Tuesday, December 31, 2013

sermon on the mount --a really nice menu

When the children of Israel were wandering through the wilderness they awoke each morning to the Lord's provision of manna. In a similar way, the sparrows eat. This also seems to be how Jesus suggests that we might best be provided for. However, just like the children of Israel, many of us do not like daily bread. With daily bread you don't pick the menu, you can't save it up and it is rarely more than you need. This is not how we prefer to eat. We want to see tomorrow's bread before we eat today's bread.

Daily bread, however, does not mean “bad bread” The sparrows, though not in control of the menu, eat really well. (Just like the lilies, though not in control of the wardrobe, out-dress the splendor of Solomon). The people of God have never eaten better than when they have lived by faith, sought first God's kingdom and awoke each morning -hungering for God's provisions.


Monday, December 30, 2013

sermon on the mount --elegant workmanship

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil or spin, yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

The Lord is the Creator of such beauty. Each tiny flower is so perfectly and elegantly put together. The little squirrels that scoop up the seed in our bird feeder; their tails shape around their bodies with each little hair that sticks straight up, with the sunlight glistening through--no artist could draw such a picture.

Our Lord who takes such care in His design--how could we think that He would not give care to us?

For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus, for good works, which God hath prepared.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

sermon on the mount --what God has prepared

And which of you by being anxious can add a single step to his life journey?

I think we Americans are a uniquely unfatalistic people. We all have the can-do spirit. We see ourselves as the Masters of our Fate, a pride that peculiarly results in us being fearful that personal failure may be lurking just around the corner.

During the first Gulf War when the Americans were absolutely slaughtering the elite Iraqi Republican Guard, a reporter interviewed one of these Iraqi soldiers in his bunker and asked him what he thought about his chances of survival. “The Americans can't kill me until Allah wills,” he said calmly.

Allah, of course, is not a kind God. He also is not real.

Our God is our Father in heaven, who loves us intimately.

May we be more like the Iraqis. We need to put away our anxiety about what may happen next and calmly accept what the Deity has in store for us.

Or, actually, we should be more like true Believers “fatalistically” anticipating what God has prepared for those who love Him.  

Saturday, December 28, 2013

sermon on the mount --enough provision

Tomorrow will be anxious for itself.

Many sins come from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Although it would seem to some that our fears, worries and insecurities are merely a matter of context, the truth is that anxiety is not a situational problem, but a systemic problem. We try to resolve our worry by increasing our provisions, but no amount of money can cover the possible problems that tomorrow may bring. Fortunately, by faith, we can believe that no amount of trouble can outpace the grace and mercy of God.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Sermon on the Mount --wealthiness

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven...be not anxious about your life.

An anxious man is a poor man. A man may have everything, but if that everything also includes anxiety, that man knows he is needy, in need of a remedy, in need of someone to save him.

Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount is a profound mix of paradoxes. First He tells us the blessedness of being poor. Then He tells us not to be anxious because our reality is that we are so rich, having the Father that we have.

When I am anxious, my desire for my Savior is without qualification. Only in my emptiness, in my sense of neediness, do I truly strive to be with the One who can give real peace and thus real wealth.  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

sermon on the mount --the sin of worry

Worrying is a sin. Jesus says more about worrying in Matthew 6 than He does about lust, hate, divorce or false vows in Matthew 5. Why is worrying so disdained by Jesus?

Worrying, perhaps as much as any other sin, challenges the very nature of God. When we lust we may do so because we see something we want. When we lie, we may just be trying to get out of trouble. But when we worry we are saying that God does not love us enough to take care of us, that God is not faithful enough to keep His promises to us, that God is not powerful enough to resolve our situation.

My kids do not worry about where the food or clothes will come from. They don't even have to think about the “what ifs,” should I get fired or our house burn down. They trust me implicitly and I am not all-loving or all-powerful.

The lustful may balk at the command “don't lust.” “How do I do that with so many beautiful women around?” The liar may puzzle at the command “don't lie.” “Do you know what would happen if I came forward with the truth? I have to lie a little.” But as peculiar and difficult as it may sound to some -in the words of Jesus: “don't worry.”


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

sermon on the mount --less anxious

Do not be anxious

How does one not be anxious? How can one decide to not have that knot in one's stomach?

