Build on the Rock

As Jesus brings his message to an end (Matthew 7-24), he again brings the audience to a moment of decision. This one, like the one about the two paths, is about choosing whether or not to adopt what Jesus has taught. He proceeds this moment with images of false teachers who have the outward appearance of righteousness, but who are inwardly evil. He speaks of fruit that outwardly looks appealing, but is inwardly empty. There are those people who act like they are serving him, but are only serving themselves. So how do all these images fit together?

First, the emphasis is on doing something and being active. Two times he alludes to the people that hear the Father’s will and do it and those that have heard his teachings and do or act upon them.  The similarities should not be missed. Secondly, the emphasis is not on the externals, but the internals. The external appearance, or even act, is not nearly as important as the internal motivation. Now at first it may appear that these two points contradict. It seems to be saying that the person needs to do something, but what they do is not important. This is because people like to have that list they can check off. If the rule says I need to “X,” then I can do “X” and feel good about myself. That is something I can objectively measure, not my progress, and adjust accordingly. This is what the pharisees had been doing. There would hundreds, if not thousands, of rules and they tried to follow all of them to show how pious and righteous they were. Remember, our righteousness must surpass theirs.

All throughout the sermon Jesus kept reminding the audience that the standard was not on externals, but internals. It’s not good enough to not kill; one must avoid anger or even holding a grudge. One must surrender their rights and think of the other person first. One must give over their entire being to God and care for their neighbor as they would themselves. They must do unto others, not just “not” do. All of this requires a sea change of the heart and mind. This is because people can fake the externals. They can give away money and help people but do it for the wrong reason. The fruit Jesus speaks of are things like love, joy, peace, patience, self-control, grace, and forgiveness. These come only from the spirit, and while one may play at them, they cannot have them without the Spirit.  Remember if your motivation in following Jesus is to save your own neck, you are doing it wrong. One must be willing to lose their life if they would save it. It is at moments like these that all these seemingly contradictory sayings come colliding together.

Jesus gives us one last image of the wise and foolish builder. The wise who acts on Jesus words takes the long view. They know that just because it looks like a good site it may not be. They dig deeper and get to the foundation. Why? Because they know it does not matter what they do, if the storm comes and there is not a strong foundation all their effort will fall flat. It must be built on something permanent. In our world, there is no institution created by man which is perfect or permanent. Our current situation shows us this fact. There is no one or nothing of this world that I can put my full faith and trust in, not even myself. Myself least of all because as broken as I am, I know I cannot trust me. I also know I am in control of little. I cannot even completely control myself so how can I build anything permanent?

The fool only sees today. Sure, it looks fine now so that is good enough. Let us not consider what may happen when the storms come, just go with it as-is. Let me focus on what makes me feel good right now and what seems right, right now. The moving standards of the world along with the fallen and brokenness of society leave one nothing to build on there but the shifting sands. So, I urge you to take the long view. Build on something solid. Build on the rock. Build on Christ, and Christ alone.

This is not about adopting some of his sayings or adding him to your life like a mantra or talisman. No, this is about surrendering yourself to him fully and totally. You are not adding Jesus to your life, but you are giving your life to him. This is his call and the standard, and nothing less than total commitment will do. It is not easy. It was not meant to be. But it is the way of the wise. Are you ready for the next storm? What are you standing on? You own two feet? Society? Modern culture? Monuments of man which will be destroyed by time? Or have you dug down to the rock and stand firmly on Him?

Honor Thy Mother

This past Sunday (May 10th) was Mother’s Day in the U.S. Barring the side note of how the woman who helped created Mother’s Day spent most of her life trying to end it due to commercialization, it is a day worth spending time with nonetheless. So as we do, there are a few passages that we should be familiar with. First is in Genesis 1 where God said he created man and woman in His image. Second is the ten commandments in Exodus where we are told to Honor our fathers AND our mothers. Third is Proverbs 31 where we are given an idealized view of a woman… who is also a mother. Forth and finally is 2 Timothy 1 where Paul recounts the faith he saw in Timothy’s mother and grandmother. Besides the fact that looking all these up will give one good Bible time during this time of semi-forced isolation, it also demonstrates the Bible’s position on women and Motherhood.

So from the beginning and throughout, the Bible has pointed to the fact that women are important in society, highly valued, and have the same intrinsic self-worth as men. It also highlights that while fathers and mothers have different roles in the family, they, too, are to be equally valued and respected. There is nothing to suggest that women are to be regarded as being inferior, less than, or other than. In fact, of all God’s creation, only woman, a special creation just like man, was suitable to match with man. Of these, the passages on woman being an image bearer of God and the call to honor Father and Mother are most telling. They point out that they are in many ways to be viewed equally and given the same respect, courtesy, dignity, and regard. For many, this does not fit well with a mistaken understanding some have of a Christian / Biblical view on women, but those are usually formed from taking things out of context or instilling their own view on a situation, and there are those who would accuse me of doing the same thing.

