Saturday, November 30, 2013

sermon on the mount --prayer as it is intended

For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
If God already knows what we need, why does He want us to ask Him for things in prayer?

When we pray, we are acknowledging that the things we receive come from God. By recognizing God as the source of all provision we give Him glory. This is a good arrangement: we learn humility and dependence, God receives glory. The problem, however, is that sometimes we think that the blessings we receive from God are somehow earned through our prayer--that God is won over by our many words or good argument. This is a bad arrangement: we develop arrogance and a false sense of self-sufficiency, God is not glorified.


Friday, November 29, 2013

sermon on the mount --answered prayer

For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

Not too long after my wife and I had our second child, we decided we should have a car that was not just one stop light away from needing to be hauled to the junk yard.

We actually had some money, $1400, in our checking account.

In the local credit union parking lot was a repossessed Chrysler K-car. “Submit a bid,” said a sign on the car.

I told my wife about it. She agreed it wouldn't hurt to try, so I submitted a bid for the whole wad, $1400.

Then we prayed about it, together, by ourselves and a week later the credit union gave us a call and told us we had won the bid.

When we drove into their parking lot my wife was amazed. "Are you sure this is the right car?" she asked me. "Where's the rust?" 

To this day, we both remember how thankful we were.


Our Heavenly Father knew we needed the car before we asked Him.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

sermon on the mount --remember

For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

As a kid, my favorite Old Testament story was Elijah taunting the prophets of Baal: “Shout really loud,”  said Elijah. “Maybe he’s thinking, or relieving himself, or maybe he’s asleep and must be awaken.”

As a kid I knew that my God was Elijah’s God. And what a response Elijah got from God!

But it’s been a long time since I’ve been a kid.

The Psalmist cried out, “Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord. Why do you hide your face and forget our affliction?”

Sometimes I feel like that. Sometimes I feel taunted like Baal’s prophets.

Then I remember how time after time , how prayer after prayer God has answered, so specifically and so graciously.

“Be still,” I tell my soul. “Be still and remember His mercies, new every morning.”


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

sermon on the mount --ponderings

And when you give, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.

It's always my intention to be concerned about others, particularly those whom we are able to help. But when I give, I ponder over the "whole" picture. Is this part of the 10% that I feel sort of legalistically bound to give? How will this work for me when filling out my income taxes? And, the people we give to, they've got to appreciate that it is my wife and I who are again being generous to them. 

God also ponders the whole picture.

That means He knows what is real in our lives--even though we ourselves may not quite know. 

Then He rewards accordingly.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

sermon on the mount --why so secretive?

The Lord moves in mysterious ways. In Matthew 6, Jesus alludes to the mysterious ways of God: We are to give in secret (v. 4), we are to pray in secret (v.6), God sees what is done in secret (v. 4 and v. 6), God is unseen (v.6).

Why does God insist on things being so secretive and veiled? Why does he not just come right out and label everything as what they are: righteous or unrighteous, blessed or cursed? Why does the hypocrite get to appear righteous while the truly righteous man remains, just like God Himself, “unseen?” Or why, for that matter, must God remain “unseen?” Why doesn't God just show Himself in profound, incontrovertible ways?

We must either walk by faith or by sight. The more that we “see,” the less we can believe. Which is more blessed: to see and believe, or to live in world of veiled, secretive righteousnesses and believe none the less?

Monday, November 25, 2013

sermon on the mount --look at me!

They love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners that they may be seen by others.

"Look at me, papa." I didn't even know my grand kid knew how to talk. And here he was talking in full sentences. Or at least one full sentence.

Why is it that we all seem to have such a passion to be seen and approved by other people?

I really do love the Lord. I am so very thankful for His goodness and His mercy. I can hardly think about Calvary without feeling deeply emotional. And I love to share the thoughts He gives me regarding Himself. I love our church remembrance meeting that gives me opportunity.

But almost as soon as I sit down, I'm listening, Did anyone pick up on what I said? Did I make an impression?

What am I, a two year old? Yep, sort of like.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

sermon on the mount --pick your prize

As a kid, I loved YMCA-style sports. I have never been much of an athlete, but when it comes to being a “participant” I excel. So I preferred the games where everyone gets a reward.