I think when the Lord tells us not to be anxious, He is like the mother who says to her small child, “Don't cry.” Within the comfort of the mother's arms, the child is often able to stop crying.

"Do not be anxious” is not so much a command that we must discipline ourselves to obey. It is our Lord's word of comfort and compassion to us. So, like the comforted child, we become less anxious.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

sermon on the mount --no anxiety allowed

In northern California there is a small town called Arcada. In the middle of the town is a courtyard filled with hippies, hitch-hikers, beatniks and other stray vagabonds loitering, bumming change and annoying the rest of the community with marijuana-fueled drum circles. To some, this is what happens when you stop worrying about what you will wear and eat. Is this what Jesus intended for His followers?

Christ's encouragement is not for us to stop taking active steps to be clothed and fed, but rather to stop worrying when we are not clothed and fed as we might prefer. Anxiety has no place in the Christian faith.

Monday, December 23, 2013

sermon on the mount --Sparrow

Consider the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Father feeds them.

In a similar passage the Lord Jesus says, Fear not, you are of more value than many sparrows.

When I was in jr high, I was not mature for my age. I was talkative, excitable, easily distracted. Apparently I was even more so than my classmates, for my science teacher nick-named me Sparrow.

To this day I feel degraded by the name. A sparrow is the plainest and the noisiest and the most common of all the little birds that flock together.

I am thankful that my Lord can distinguish me from all the other “sparrows” on this planet.

I am amazed that He would value me so as to specifically take care of me, just as he specifically takes care of all the other little sparrows.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

sermon on the mount --money

No one can serve two masters, for he will hate one a love the other...you cannot serve God and money

Serve money? Money serves me. It's my genie. Whatever I want, whenever I want it, I just swipe my magic card and there it is. What do I want to watch? Right now I download my favorite show. What do I feel like reading? I pull it up on my Nook. Am I sad? I text my friend and my friend will text me right back. Do I hurt? I pull out my insurance card.

Money. It's such a marvelous thing. What would I ever do without it? Maybe that's why it was such a scary thing when I lost my job last year.

Serve God? Hmm... Sometimes I wonder if I'm so busy being served by money that I ever really think about it.

Is that what the Lord Jesus means by hate; not thinking about about something or Some One?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

sermon on the mount --clear eyed

A popular saying, “the eyes are the window to the soul” has been attributed to Shakespeare, DiVinci, Milton, Alexander Hamilton, Cicero, Emerson and many others. Jesus alludes to something similar when he suggests “the eye is the lamp of the body.” Some have argued that this means that the eyes betray truth that is in the heart -that somehow by looking into someone's eyes you can gain insight into what they are thinking. I am inclined to disagree. I don't think the eyes tell the world what is in the soul so much as the eyes tell the soul what is in the world, and form the self (body/soul) through what it sees.

Some darkened eyes see only a world of sin, depravity and death, and shape the self into becoming Pharisaic. Other darkened eyes see a world of stuff to be had, and shape the self into becoming pursuers of treasures on earth. May the Lord give us clear eyes to see a world in which all things tell the story of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ so that our soul/bodies may reflect His righteousness.

Friday, December 20, 2013

sermon on the mount --how we see

If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.

What we are has much to do with how we see. A person who is a pessimist will see difficulties, whatever the picture. An angry person will see reasons to fight regardless of the circumstance. A compassionate person will see opportunities to show kindness whenever he meets a new person. A godly person will perceive God's hand in every situation.

How we perceive either condemns or commends us. How we perceive brings us either to Glory or to perdition.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

sermon on the mount --secure treasure

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

It is reasonable to suggest that our hearts would be in the same place as our treasure. What we treasure and what we love is often the same thing.

The problem with having our treasure/heart on earth is that it is not secure. The possessions we prize get lost or destroyed, the people we love die. Even the intangible qualities that we value like love, respect or security are unreliable. There is no safe place on earth to put your affection. But if we learn to value the things of God's kingdom, our heart is secure with Him.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

sermon on the mount --not in your own earthly interest

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

A favorite exercise at Bible camp is to ask the campers: If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict?

I think of what defense I could raise to prevent a conviction.

The prosecutor might use my blogs as evidence.

“I’m a writer,” I’d explain.” Talk to anyone who claims to be a writer—as long as we’re writing something, anything, we’re happy.”

