Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sermon on the Mount --goodbye, for now

He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes

I would sure like to know what the Lord Jesus looked like.  For the past two millennium, artists have tried to figure it out. I’m pretty sure that none of the portraits I’ve seen of Him have even come close.

From Isaiah 53 we are told, He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire him. I think that means He was not well proportioned, had certain facial features that were overly large or small, sort of walked funny. In other words, He looked about the same as most of us.

But though His looks may have been common, His words were magnificent.

I am so thankful for the Sermon on the Mount. Our Lord speaks to us just like we were adults. Everything He said could easily be misconstrued, but, regardless, He spoke terribly thought provoking truth. He tells us we need to rethink everything we’ve learned and thought we understood.

Also, He talks to us as if we are not totally incapable. He tells us we need to repent, and reform, and trust, and be honest and kind, and, of all things, to be perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.

For those of you who have been reading our daily blog, Daniel and I say thank-you. We have both found this blog to be a good personal spiritual exercise. But, it’s awfully nice to know when we write something, there are some real people out there who may be reading it, some of whom maybe have even benefited from it.

When we started this blog, we said we would write 100 words for 100 days on the Sermon on the Mount. Most days we wrote more than 100 words, and I’m pretty sure we have blogged for more than 100 days.

Some day we do plan to blog again, Lord willing.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sermon on the Mount-- It's a big deal

. . . and great was its fall . . .”

I have heard a lot of different opinions as to exactly how best to understand Christ's parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7. I can appreciate different perspectives as to exactly what might be meant by the rock, the sand or the wind, but I don't know if this is entirely the point of Christ's illustration.

I have a tiny, inexpensive house. It is the least expensive house of which I know. But even though it is small and cheap, I know that should this house crumble it is a big deal. People might die. Authorities need to get involved. Roads would be closed, weekends would be ruined, finances would be drained, lives would be changed forever. And this is the smallest and cheapest of homes.

The Sermon on the Mount records some of the greatest teachings ever recorded. Christ ends this instruction by indicating just how important this teaching is. Understanding and following Christ's teaching as recorded in the Sermon of the Mount is the difference between everything.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sermon on the Mount-- the Rock

Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon a rock.
Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand.

For many years I have been preaching a misunderstanding of this parable. To anyone who would listen, I would explain that the rock is hearing the words of the Lord Jesus and then doing what He says, just as the sand is hearing the words of the Lord Jesus and not doing what He says.

Curiously, no one has contradicted me.

I think that may be because I came to the right conclusion as to the meaning of the parable, but the wrong interpretation of the metaphor of the rock.

Over 20 times in the Psalms, and several times in Isaiah, God is referred to as a rock. Both the Apostles Paul and Peter write of prophetic references to the Lord Jesus from Isaiah and the Psalms which speak of the Rock (Rom 9:23, I Cor 10:4 and I Pet 2:8).

Clearly our Lord Jesus, who is God, is the Rock. But the point of the parable is, we can say all we want about how much we love and worship the Lord Jesus; but if we do not obey Him, we cannot claim Him to be our Rock and we thus live our lives precariously.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sermon on the Mount-- doing it our own way

Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.

Several years back I received some good advice from a friend. “If you want to get ahead in your career,” he said. I told him I really didn't, but he kept talking. “Then you need to do whatever you can to make your boss look good.”

I didn't argue, but it sounded to me like he was telling me the way to get ahead was by sucking up. Which everyone did. But I was a Believer and this did not seem like the honest thing to do.

But then I became a supervisor. Suddenly I learned to appreciate employees whose first concern was to please me. These employees would get the job done so much better than employees who insisted on doing things in a better way—their own way.

The Lord has gifted us humans with an amazing amount of intelligence. But, our bottom line as Believers is, are we going to do things the way the Lord tells us in His Scriptures, or are we going to try to figure out how to do everything on our own?

If the latter, we are working against the Master and we're not much use to Him.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sermon on the Mount-- known by God!

And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you.”

I knew Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone. Whenever he came by the newspaper office where I worked, he stopped by my desk to talk. He was my friend, though I don’t think he knew my name.

Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich knew my name. After a public meeting, a crowd of reporters were aggressively asking him questions. He saw me in the back of the crowd and pointed at me. “Larry,” he said, and then he winked, “What’s your question?”