When it comes to spiritual service, everyone gets a reward. In Matthew 6:3-4 Jesus indicates two different rewards that come from giving to the needy. Those who give in order to be honored by others get the reward of being honored by others. Those who give in secret receive a “secret” reward from God.

For some of us, holding out for the reward from heaven may be a challenge. It feels good to have people like us and think we are good.

Jesus does not say that we can have a little of each reward. We need to pick what prize we want.

sermon on the mount --when we are not needed

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen.

I heard an interview with the president of a charitable agency tell of the many flattering techniques his organization uses to get people to donate. “People need to get fed,” he said. “Whatever I can do to help them get fed, I will do it.”

I wonder why we have such difficulty understanding that God doesn’t need us to bring about any good results. We are not His hands, unless, in sincerity of heart, we choose to be His hands. Otherwise ravens can do just as well as distributors of food. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

sermon on the mount --be perfect

You therefore must be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Every time I read this verse I wonder to myself, “Does the Lord Jesus really know who He is talking to? All of us humans are so flawed, even the very best of us. And it seems like those who make the greatest effort to be 'perfect' make the biggest mess out of themselves.

J.N. Darby asks in his hymn: “And is it so, I shall be like Thy Son?” It's a great hope! But this is vison not of a present earthly reality, but a future heavenly reality.

Two thoughts:
Our total incapability to be perfect drives us to the One who actually was perfect.

Anything less than perfection in ourselves is absolutely not good enough for us to be satisfied with who we are. As we examine and follow the example of Jesus while He was here on this earth, we actually do move closer towards what He is telling us we must be.

Forgetting what is behind, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Phil: 3:13

Friday, November 22, 2013

sermon on the mount --glorify your Father who is in heaven

In Matthew 5:16, Jesus commands his disciples to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds.” In Matthew 6:1, Jesus warns to “be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others.” Although there is an important difference between “letting your light shine” to give glory to God and “practicing righteousness in front of others to be seen by them,” it is not always obvious what someone's motives are when they showcase their good deeds.

When examining our own “good works” we are usually pretty good at giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt. Sure, it may feel good to be recognized by others, but we know that even when our motives seem a little fuzzy, for the most part, our heart is in the right place. We are not always so gracious while evaluating the motives behind the good deeds of others.

Although we cannot control the motives behind the good deed of others, we do have some effect over the outcome of their good deeds. We can resent others for shamelessly trying to broadcast their righteousness. We can praise others and perhaps keep them from greater reward in heaven. Or we can “see (their) good deeds and glorify (our) Father in heaven.”

Thursday, November 21, 2013

sermon on the mount --not righteous enough

Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

What do most of the people who sit on pews and most of the people who sit in jail cells have in common? Both have a pretty good appreciation of their own righteousness.

Do both groups of people typically do good things? I think so. They certainly are aware of the good that they do.

But, unless he has been falsely convicted, the person sitting in the jail cell has done at least one thing that make him unacceptable to society.

Similarly, the person sitting on the pew has done things that make him unacceptable to God.

Neither are righteous enough.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

sermon on the mount --gaining God's righteousness

The Bible teaches that natural man is sinful. The Bible does not insist, however, that natural man is devoid of love or altruistic intent. In Matthew 5:46-47 Jesus makes the shocking suggestion that pagans and tax-collectors are loving people. This sentiment might have been challenged by a Jewish audience that was trained to see the Gentiles as a hostile, evil contaminant. Yet it is not difficult to find examples of unbelievers behaving in ways that seem to be loving.

A belief in the depravity of man does not require one to explain away or dismiss every human act of righteousness or love. Rather, depravity means that we can not gain God's righteousness despite our occasional gestures of altruism. Or, as Jesus puts it in Matthew 5, in order to truly be children of God we must “be perfect.”

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

sermon on the mount --who is your enemy?

But I say unto you, love your enemies and pray for them that persecute you, so you may be sons of your Father in Heaven.

For two years I worked on a little playground. I had lots of help with the playground. But it was my idea, my creation, and was the product of many many hours of my time.

One day after work, I stopped at the playground to take in all the fun all the kids were having playing on my playground. A little girl watched me watch, and then she came over to me. She spread her feet apart, placed her hands on her hips and said to me, “You go away. You don’t belong here.”

In John we read, “He came unto His own and His own received Him not.” In fact His own cried out, “Crucify Him.” But while being crucified, He cried out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

This little girl is now a teenager. When I see her I still remember her with her hands on her hips.