If the prosecutor brought in witnesses to whom I had witnessed, I’d tell the judge, “Everyone likes to sell stuff. Whether it’s cars, Amway, vitamins or salvation, there’s the thrill of closing the sale.”

“But he goes to church anytime the doors are open,” the prosecutor might say.

“It’s my social life. Without church I’d have no friends.”

The prosecutor might then give one final point of evidence. “I’m not saying it’s a lot, but this guy gives his money, hard cold cash, to people and for things that are clearly not in his own interest.”

I know there are many people who are not Christians that give generously, but I still would have to concede this point. For me, giving is tough. Everything else provides its own gratification.   

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

sermon on the mount --what's left over

How do you “lay up treasure in heaven?” This sounds like the classic bad joke where the baptist minister throws the offering in the air and gives the Lord everything that lands outside of a designated circle, the priest throws the offering in the air and gives the Lord everything that lands inside the designated circle, and the Rabbi throws the offering in the air and gives the Lord everything that He can catch.

The command to lay up treasure in heaven seems to be contrasted with the command to not lay up treasure on earth. Laying up treasure on earth seems to suggest investing time, attention, emotion or concern in the “stuff” of the world. Laying up treasure in heaven, then, would be willingly sacrificing time, attention, emotion or concern to the Lord's kingdom. 

By default, we are all storing up treasure in heaven the same way we take the extra coins that we don't use at the end of the day and throw them in a jar. Whatever time or interest we are not otherwise using for our pleasure we toss to God. This seems like a pretty lousy “retirement” plan.

Monday, December 16, 2013

sermon on the mount --prudent investments

Do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal.

I may be wrong, especially as I have no Scripture to back this up; but I believe I am responsible to act prudently with my money.  Since my company has set up a matching 401K program, I think I am right in  taking advantage of it, not only my own sake, but also for my wife and for my children.

But here’s something I do know for sure; earthly retirement plans are precarious. My grandfather put most of his money in a retirement village that went bankrupt. My father entrusted his retirement with a gentleman who spent five years in prison for embezzling.  Our next-door neighbor had his money in an investment  fund that disappeared without a trace.

In each case, the Lord took care of them despite their prudent retirement planning.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

sermon on the mount --by example

After instructing His disciples on how to give (and how not to give) and how to pray (and how not to pray), Jesus tells His disciples how to fast (and how not to fast). Although modern Christianity still recognizes the importance of giving and prayer, fasting is not always regarded as a particularly relevant discipline of the faith. Why?

Many of the Christian disciples we appreciate are ones that we learn by watching others do. My wife grew up watching her parents serve. She is a good servant. I grew up watching my Dad teach. I like to teach. Maybe there are good “fasters” still, they are just doing so in secret.

Jesus fasted. The Apostles followed His example and fasted. Perhaps there is a way to teach this discipline to our children while still following Christ's instruction and appreciating the purpose behind fasting.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

sermon on the mount --when you fast

When you fast

I've not found much call for fasting in my life. I've done it twice. Only twice have I felt so distressed that I saw fasting as the only way. Our oldest son was sinking faster and faster. My wife said, "We need to fast and pray. Fasting reminds us to pray."

My son was always on my mind. But, I worried about him more than I prayed.

The days I fasted I thought, "I couldn't care less what people think about me as a father. That's past. But please God, please give me a chance to let him know that I love him. Please God."

Today my son is doing well. He loves the Lord. And his wife says that he thinks his dad loves him the best.

I suppose if we were to be fair, we would have fasted for each of our children.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sermon on the mount. --no legitimate claim

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.

It is not fun to be beholden to others. When we wrong someone we would just as soon pretend it never happened. But it is sometimes fun to have others beholden to us. I don't like to say “sorry,” but I do like to hear it. When people apologize to me it puts me in a position of power. Of course I will be benevolent to forgive them, I just want to know that they are truly sorry. This, of course, is not real forgiveness. Real forgiveness is not empowering, and does not require the repentance of the trespasser.

In order to truly forgive we do not need an apology. We just have to recognize our own sin against God to realize that we have no true claim against any other. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

sermon on the mount --the Lord's prayer

Our Father who art in heaven hallowed by Thy Name
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive our debters
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

The Lord Jesus was not humorous. He never said anything to amuse. Nonetheless, humor is a very special type of understanding. Humor crashes through pretensions and expectations. A person with a high IQ who does not have a sense of humor is dim witted.