To be known by prominent people is a great honor for us. To be know by God is an infinitely greater honor. As we go about performing our religion (preaching, evangelizing, dispelling the powers of darkness), is being known of God our first concern? Or instead, is it so we will be known by other human beings?

If being known by God is not what really concerns us, at the Last Day He will pronounce, "I never knew you."

Friday, January 24, 2014

Sermon on the Mount-- the One who knows me

So then, you will know them by their fruits.

This proverb is often quoted to show how you can tell a person's nature by looking at their actions. Jesus, however, seems to use this verse to communicate the exact opposite.

In Matthew 7:21-23 Christ gives an example of people who look at their “fruits” and believe that they are righteous, only to be told by the Lord “I never knew you.” How can we have any assurance when our “fruits” can be so misleading?

When the harvest comes, I will know myself and others by our fruit. Until then I need to realize how little I know and place my faith in the One who knows me.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sermon on the Mount-- I never knew you

On that day many will say to me, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and cast out demons in your name, and do many things in your name. And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you.”

I had a friend in college who was involved in an evangelistic work where many amazing things happened. The Lord’s gracious hand was manifest day after day.

A number of years later I was talking with this friend. He recounted those days and the miraculous events. “But you know as well as I do,” he said to me, “it’s all a bunch of nonsense.”

How could this man who had once been a dynamic believer become so sure of his disbelief?

I think it was because, first and foremost, this man believed in himself. 

When his belief in God contradicted his belief in himself, he chose to believe in himself, despite the evidence.

Our Lord is so good. He has made it so He can be seen, and He can be known. But He also permits us to disregard Him when we give all regard to ourselves. Then, at some point, perhaps on the Last Day, He will say, “I never knew you.”

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sermon on the Mount --spiritual horticulture

In Matthew 7 Jesus tells us how to recognize false prophets: by their fruits. I am not a behavioral horticulturalist. I do not always know a good fruit from a bad fruit. What if a bad person has good intentions in doing a bad thing that has a good outcome? Or the reverse. What kind of tree are they and what kind of fruit are they? I don't always know. So why does Jesus say we “shall know them by their fruit?”

Although I am not a great spiritual horticulturalist, God is. He can look at a fruit and know exactly what kind of tree produced it. Someday He will take the trees that did not produce good fruit and dispose of them. And only then will I fully know every tree by their fruit.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sermon on the Mount --a delightful boy

Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

My mother was utterly unjudgmental. She has always accepted everyone for exactly who they were.

When I was in fourth grade the other kids expressed great sympathy for me when it was time for parent/teacher conferences. My class-mates were right. My teacher gave my mom the whole story.  

When she came home, my mother sadly told me the bad report she had just received. Then she said, “And I told her, Larry, that I found you to be a delightful little boy. But it was like she didn’t even hear me.”

The Lord is not our mother. The Lord lets us know what we are to do and He gives us the ability to do it. 
He is a good, gracious and merciful God, but we dare not disregard what He says.

He does not accept us just the way we are. Quite the contrary, that is exactly what He saves us from.

Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature. Old things are passed away. Behold, all things have become new. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sermon on the Mount-- bad influence

Jesus suggests that a good way to identify a false prophet is to look at their fruits. If “fruits” are just actions this seems somewhat obvious. What else would we look at? We can't see their heart, so of course we are going to look at what they do. Though perhaps Jesus means more by “fruit” then just actions. 

If fig trees make more figs and grape vines make more grapes what do false prophets make? More false prophets. Some ferocious wolves may never bare their fangs, but, by nature, wolves travel in packs.

You can't always tell a person's character by looking at what they do in a given situation. But you can tell a lot about a person by how they influence the company they keep. Daniel

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sermon on the Mount --fruitiness

So every healthy tree bears good fruit.

 “Greed is good,” we are told because greed motivates us to work so we can produce what people are greedy to have. It's what makes our economy work.

But, of course, though through hard work and judicious planning we may be able to get whatever we can imagine to want, we can never be satisfied, because whatever we obtain in our greedy pursuit only makes us greedy to get something more.

God made us so that only in giving can we find satisfaction. Only as we forego our own wants to fulfill the needs of others do we find happiness.