I think I’ve come to the point where I’ve pretty much forgiven her.

How dare do people like myself have enemies for such small reasons, when our Lord refused to have enemies of those who were so deserving of His enmity. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

sermon on the mount --love your enemies

Some have argued that the Bible never really says “hate your enemies,” however hating one's enemies is a central theme of the Scriptures. Israel was to kill surrounding nations with extreme prejudice. David spoke of the importance of hating those who hate the LORD (Psalm 139:21-22). Even God identifies people and sins that He views with hate/animosity.

I like just about everything. I have relatively few “hates,” and no one I would see as an “enemy.” This, however, does not mean that I have no enemies. I have not chosen any enemies, but plenty of people have seen enough reasons to dislike me.

It is natural for God to love His enemies. Why? Because He did not choose them as enemies. Rather, He created a world of righteousness which we responded to with animosity. It is easier to love your enemies when your true preference is to have none.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

sermon on the mount --revenge

You have heard it said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, do not resist the one who is evil.

Revenge and justice are often the same thing. For that reason, in Deuteronomy, if one person takes the eye of another person, it is not merely allowed, but it is demanded the culprit also have his eye taken. “You shall not pity,” God commands. “For so you shall purge the evil from your midst.” Deut 19: 21 & 20.

But as any victim of a crime can testify, revenge still doesn’t make things right. The one who has lost an eye is still missing his eye, regardless of the other’s eye having been taken.

“Vengeance is mine,” said the Lord. He can say that because in the Person of His Son, He bore the full justice, the rightful punishment that a crime demands.

Thus, revenge can be separated from justice and, when we are wronged, we can forgive;  just as He has forgiven us. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

sermon on the mount --an eye for an eye

In the “you have heards” of Matthew 5 Christ takes familiar Jewish laws and show how they may be understood by one whose righteousness transcends that of the Pharisees. In Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus seems to agree with Exodus 21 in that when someone takes something from you or gives you offense perfect justice demands that exact recompense be made. Yet while Exodus 21 seems to entitle you, as a victim of eye loss, to the perpetrator's eye, Jesus rather suggests that the second eye may be yours as well.

We see in this lesson of sacrifice and humility a picture of the cross where God was able to exact mercy without suspending justice.

Friday, November 15, 2013

sermon on the mount --get er done

Let what you say be simply 'yes' or 'no;' anything more than this comes from evil.

I'm one of the few people in America who sort of like politicians. I hear them say they're going to do this, and then their going to do that.

I really think they mean well, and they really mean to do all the things they say they are going to do.

But, I wonder, don't they realize when they promise all these things that if they get elected, it probably won't happen? And if it does happens, don't they understand that it never quite works out the way it was suppose to?

We human beings, we don't have much clout. It is God who makes things work out.

There is no better recipe for disaster than thinking we are the ones who are going to "get er done."


Thursday, November 14, 2013

sermon on the mount --the Promise Keeper

In Matthew 5:27-32, Jesus indicates the importance of keeping one's marital vows. In Matthew 5:33-37 Jesus points out the irony of us making vows in the first place.

Here are three reasons why people are so terrible at keeping promises:

1. We say things we do not mean. Often, we give our word knowing full well that what we are committing to may not happen.

2. We change our minds. I believe that most married couples really planned to love each other forever, and that the repentant sinner has every intention to never sin again. But when the context changes, often so do the intentions.

3. We have virtually no ability to effectively determine what will happen, ever. Even if we mean what we say and stick with it, we cannot stop the rain from falling or the sun from rising. Despite good intentions and best laid plans we live one traffic accident or sick child away from breaking our promise.

We must all recognize our physical and spiritual weaknesses, and turn to the God who cannot lie, never changes and wields all nature to achieve His purposes.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

sermon on the mount --no divorce

But I say unto you , whoever divorces his wife, except for infidelity, causes her to commit adultery

I’m not a Calvinist. But I very much appreciate the P of TULIP; perseverance of the Saints; or, eternal security.

It took me a long time to be secure in the love my wife had for me. Finally one day she had enough. “Why can’t you trust me that I love you?”

I did trust her. I just couldn’t trust my good circumstance—it just seemed too good to be true.

Often, in both the Old and New Testaments, God compares His relationship with His people to marriage.

