal kingdom (2 Peter 1:5-11).

The narrow road is so narrow that I need the help of the Holy Spirit to walk that way faithfully.  I can’t do it on my own.  For that reason at the moment we out of faith are baptized into Christ God gives us the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, strengthen us, help and lead us in the way we should go.  Paul said the Spirit helps us in all our weaknesses in Romans 8:26.  Besides that Jesus promises to never leave or forsake us so that we may boldly say, “the Lord is our helper, I will not fear what man can do to me.”  We have God as our father who listens to our prayers, and blesses us as we live for him.  He even measures the temptations that can come our way to make certain we aren’t tempted beyond our ability to overcome it.  On top of all of that we have the help and encouragement of every other Christian that is part of the same family of believers and is part of the body of Christ alongside us.  One of the greatest charges of the New Testament relates to how many times and ways God tells us to help one another in living the life he calls us to live.  This life on the narrow road is called by Jesus the abundant life.  It is the life where we have all spiritual blessings that heaven has to offer a person.  Jesus said that in this world as we live that life we receive back a hundred times over everything we give up to follow him and on top of that, in the world to come we have eternal life.

It is certainly understandable that people talk lots about the blessings that we will receive in heaven when this life is over.  That is after all the destination for everyone on that narrow road.  But sometimes we are so intent on the life to come we miss out on the marvelous blessings that are here and now for those who live in Christ.  By far the greatest, happiest, fullest and most blessed life anyone can live in the here and now is the life for God walking the narrow road that leads to life.

It is vital that we be careful and check the road that we are on using the GPS of God’s word to guide us, because Satan constantly is working to convince those on the broad road that they really are on the narrow road that leads to life. It may well be that many will not be aware they were on the wrong road until they reach their destination.

Leon Barnes

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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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