Final Thoughts: Part 2

Matthew 7: 21-29

The concluding words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount are tough to take in.  He basically states that only those that work for the kingdom, doing the will of God, will enter the kingdom.  Many will come and say they did what they needed but in reality they were not living for God’s glory.

Jesus then goes on to state that those who hear his words and lives them out will be wise, like a man who builds his house on a rock.  It isn’t enough to just hear the words, and to have knowledge.  In order to fulfill God’s will we must also act.  It doesn’t really do much good to have all of the equipment and knowledge you need if you aren’t putting it to use.

Here is another passage to consider: Read Matthew 25: 31-46

These seem like harsh words, and they may even scare us.  To overcome this fear choose to live for God’s glory and not your own.  Try your hardest at living out the will of God in your daily life.  We will fall short time and time again, but that is no reason to quit.  Seek forgiveness and community, cry out to God, and keep on pursuing the will of God.  This is what God wants from us.  Live for his glory and you will experience the kingdom, even here and now.  God is not far off, but present with us, here and now.

This week consider how you can live your life for God.  What does that look like from day to day?  How will you carry out the Sermon in your daily lives?

Consider these following quotes from Brother Lawrence:

“He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.”

“Do not be discouraged by the resistance you will encounter from your human nature; you must go against your human inclinations. Often, in the beginning, you will think that you are wasting time, but you must go on, be determined and persevere in it until death, despite all the difficulties.”

“Think often on God, by day, by night, in your business and even in your diversions. He is always near you and with you; leave him not alone.”

Take time to reflect on these ideas. Pray about them.

Final Thoughts: Part 1

Matthew 7: 7-20

This particular post will focus on three sections of the Sermon and next week we will finish up our TAWG Blog series by sharing the concluding thoughts of Jesus to his disciples, and he has some tough stuff to tell them.  Stay tuned for that next week.

Ask and It Will Be Given:

In this section of the Sermon, Jesus calls for his disciples to seek answers and to ask God to guide them.  Jesus informs his disciples that they will receive what they need.  Sometimes we struggle to believe this and feel as if God never answers our prayers.  I love the part of this section that speaks about how God can give us greater gifts than we may even be able to imagine.  This takes a lot of trust and patience; things that many people have trouble with from day to day.  A couple of verses to consider include Romans 8:18, 28.  In fact I would encourage you to read this entire chapter to help you understand how God works and cares for us.

Take a little time to reflect and ask God to guide you.  Be present and focused so that you may better grasp what God is trying to do for you.  Times of solitude, silence, and reflection are so important to growth and learning.  It is also valuable to have people pour into you such as mentors and pastors who may help transform your perspective on life.

The Golden Rule:

Most of you probably were taught the Golden Rule at some point in your life, but many of us tend to abuse it.  What I mean by this is that sometimes we do something for someone expecting that other person to do something for us.  This may not always be the case and it may take time for someone to change.  This does not give us an excuse to treat that other individual poorly, but should be all the more reason for us to show compassion and love so that they may also learn to be compassionate and loving.

I think this may be why Jesus then goes on to talk about the entering the narrow gate.  Walking with Christ is not easy and it requires a lot of sacrifice.  It may be hard and more difficult, but it is the better way to go.  If you really want to make a difference, it is crucial to develop deep relationships, to learn names and stories, and to humbly demonstrate compassion.  If you do all for God’s glory and not your own you will be headed towards the narrow gate, the road less traveled so to speak.  We will talk a little more about this next week as we look at the final instructions Jesus has for his disciples.

Think about how you can start living more intentionally for Christ each day.  What does that look like for you?  What changes will be necessary?

A Tree and Its Fruit:

This section is another crucial part of following Christ and living to glorify God.  There are many false prophets out in the world today; people who are not living to genuinely glorify God, but rather are seeking fame, riches, and attention.  Sometimes it can be hard to recognize this at first but as you look more closely at their life you may begin to recognize that they are producing bad fruit.  It is hard for a person to develop good, Christ-like disciples if they are not being poured into and learning, or if they are not living as Christ as well.  For instance, think about someone trying to train someone to be great at a sport or art form.  You would most likely want an instructor or coach that has some knowledge and experience in what they are teaching you.  It is much more effective when a person knows a lot, but also continues to learn as they teach.

This section also point out that a good tree cannot produce bad fruit.  This is key in making disciples who will then go on to make more disciples, all for the glory of God.  You must be trained and learning constantly, allowing good to be poured into you so that you may pour out that good fruit onto others.  A few years ago at teen camp there was an analogy used of a sponge pouring out water.  In order to continue pouring out, and giving, you must also receive otherwise the well will run dry.

Take some time to go over these three sections again.  Read through them slowly and pray through them.  Let the Spirit guide you and fill you as you continue to learn and transform.

Week 15: Judging

Matthew 7:1-6

This is a pretty tough passage. On the surface, it looks like it delivers a clear message – don’t judge others. In fact, that’s how many have interpreted and taught it for years. However, such a fly-over description of Jesus’ words here have never really sat right with me.