The idea of the Biblical woman really gets pushed by Proverbs 31. Here we see a woman who is well-to-do, married, with children, and living on an estate. Given all of that you may think she is stuck at home, keeping house, watching the kids, and enjoying the good life. Not even close. She isn’t keeping house, but managing the estate from the food, to the clothing, to the servants and their duties. She is bringing in income through her own work and business and providing supplies from her own work. She is also making deals over land and trade. She is strong, dignified, industrious, has a head for figures and business, is respectable and respected, faithful to her family and most importantly to God. This is a very modern image from something written about 3,000 years ago. This just highlights the important role that women were expected to play in their family and society and how they were to be regarded, not as second class appendages of their husbands, but workers in their own right. No Victorian ideas of finance being too much for a woman to handle, she is making determinations on agricultural land, investments, finance, and doing all this independently of her husband. This adds further proof that women are important and to be valued and are extremely capable in their own right.

Lastly in Timothy, we see the role of the mother as a spiritual guide. It was their faith for which Eunice and Lois were remembered. These women, early on, valued what Jesus meant and passed that along to Timothy. Apparently his father was a Greek and never converted, but Timothy was surrounded by it and would become a leader in the early Church. Not only were women and mothers to be people of faith, but they have a duty and obligation to pass that along. There was none of this foolishness about letting the child decide on their own. I mean really, what other major life choices do you let a child make? I get that after a certain age they will do what they will, but the influence of early years is crucial. Just like teaching manners, hygiene, and healthy habits are important for development, so, too, is faith a crucial endeavor and should not be left to chance. Read the Bible with them and to them. Tell them Bible stories, carry them to church, and demonstrate through your own actions that faith is important and what it means for you. This is where many a child gets their first exposure to Christ and who he is. It is this legacy of faith they will cherish long after the pains of physical death separate parent from child.

So make sure to take time to honor your mother, or mothers, as is may be. Some are blessed to have a biological mom and others have teachers, aunts, cousins, neighbors, or grandparents who fill that role or add to. Others have step moms or even single dads. Whatever the case may be, be sure to honor them not only on Mother’s Day but every day by giving them the respect and dignity they deserve and cherish their legacy in your daily life. Mothers, make sure you are passing along that legacy, especially of faith and love. God Bless

Which Path?

In Robert Frost’s famous poem, “The Road Not Taken,” he speaks of two paths, one which was obviously well-trodden and the other equally obviously not. While literary scholars may debate his intent behind this poem, the line about which one made all the difference, and whether or not that should somehow be prescriptive for our own lives, in Matthew 7, Jesus presents his audience with two paths and gates. This comes as Jesus is concluding what we deem the Sermon on The Mount and Jesus is bringing the hearers to a moment of decision. Essentially, after all they have heard about the demands of righteousness to right with, which path will they take? Will they be like most people and take the broad and easy path where there is plenty of room to move about, or will they choose, instead, the narrow gate and path with obstacles and difficulty?

Unlike Frost’s poem, this is more than just a thought exercise or for one to ponder reflectively on their own path through life. This really is a momentous decision with one way leading toward God and, thus, life, and the other leading away from God and, thus, destruction. Jesus offers no rose-colored glasses here and makes the case plainly that the one that will ultimately be better for us will be the more difficult and it is precisely that reason, the inherent difficulty that causes so many not to go that way. Why? Because people are much like water and will, when given the option, take the path of least resistance. Sure, in times of difficulty and great stress, not unlike we are in now, some will rise to the occasion and present the “best” of humanity, but most are perfectly happy to simply bob along through life hoping for as much comfort and as little complaint as possible. Perhaps a throwback to the fact we were designed to live in a garden with every need freely supplied in ample abundance rather than toil for our existence. Still the choice remains.

This is precisely what Jesus does anytime we encounter him – he makes us decide. There is no middle path; there is no having it both ways; there is no fence-sitting here. Either you are one road or the other, and, just so you know, the broad road is the default setting. If you haven’t decided to follow Jesus, then you are on that road. You have to decide not to be on it and decide to enter the narrow gate. The gate does in fact represent Jesus. The obstacles that would prevent our access to him are mainly pride, fear, and doubt. Our pride tells us that we don’t really need him and we can do it ourselves. Again, our present world situation ought to let us know that even really tiny things can destroy us and leave us weak, vulnerable, and powerless. Our fear tells us that God would sooner blot us out of existence than forgive us. Our doubt tells us that there is no way this Jewish man from 2000 years ago could be the Son of God or have risen from the Grave. We must overcome all of these, humbling ourselves and trusting in God and trusting in Christ. The road beyond will be difficult. Again I’m reminded by another Frost poem, “Stopping by a Snowy Woods,” where he gives the refrain “miles to go before I sleep.” Often it will seem like that on this road, with miles to go before we sleep. But sleep, or rest rather, we will and have it in spades once the journey is finished.