I know it seems too good to be true, but there’s no way He would ever break off His relationship with us. He would never divorce those who have put their faith in Him.

Note: On my personal blog: I have just posted an essay on why I am not a Calvinist. I wonder on that blog if John Calvin was even a "Calvinist" in how we have come to understand Calvinism over the last couple centuries.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

sermon on the mount --just do the right thing

Martin Scorsese, the film director, tells a story about a time when his young daughter came up to him with an idea for a movie. Her suggestion was that in order to make a great movie Scorsese should just “find out what people like to see and make a movie about that.” This na├»ve thinking is how many of us approach the will of God. “Just find out the right thing to do and do that.”

In Matthew 5:31-32, Jesus prohibits divorce in all but the most extreme circumstances. In general, most of us would agree that divorce is not ideal. However, none of us live “in general.” It is easy to look at the idea of divorce in the abstract and say, “just don't do it,” but when it comes to specific abusive, unhealthy, adulterous situations, sometimes it is hard to know exactly which of the terrible options constitutes the will of God.

Jesus' teaching on divorce, like all of Christ's teachings, was to challenge the prevailing wisdom of what righteousness looked like. How, then, can we now look at a divorced man or woman, and assume that we know where they stand?

Monday, November 11, 2013

sermon on the mount --marriage

It was also said, whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce. But I say to you...”

It is more than ironic that every day we hear in the news of another state, another country that is legalizing same sex marriage, while traditional marriage is quickly becoming obsolete.

Weddings have become amazing extravaganzas. But marriage itself just sort of unnecessarily complicates things.

A good friend at work married her live-in boyfriend of 20 years. Within days, this relationship began to disintegrate. “He's become really weird,” said my friend. “He insists on knowing where I go when I take off at night. Suddenly he wants to know things that are really none of his business.”

So why are gay people so enthusiastic about marriage?

Because if you want to live the good life, marriage is all about everything good: commitment, faithfulness, companionship, kindness, selflessness, protection, comfort, even love!

But marriage is so inconvenient. You just can't do whatever you want whenever you want to do it. And sometimes your spouse really hurts your feelings.

Marriage is all about the other person.

The Lord Jesus said, “He who loses his life for My sake, will find it.” 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

sermon on the mount --our sinful heart

It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 

Without proper understanding, this truth of the Lord Jesus can be confused, resulting in some extremely dangerous thinking: “If I purge myself of unholy influences, I will become holy.”

Throughout the years this thinking has been central to various movements ranging from the home-schoolers to the KKK. This mindset has led to numerous church splits, divorces, cults and other segregational endeavors.

Although it is important to realize that each one of us is responsible to do whatever we can to avoid sin, we must also recognize that no matter how many sinful appendages we remove from ourselves, we still carry around our own sinful heart. Perhaps the virtue of separating ourselves from evil is not that we will become righteous, but rather that we may learn that we cannot help ourselves and need a Savior.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

sermon on the mount --no excuses

If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.

Excuses for bad behavior are not acceptable. .

The God who made us knows that we are capable of making the right choice in any given situations.

It’s not the Devil who makes us do it. It is not our culture. It is not peer pressure. It’s not our work environment. It is not our genetics. It is not our right eye—if it were, we would certainly pluck it out (to have a bodily appendage taking control of our actions would be a plot for a Stephen King novel.)

We all do sin. We all fall short of the glory of God. But we need to fess up, confess up; repent and seek forgiveness.

Then, the next time a similar temptation comes up, we need to think—do I really need to do this?


Friday, November 8, 2013

sermon on the mount --gouge it out and throw it away

If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

Working in the mental health field, I am familiar with several stories of people who have taken this command literally and removed body parts in an effort to reduce sin. Working in the criminal justice field, I can vouch that their efforts to avoid sin were unsuccessful.

Sin starts in the heart and cannot be prevented by lopping off appendages. So what is Christ saying?

This statement is certainly in keeping with Jesus' theme that the impact this life has on the next life is far more significant than the experiences of this life alone. Losing an eye is no loss if it brings spiritual gain.

In truth, to avoid hell, the disciple of Christ may ultimately forfeit more than just body parts, but rather see his whole person crucified with Christ.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

sermon on the mount --any fool can do it

Everyone who looks on a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

The pain that comes from adultery is unbearable.