Now, hold on, I’m also not saying you should go around being overly judgmental of others. That type of attitude has certainly given Christianity a bad name – “holier than thou” comes to mind.

So if it’s not one and it’s not the other…what is it? Well, as with many Bible passages – actually pretty much all of them – context is key.

For instance, just a few verses later (we’ll get to this passage in more detail in the coming weeks), Jesus describes a situation in which we should judge others. Look at Matthew 7:15-17:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.”

The only way to decide whether or not fruit is bad is to make a judgment. You have to judge what you hear to decide whether it is in line with the Truth.

But back to the passage at hand. If we are to make judgments in certain situations, then when is it not okay to judge? Well, I think the answer lies in our posture. You see, in our passage Jesus talks about two brothers with items in their eyes. Sounds excruciatingly painful. Jesus admonishes us to remove the plank from our own eye before we go about removing the speck from our brother’s.

The posture here is very active. I’m the one going to my brother and making him aware of his shortcomings – which happen to pale in comparison to my own. I’m going to my brother with the purpose of judging.

The posture later in this chapter is passive. A false teacher comes to us, and we must judge what we hear. We didn’t come to the situation with the intent to judge. But based on what occurred, a judgment had to be made.

So don’t judge others, unless it is thrust upon you. What I mean by that is, don’t look for things that others are doing wrong. But also, don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in. If someone says or does something that you know is wrong and they invite you to join in – by all means, make a judgment! Don’t do it.

But don’t point out others’ faults. Don’t actively look for ways to show your superiority. That’s pride, and it’s not a good enough reason to throw judgments around.

So, yes, there are times when it’s okay to judge others. But those are few and far between. You don’t know everything. So don’t walk around like you do. Instead…

…depend on the One who does.

Week 14: Don’t Worry

Matthew 6:25-34

I was walking to my dorm room at night on my way back from a meeting during my junior year of college. It was January 2014, and it was cold. It was about 9:45 p.m. There weren’t very many people outside. I was walking alone, left to myself and my thoughts. That can sometimes be a dangerous place.

On this particular night, I was coming back from a team meeting. I was a member of a ministry team that was going to Kenya in the spring. We met every week to go over details, talk about the book we were reading and receive updates on our fundraising.

Each team member was tasked with raising their own funds. I had been a little late in sending my letters out, so my numbers were pretty low. We were about to hit our first deadline, and I was well short.

On top of that, I had a big school bill coming up. During my freshman and sophomore years, my parents had largely helped pay for my schooling. We had agreed that I would take on more responsibility for payments starting my junior year. Thankfully, I had saved up some money from my campus jobs during my first two years of college. But now, those savings had nearly been used up.

I could use the last of my savings to pay the school bill. But that would leave next to nothing for my trip fundraising. If I covered the first deadline for my trip fundraising, I wouldn’t be able to pay my school bill.

I started to worry. A lot.

Thankfully, I had a mentor who encouraged me to pray about it. He was also the leader of our ministry team, and he reiterated to me the faithfulness of God.

Later that week, I received two major checks in the mail for my ministry team fundraising. With the money I had in savings, I was able to pay the school bill AND meet my fundraising deadline. It wasn’t a coincidence. It wasn’t luck.

It was God.

So what about you? Do you ever worry? Have you ever felt anxiety about something? Of course you have. We all do! Look back at our passage for today. Jesus never says that troubles won’t come our way or that our lives would be perfect. In fact, Jesus doesn’t really talk about circumstances all that much, if you really focus on His words.

Our circumstance are what they are. We can’t always control them. In fact, most of the time we can’t. What we can control is our reactions to those circumstances. That’s where Jesus chooses to focus.

I encourage you, read through Matthew 6:25-34 once again. This time, look for all the examples of Jesus discussing our reactions to circumstances. Then, go and read Philippians 4:6. Are your reactions matching up with what Jesus is describing?

If not, here’s a simple tool to remember. Every time you feel compelled to worry, pray instead. It will take some practice, but start off by trying it for just one hour. Then try it for an afternoon. Then a day. Then a week, and so on. Sure, you’ll mess up. But the more and more you can live a life of prayer instead of a life of worry, the closer you’ll come to God’s presence.

Come to think of it, I think I’ll go pray right now.

Week 13: Heavenly Treasure

Matthew 6:19-24

We’re fascinated by treasure.

People traveled across land and sea in search of gold. Deep mines are delved far into the earth in the hopes of finding even the smallest diamond. Even as kids, we draw treasure maps and wonder at stories of pirates and buried treasure.

Why?

An easy answer is the value of treasure. The sheer worth of the object – whether it’s gold, jewels or money – is enough to fascinate us. But I think it’s something even more primal and innate that drives our treasure sensations.

Beauty.

In our passage today, Jesus implores those listening to lay up for themselves treasures in heaven. To not be preoccupied with earthly treasures. He explains his reasoning in verse 21:

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

We think earthly treasures are beautiful. And they are…to a point. It’s hard to deny the beauty of gold or diamonds or rubies. But they don’t fulfill us. They are only temporary. In Jesus words, these treasures are “where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.”