The Lord teaches us to pray through serious "humor." I do not laugh when I am told to pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." But how could anything be done that is not His will? What Jesus is telling me to pray is for my will to be changed, not that His will be changed, for He is changeless.

"Forgive us our trespasses." How each of us needs forgiveness! --"As we forgive those who trespass against us." I don't think God quite understands. That person who cleaned out my checking account just before I started college, how I could forgive him? But maybe I could if I understood how silly it is to ask for forgiveness when I won't forgive.

"And lead us not into temptation" --That's unthinkable. Good is God. God tempt?! --too strange of a thought. Is Jesus is telling me to pray to our Father what I need to pray to myself (while praying to Him)? But how I need His help to keep myself to be tempted.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

sermon on the mount --where God does not lead

And lead us not into temptation.”

Why would Jesus want us to pray this? James 1 tells us that God does not tempt. (The word translated “temptation” has been understood by some as “testing,” but James 1 also tells us that God's testing may result in godly maturity, so why would Jesus want us to pray to be kept from this “testing?”)

Perhaps the purpose of this prayer is not to convince God to keep us from temptations, but rather to daily affirm our need for God's deliverance.

It is obvious that God will not lead us into temptation. But by praying to God to “lead us not into temptation” we may learn to be thankful to the God who delivers us from temptation, we may be careful not to lead another into temptation, or perhaps we may be mindful not to walk in the way of temptation on our own.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

sermon on the mount --the better way

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one

When one is younger, one struggles with avoiding bad things which are enticing. When one is older, the struggle is avoiding what is good.

At age 59 I have a tendency to withdraw, or to merely do what I've always been doing.

Our Lord has better things for us than do our desires. And it is not merely our flesh, but it is Satan that would have us do less than what we ought.

May we ask our Lord each day for strength to pursue the better way.


Monday, December 9, 2013

sermon on the mount --reciprocation

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

This is a hard prayer to make if you have not yet forgiven your debtors. It seems as though God wants us to ask of Him only what we would give to those who would ask of us.

What expectations do we have of God that we do not grant others? If we want God's mercy, we should be merciful. If we want daily bread, we should provide for those in need. If we want peace with God, we should be peaceful towards each other.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

sermon on the mount --He cares for us, like a Father

Give us this day our daily bread

On my very first day in college, just before I was to write the check for my semester meal ticket, I discovered someone had cleaned out my checking account. Though all my other college costs had been paid for, I had no money for food, except for the thirty-some dollars I had in my wallet.

I was terrified.

I managed to survive that semester on rice, onion soup mix and bananas, though I was often hungry.

When I went home for Christmas, my dad and I had a dad to son talk about how things were going at college. Very matter of factly, he told me how he was going to increase his financial assistence so I could get a meal ticket for the next semester.

Not until then did it dawn on me: when things were so hard, why hadn't I called my dad? For eighteen years he had taken care of me. Certainly he would continue to care for me.

I deeply appreciate the “Lord's prayer.” When I pray the prayer I think, “Thank you Lord for food—for plenty of good food!”


Saturday, December 7, 2013

sermon on the mount --how to get good gifts

In Matthew 6 Jesus presents a template for how his disciples ought to pray. This sample prayer suggests several different requests that God asks us to make of Him. 

Every Christmas the Rodgers family draws names from a hat to decide who will buy presents for whom. Each person is then responsible for providing a wish list to the person who will buy them gifts. Some people are more fun to shop for than others. Some gifts are fun to buy, as well as fun to get. The more fun your gift is to get, the more likely you are to get exactly what you want.

The blessings that Jesus suggests that we ask for are things that not only do we need, but God also wants to give us: provisions, forgiveness, righteousness. The secret to getting everything you could ever want is to want what God is wishing to give you.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Sermon on the mount --what He wants us to do are things we can do

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven

I am encouraged by two seemingly paradoxical truths in this verse. The first is the wonderful knowledge that my Father's will will be done. Unlike the evil Emperor from Star Wars, all things actually do work out according to His plan. As Joseph explained to his brothers, “you meant it for evil against me, but God meant it for good.” God's good plan always happens, so we need not be fearful.

The other encouragement I find from His will being done is His will is something I can do. It's not beyond my skill level, or my intelligence, or my spirituality.