I’ve had several friends whose spouses cheated on them. The most vengeful enemy of in the world could not have caused them more pain than the one who had once loved them.

Adultery starts so easy. Just a quick glance; a meeting of the eyes; and the excitement of wondering.

How can it be possibly be wrong when it feels so right?

Guaranteed, I am no one special at all. But I can turn my eyes when I choose to turn my eyes. If I can do it, any fool can do it. 


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

sermon on the mount --justice we can live with

You will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

I think it’s a God given quality that each human wants to be treated with justice.  

We really don’t want others to excuse us. We want to be given what is due to us. It is our desire to man-up; to take it on the chin.

One day, that may be what will happen. We’ll get exactly, precisely what we deserve, for God is an exact and precise Judge.

But unfortunately, our debts are much bigger than we, as people, can begin to imagine.

David, after finally understanding the awfulness of his sin, cried out to the Lord, “Against you, and you only have I sinned.”

Scripture tells us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.”

That’s a justice that may be hard to understand. But it is the only justice we could ever live with.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

sermon on the mount --settle out of court

In Matthew 5:25-26 Jesus offers some interesting legal counsel. He suggests that it is best to settle legal matters out of court. Going to court leaves one subject to the potentially undesirable outcomes that might stem from a flawed, human judge.

Although this advice has some practical merit, it is not likely to always result in an optimum payout. While staying out of court reduces your risk, it may also greatly reduce your reward.

In terms of a spiritual “payout” however, this is great advice. For your legal opponent to be willing to settle out of court you must either become their friend or they must believe that court is not in their best interest. Either way, reconciliation on the road to the court constitutes a turn of grace, humility and deference.


Monday, November 4, 2013

sermon on the mount --sorry

So if you are offering your gift at the alter and there remember your brother has something against you, leave your gift and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

“Love means you never have to say you’re sorry,” says the girlfriend in the movie, “Love Story.

That is a very nice thought.  As Believers, we should be so in love with our Lord Jesus that we would never do anything untoward to His Saints.

I say I am sorry much too often.

But, as the hymn writer asks, “Who is a pardoning God like Thee?”

As His Saints, we also need to be great pardoners.

We also are obligated give close and honest attention to the offenses we commit. Then we must be quick, even immediate, to say we are sorry.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

sermon on the mount --priorities

Which is more important: to worship God, or to get along with your brother?

In Matthew 5: 23-24, Jesus seems to suggest that it is more pressing to resolve an ongoing disagreement with a brother than to offer a sacrifice to God.

This same thought is echoed in I Corinthians 11 where the segregated assembly is commanded to examine themselves prior to participating in the Lord's Supper together.

In my thirty plus years of life I have witnessed, and probably even contributed to, a lot of church conflicts. Yet I have never once seen worship services canceled or even postponed because two brothers needed to work things out first.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

sermon on the mount --change for the good

But I say to you, anyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.

Of course this is all convicting. Which of us do not get angry at our brother?

We can understand that what the Lord Jesus says about the guiltiness of hate is true; that He speaks of real righteousness, and not just the superficial righteousness of merely not actually doing what is in our hearts.

As we see our total incapability of being or becoming righteous, we turn, with relief, to the truly Righteous One, the One who became sin for us that we might become His righteousness!

But, though this is an apologetic showing us our absolute need for a Savior; as is always is the case when Jesus speaks, there is a practical, daily living aspect to what He says.

Our natural attitude needs to change, and it can change.

I still feel so humiliated after being fired from my job of 32 years that I am now less prone to become angry or contemptuous.

And as I read the Scriptures and daily understand how His mercies are new every morning, I am quicker to appreciate my brother. 


Friday, November 1, 2013

sermon on the mount --hallelujah

According to Matthew 5:21-22, there are a lot of similarities between murderers and haters. Both seem to have comparable motives and receive comparable judgments. The difference being that a murderer may have the virtue of knowing that he is guilty, while the hater may not.

The law “do not kill,” like all law, was to show man's inadequacy to obtain righteousness before God. The righteous response to this law is not to point out all the times that we have not killed anyone, but rather to recognize all the times that we might have.

In “Pharisee righteousness,” a hater might look at a murder and boast “at least I didn't do what he did.” In “New Covenant righteousness” both the murder and hater must look at Christ's sacrifice and rejoice “Hallelujah, He did what He did!”