The thing is, most of us don’t come in contact with gold or jewels on a daily basis. For most of us, our treasure of choice is money. Jesus knew this. He addresses it in verse 24:

“No one can serve two masters, for 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 God and money.”

Look, money isn’t bad. It is not the root of all evil. The correct quote comes from 1 Timothy 6:10 – “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”

That verse is saying the exact same thing as Jesus in our passage. Don’t let money become your master. Don’t love it like you love God. Don’t love it like you love your family. Don’t love it like you love your friends. In its rightful place, money is a great thing. In the wrong place, it becomes scary.

So choose your treasures wisely. Choose things like time, presence, and intention. Choose love, joy, and hope.

Above all, choose God. If you treasure Him, the fascination will never end. He’s the treasure that doesn’t go away.

The Heavenly Treasure.

Week 12: Fasting

Matthew 6:16-18

This week we are revisiting an idea that we looked at a couple of months ago.  From February to March we were challenged to participate in Lent both by subtracting something from our lives and adding something meaningful to fill that space.  This part of the sermon, Jesus teaches his disciples to fast, but to do so without being known.  He shares this so that his disciples will fast for the right reason, which is ultimately to grow closer to God.

The last few weeks we have been studying practices that Jesus warns against the temptation to be noticed.  Pride can easily get in the way of Christ, and this is why Jesus tells his disciples to practice these things in private.  It is valuable to be set apart from the world.  When people see a Christian out in public they should be able to clearly tell a difference in how that person acts.  We should achieve this by living as Christ lived.  The more we study the life of Christ and deepen our relationship with him, the more naturally we will begin to stand out.  This will occur not because of pride or a feeling that we are better than others, but will come about because of the Holy Spirit, humility, and loving others with genuine compassion.

This week, try to fast from something that is keeping your focus from God.  Get away from video games, TV, movies, music, phones, computers, or any other distractions, and fill that time with prayer and listening.  Subtract so that you may add to your relationship with Christ.  Take some time to pray and listen now to learn what you should fast from this week.  Maybe there is something that you need to remove from your life altogether.  Be intentional with this time and listen.

Consider this quote from Andrew Murray:

“Prayer is reaching out after the unseen; fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal. Fasting helps express, deepen, confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.”

During this time of fasting also reflect on the life of Christ.  Recall how Christ spent time in the world building relationships with others.  Think about the 12 disciples and how they literally spent 3 years of their lives following Christ, doing everything with him.  Remember the compassion and grace that Christ showed to those around him.  Allow yourself to be transformed in this time.

Week 11: Prayer

Matthew 6:5-15

Prayer is a word that we like to throw around and use on a daily basis. But how many of us truly understand what it means to pray?  What do you actually want when you ask someone to pray for you?  Do you have a particular way in mind of how things should pan out?  When you say you will pray for someone do you actually do it or has this just become some sort of phrase we use to comfort others?

Unfortunately, a lot of the time when we pray, we are doing so expecting God to respond how we would have him.  If you study the Sermon on the Mount you will discover a better image of prayer.  In this portion of Christ’s dialogue with his disciples Jesus tells his disciples how and when to pray.  If we truly take prayer to be as Christ says it is then our lives will be transformed.  When you consistently engage in genuine, meaningful conversation with God incredible things start to happen.  The more you listen and interact with God the better you are able to discern what his plans are for you as opposed to what you believe should happen.

Sometimes public prayer has less to do about speaking to God and more about speaking to the people present.  Public prayers can become wordy or mechanical, not allowing the Spirit of God to move.  Prayer within a community can be powerful.  Jesus warns his disciples not to pray like the hypocrites who pray to be seen.  You should pray not to impress but pray so that God may transform lives.  He also warns his disciples not to be wordy and empty in their prayers, but then instructs them to pray like this:

“Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come,

Your will be done,

One earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.”

This prayer is so powerful.  Take some time to analyze each sentence and notice how this prayer is focused on letting God transform you.  Try to pray this prayer each morning when you arise.

Lastly, I would like to encourage you to spend some time in silence – no music or distractions.  Leave your phone in another room on silent.  Let yourself be completely emptied of all worries and fears so that God may enter in.  Silence causes us to be vulnerable and open, usually helping us to learn things about ourselves.  In silence we allow God to speak.  Listen.  Even if you don’t feel that God is speaking to you know that he is present.  This is can be a profound experience.

God speaks to people in a variety of ways.  It is unique for every individual.  It can be hard to tell when God may be speaking.  Know that he will not command you to go against the Word or teachings of Christ.  This doesn’t mean what he asks of you will be easy.  Jesus asked a rich man to literally give up everything he had to follow him!

The more time you spend with God, getting to know him, the better you will understand how he speaks to you.  Take some time to listen today.  Don’t think about what may just have happened or what is coming, be fully present.  Be completely silent.  Try this for a short period of time one day and then later in the week try to go for an even longer time.  Make silence a daily practice, even if it is only for a short time each day.  Free yourself of all distraction.  Recognize the presence of God.  And allow Him to work.