Later in the prayer Jesus tells us to forgive, just as we expect the Father to forgive us. This may be something I may not want to do, but it's something I can do, for it is the Father's will that I do it.

(Unfortunately, I can choose not to do His will. I have demonstrated over and over again in my life. When Joseph's brothers abused him, they were not acting in a manner expressive of God's will.)

So then the prayer becomes our petition to the Father: "We am asking you, Father, that Your will be done in our lives just as your will is done in heaven."


Thursday, December 5, 2013

sermon on the mount --Thy will be done

There are several interesting implications to praying for God's will to be done “on earth, as it is in heaven”:

-that God does not get what He wills, that He is less than sovereign.
-that God does not have complete control over earth as He does with heaven.
-that our prayers can somehow add to God's chances of getting His will to come about.

When it comes to the difference between God's sovereign will and preferential will and how they effect human outcomes, we ought to be confused. So what does Jesus mean when He tells us to pray “Thy will be done?”

Jesus offered this same prayer to His Father in the garden, just before dying. When Jesus said “Thy will be done” He was indicating that any other agenda He might have had was to be subject to the agenda of His Father.

I do not understand how the sovereignty of God relates to the free will of man or how a just God can be in control of such an unfair world or why a loving, all-powerful God would bring about so many awful things. But I do know that faith requires me to express the same sentiment as Jesus -even if it should mean my painful death in the greatest injustice that ever took place, I ought to trust God enough to say “Thy will be done.”

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

sermon on the mount --taking sides

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

What is it about us humans that we so love to take sides?

And why is it that we are so antagonized by people who don't take the same side that we take?

“Are you for us or are you for our advesaries?” Joshua asked the Unknown Soldier.

“No,” said the Soldier. “Now take off your sandals from your feet for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

The kingdom of God had come to Joshua. Who was with him or who was against him now no longer mattered.

Jesus told us earlier that the poor in spirit, the meek, those that mourn, the peacemakers, the pure in heart, the persecuted were of His kingdom. May we be mindful of this as we find ourselves taking sides.   

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

sermon on the mount --the Son who is the Father

In Matthew 6:9 Jesus tells His disciples how to pray. He begins His instruction by teaching His disciples to address God as “Our Father in heaven.” To the Jewish ear this might have sounded like an awkward way to speak to God. Throughout the Old Testament and Jewish tradition God is addressed in a variety of ways, but rarely is He called “Father.” Jesus all but introduces this terminology to Jewish culture.

One of the rare occasions where we see God explicitly called “Father” is in Isaiah 9:6, where we find the prophet speaking not of God the Father, but rather God the Son.

It is only as followers of the Son that we can approach our Father in heaven.


Monday, December 2, 2013

sermon on the mount --hallowed be your name

hallowed be your name.

There is a peculiar irony that the Lord Jesus does not use the name of His Father when teaching us to give praise to God in prayer by expressing reverence to His Name.

I never think of God by His proper name.

The Jewish people would not use God’s name for fear of not using it with proper reverence. And, in our English Bibles, we do not read the proper name for God. Jehovah or Yahweh is translated GOD or LORD.

A name is just the way of identifying a person. But how can we ever begin to identify who God is as a person?

I often think of Jesus by His name. And when I think of Jesus, my thoughts are about God. That is appropriate thinking for Jesus was God made flesh. In the person of Jesus, God becomes Someone that we can specifically think about. He becomes so much more than just an idea or a concept.  

I wonder, could this be what Jesus is telling us to do when says to pray, "hallowed be your name?" Is He telling us that when we pray, the first thing we need to do is give reverence to His Son?


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sermon on the Mount --our Father in Heaven

Our Father in heaven

While at Target, I watched a very angry little girl hitting her huge father as hard as she could. Her father had the physique of an NFL linebacker, but he had a look of hurt and sadness as he received her tiny blows.

“Doesn’t she realize,” I thought, "that with half of a swat, he could send her into the next universe?”

But then I thought, “This has got to be her dad, who loves her more than life itself. This is something she knows, and it’s much truer to the reality of her situation than my initial observation.”

God forbid we should be like this little girl and strike out against our Heavenly Father-- the holy, omnipotent Lord of Hosts.

But may we be like little children, secure within the reality of the love of our Heavenly Father.