Our Lord tells us that we can be, and we need to, be like a grapevine or a fig tree at harvest time. And our pleasing and nutritious fruit needs to be abundant and easy for others to pick and enjoy; fruit like love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, meekness, thoughtfulness, faithfulness and hope. LR

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sermon on the Mount --sheep & wolves

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

A few verses earlier our Lord was warning us not to judge lest we be judged. But here He is telling us to discern those among us who are at heart so very different from us they are ravenous wolves.

A lesson we are taught over and over again is the first person we should always examine is ourselves. Could it possibly be that I am a ravenous wolf who feeds on sheep?

A wolf needs to consume other creatures in order to sustain himself, in order to survive. A sheep, on the other hand, is fed by the Shepherd.

Where do I find my sustenance? Is it from the applause of others? Is it by being the most powerful person, the one who is more important than all the rest? Is it by putting others in their place because I am the only one spiritual enough to decide what is right and true?

Or am I truly one of the little flock, who finds his worth and his joy in the Lord Jesus who laid down His life for the sheep?


Friday, January 17, 2014

Sermon on the Mount --WARNING!

There are a lot of different warnings. Some are easy to interpret. “Caution: high voltage” for example deters me from climbing a barbed-wire fence and grabbing hold of random cables. I know exactly how to respond to this warning. Some warnings are a little more tricky. What do I do when I see a “beware of dog” sign? Do I run? Do I tip-toe away? Is the sign here so that I don't freak out when I hear loud barking? Do I go about my normal routine, mindful of the fact that I could be eaten at any moment? The appropriate response depends on the circumstances.

Jesus warns us to watch out for false prophets. He tells us how to recognize them, but He does not tell us what to do with them. Do we stone them? Shun them? Attempt to disprove them? Try to correct them? Learn from their truth, but ignore their folly? Run? Perhaps it depends on the circumstances.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sermon on the Mount --the way is hard

For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life

One time I was sitting around a table with a bunch of friends from work. Somehow the conversation took a serious turn. People started talking about their theories of life. I listened. And I laughed. And I pitched in some smart remarks. Maybe I inadvertently annoyed the girl next to me for she asked me, “So what is it that you believe?”

I told them. I said I knew I had to have a Savior. I told how I found Jesus to be that Savior, for I needed Someone who could love me despite who I was. I said, "But God is holy, you know. We really wouldn't want God to be any other way. So I knew I needed Jesus, because He died for me to take away my sin.”

I wanted to say more but first the girl left. Then her best friend left. Then several others found something else to do. They all just left. And there I was, all by myself.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sermon on the Mount --traveling with the crowd

In Matthew 7:13 Jesus says to “enter through the narrow gate.” Some have suggested that this means that we might look where the crowds are going and go the other way. If we are in opposition to the prevailing thinking, if we challenge the norm, if we defy the reason of the majority then we must be doing something right.

In Luke 13:24, Jesus explains the narrow gate in another way: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow gate, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” Few enter through the narrow gate. But many want to get through and just cannot.

There may be times when righteousness requires us to go in the opposite direction of everyone else. But there are also times when righteousness may require us to go in the same direction as everyone else, but through God's grace we may actually get there.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sermon on the Mount --do unto others

Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you, for this is the law and the prophets.

A favorite exercise for high school and college teachers is to give their students a moral quandary, e.g., what would you do if by pushing a man in front of a train you would save the lives of all the passengers on the train?

I've lived for a pretty long time here on this earth and I've never had a real life situation where I've had to make such a decision. But every day, many times a day, circumstances put me in situations where I can make a decision, will I look out for my own concerns, or instead, look out for the concerns of others?

To live a life pleasing to our Lord, we need to always keep in our consciousness doing to others as we would have them to do to us.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sermon on the mount --reflecting God's image

In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

This verse is not only a good summation of the entire Old Testament, but it is also summarizes the message of the Sermon on the Mount. So why does Jesus suggest this thought after sharing on the value of asking God for things?

Man was made at the pinnacle of creation in God's image to reflect the glory of God. The great irony of this, however, is that man is the only part of God's creation that does not by nature give God glory. In order to restore our calling to reflect God's glory we need to look like Him.

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenges His disciples to be like God: make peace like God (5:9), love enemies like God (5:45), do good in secret like God (6:2-6, 18), forgive debts like God (6:12). In Matthew 5:42 Jesus tells us to give to all who ask. In Matthew 7:11 Jesus shows that giving to those who ask is a godly characteristic.

Do you ask of God the same way you would want others to ask of you?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sermon on the Mount --naturally a good Father

If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him.

I watch men who look pretty exotic from their various piercing, tatoos and uncomfortable clothing styles showing all the concern that any father would have with their young children. I listen to them speak gently to their little rambunctious boys, teaching them to behave, and to say please and thank you. It's pretty interesting how fatherhood brings the best in a young man.

Our Lord Jesus said being a good parent is what comes naturally to us, despite our evil hearts. So how is it that we are fearful, understanding that God is our Heavenly Father? Do we think He would ever disregard us when we pray to Him for His help and protection?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Sermon on the Mount --for everyone who asks, receives

For everyone who asks, receives.

Without qualification, our Lord is saying, whoever asks will receive.

But it seems that our every day experience tells us otherwise. Who is there who has ever lived who has not received something he has prayed for?

(Everyone prays. Everyone makes requests to God. Do I know this for certain? I know myself. As a person, I know that in my desperation I always pray. Who is there among humanity who at one time is not so desperate that he does not pray? “There are no athiests in foxholes.” is, I believe, a true proverb.)

So where does our Lord's truth intersect with the truth of our experience?

A clue is in the next verse, “for which one of you, having a son...”

The One to Whom we pray is not a mindless computer. The One to Whom we ask is the Heavenly Father who gives precisely what is good and kind for us. When we ask, He gives us the best thing.

Pity poor Solomon who got everything on this earth he could imagine to want. His assessment of life? “Vanity of vanities all is vanity."

May we trust our Heavenly Father that as we ask of Him, He will give us all good things.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Sermon on the Mount-- knowing what to ask for

There are people who have asked and not received. The world is filled with poor who ask for wealth, sick who ask for health, lonely who seek companionship. How can Jesus claim that we get what we ask for when so many people clearly do not? Jesus clarifies this principle by showing how a father may give to his children.

I like to give things to my kids, but I know that it would be irresponsible and unloving if I were to give them everything they asked for. Instead I try to give them what is best for them. I give them the things they need -food, clothing, shelter. I also like to give them the things they enjoy when I can see how these things would be good for them.

My kids are smart enough to know what to ask for. They understand their Daddy well enough to know how and when to ask for ice-cream. If there is an activity or toy that we can enjoy together, they know they only have to ask.

Maybe the reason we don't always get what we ask for is because not only do we not know what to ask for and how to ask, but we also don't yet know our Daddy well enough.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Sermon on the Mount --ask

Ask and it will be given to you.

A standard question that my wife asks me is, “Well, did you pray about it?”

I respect my wife. She has an almost supernatural intellegence in knowing how to connect with people. But sometimes it seems to me she understands things a bit simplistically.

I misplace my keys and she asks me if I've prayed about it.

I'm just a little upset by something. I'll get over it, just give me a little time. And she asks me if I've prayed about it.

I do pray about important things, like a relative coming back to the Lord. And I pray about keeping my job—"just two more years, Lord, and I can collect social security." I pray about my parents going through some of the very unpleasant struggles of old age.

But pray about my misplaced keys?

My adult son misplaced his keys when he and his wife were with us last weekend.

It's sort of silly, I thought, but I prayed, “Lord, help him find his keys.”

Before the prayer had left my brain, my son said, “Here they are.”

“Thank you Lord.” I prayed. “ I appreciate you didn't mind me asking.”

Later I asked my wife, “Did you pray for his keys too?”

“Of course,” she said.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Sermon on the Mount --pearls are not useful to pigs

In Matthew 7 Jesus instructs His disciples not to “cast pearls before swine.” This proverb is often used to indicate the folly of giving something great to lousy people. Personally, I have a lot more sympathy for the pigs.

If I were a pig I would not want pearls. I couldn't use them. I could use slop or banana peels, but pearls have little utility for a pig. If someone were to cast pearls to me I would be upset that they gave me something that they should have known I could not use. 

Jesus had a lot of “pearls” of wisdom, but He did not cast pearls before swine. The wisdom of Christ, although precious, always had a utility for His audience. 


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Sermon on the Mount --pearls before swine

Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot and turn and attack you.

I wonder why it was that the Lord did not seem to take his advice?

Of all the people who needed healing, why did He heal the invalid at the pool of Bethesda? After Jesus healed him, this man went to those who were looking for cause against Him and told them it was Jesus who had healed him on the Sabbath.

To the cruel and cowardly Pilot to whom truth had no meaning, Jesus said, “I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

But then I remember a very self-conscious, self concerned young man who wouldn't have known love if it slapped him in the face. The Lord let this young man know that He loved him, so much so that He died for him. And I think, “I'm sure glad the Lord cast His pearls before me.”

But God commendeth His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. 


Monday, January 6, 2014

Sermon on the Mount --logs

In Matthew 7 Jesus explains how removing the log from one's own eye would allow one to more clearly see the speck in a brother's eye. Many of us might counter that we can see our brother's specks just fine, even with logs obscuring our view. So why does Jesus ask us to remove our own logs first?

The sad truth about having a log in your eye is that much of the time it doesn't come out. A lot of our most challenging shortcomings stay with us, to some extent, throughout our lives.

If you have never had a log removed from your eye then it is probably still there. If you have had a log removed from your eye then you should have learned the grace to deal with the speck of another.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sermon on the mount --specks

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

I know good Christian men whose “eye logs” have caused disaster. These men love the Lord and they really do love the Lord’s people. They have dedicated their lives to His service and I’m guessing they expect a “Well done, good and faithful servant,” when they enter into glory.

But the log that is in their eyes is a sincere belief that insignificant specks require major surgery; typically amputation.

Some of these specks are:  not properly concluding a prayer; contemporary worship hymns; associating with a suspect Christian organization; using the “wrong” translation of the Bible, wearing casual clothing to the meeting, etc. It seems each day their list of specks increase. And each day their church decreases.

Specks in the eye are irritating. But when the specks are transformed into logs, they become blinding.

That they may be one, so the world may believe that You have send Me.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Sermon on the Mount --evaluating with grace and mercy

Humans are natural judges. Consciously or unconsciously, we are continuously evaluating our surroundings and determining good or bad, safe or dangerous, what we like and what we don't. When Christ says “Do not judge,” he is not telling us to stop evaluating, but rather to not be judgmental.

Just as the one who is judgmental is harshly judged by others, the one who evaluates the world with grace and mercy may receive grace and mercy.


Friday, January 3, 2014

Sermon on the Mount --being nice to the not nice

At our office Christmas party a few years back, a married man with several children was aggressively affectionate with a female supervisor. My co-workers were disgusted to the point of revulsion.

At the party, my wife made a very good connection with one of the ladies there and led her to the Lord. This lady told my wife that this exuberant couple was not the only couple the people from work were watching. They were all interested in seeing how my wife and I reacted to them as everybody knew that we were very "religious."

Thankfully, we did not shun them or treat them with disdain. We talked and laughed with them, just as we did with everyone else.

"I found this so interesting," this lady told my wife. "That's why I wanted to get to know you better."

To not judge does not mean that one thinks everything is cool--whatever makes a person happy is just fine, regardless of the wretchedness of the behavior. But it does mean that one treats everyone with kindness and dignity, and does not talk unkindly towards others.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Sermon on the Mount --judgmentalism

Judge not that you be not judged.

Judgmentalism is poisonous, but it comes so naturally.

A mark, or perhaps the mark, of spiritual maturity is accepting other people for who they are.

With every contact with other people, my brain is making evaluations. Was that person friendly? Too friendly? Intelligent? Stubbornly ignorant? Did he wait his turn? Is he a show off? Impressed with himself? Unable to stop the flow of mindless words? 

Continually I need to step back and think, “If this is how I am evaluating him, how is he evaluating me?”

This makes me much more charitable in my impressions of others.

For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Son


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

sermon on the mount ==roller coaster

Sufficient for the day is it's own troubles.

Slowly, slowly, slowly the roller coaster pulls you up to the top of a precipice. Then suddenly you drop. And just as you are almost to the bottom, the roller coaster jerks you to the right and then it twists you up-side-down and the twists you up-side-down again before screeching to a stop.

You knew all along you would not get hurt. You really did know that.

As a Believer, you really do know with each new challenge that comes up, you're really not going to get hurt, not really. And you know at the end of the ride, your Savior will be there to take you Home, to the place that has been prepared for you.

You do know that.

Yea though I walk through the valley of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.