It is not just the rigors of God’s righteousness which make the road so difficult; it is more the opposition of the world that we are even on that path. Never forget that the world is opposed to God and Christ, and will at all times seek to deter the traveler who would seek to follow them. Jesus says there is one way; the world says there are many. Jesus says love everyone and hate no one, always seek to help and serve others. The world says take care of yourself first and foremost. Jesus says don’t build up treasure here, while the world says be materialistic and your worth is determined by your bank account, zip code, and appearance. So how with so much difficulty does anyone make this trek? Simple. They do not walk alone. They walk with Christ and the Holy Spirit leading the way and they walk with the immense family of God.

Lastly, understand that while God has a high standard, he knows we can’t live up to it. In fact, while he wants us to try and avoid sin, he knows we will at times stumble. If we could live a sinless life, why would Christ have come and died? So the reward of Heaven is granted as soon as we come to Christ. After that moment, it’s not about proving how moral we are, how many gold stars we can get, or how righteous we can be. That stuff only leads to false pride or anxiety. No, the journey from then on is about getting to know God better and him working to change us from the fallen and broken creature we are to being like Jesus. So, yes, there are miles to go before we sleep, but the choice remains. Which path will you take?

Do Unto Others

These three words begin what is perhaps on of the most well known statements of Jesus known by countless people around the world, what has become known as the Golden Rule. The full line, for those who may not know is simply, “Do Unto Others what you would have them Do Unto You.” With this simple statement, Jesus calls upon his disciples to move beyond the passive faith of their ancestors to a proactive faith of action and engagement. While there are those that would contend that Jesus statement is nothing but a slight re-working of an ancient principal found in several faiths, which is the negative version of this rule which basically says, “do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.”

On the surface, these two statements may seem to be saying the same thing, but on closer examination, they are clearly not. The second statement is much more “legal” in its construction and application. Basically, all one has to do to follow it is NOT do something. While some people find it difficult not to do something, it is easier in most cases than doing something. For instance, the person following this would say I wouldn’t like a person being mean to me, so I won’t be mean to that person and that’s the end of the requirement. There is no call to be nice, to be kind, to be helpful, just don’t be mean. You can be short yet civil, and still be in perfect compliance. In short, there is no requirement to DO anything, nor to give but so much consideration to the other person beyond that first thought. For a more extreme example, someone deciding not to attack someone is following this rule, even if they never had any desire to attack someone. By the simple act of not acting, they are following it. So it basically requires a simple acceptance to normal civil behavior we expect from everyone, but nothing more.

Now for what Jesus said. Jesus changes this because instead of just instructing people to maintain the basics of civil society, he structs them to go further. Don’t just “not” do something, but actually do something. Don’t think about how you DON’T want to be treated but think about how you DO want to be treated. This moves someone from being passive to being active, and from thinking primarily about themselves and to think about the other person. Using the other example, saying I won’t be mean because I don’t want the person to be mean is pretty straightforward and requires little of me. But for me to say, now I am going to actually do something and be kind requires me to consider what is the kind thing and what is the kind thing for that person. I have to put effort into what I do, what I say and so forth. Not only will I not attack the other person, but I will help them if they are attacked. This is the radical difference and this is faith in action.

Now that I am going to attempt an active faith I have to be well…active. I am called on to do something, to be kind, compassionate, helpful, friendly, gracious, compassionate and so forth. Now the next part gets a bit harder. Not only am I called on to DO these things, I am called to do them regardless of the actions or behaviors of the other person. This fits in perfectly with Jesus’ call for us to love our neighbor as ourselves. I must choose to do the things based on my intention to do it and act and behave that way, not because the other person is really nice, or I like them, or I am hoping to get something, but simply because it’s what I am supposed to do. It is the right thing and just as Jesus was gracious and merciful to me when I didn’t deserve such treatment, so, too, must I be that way toward others… well at least if I want to follow Jesus anyway.

In a time when much of the world is in chaos, let us find ways where we can put this into practice. What are ways we can be caring and compassionate toward others? How can we think of others and make choices that not only benefit ourselves, but others as well? What if we made choices that actually put the other person first and I was willing to sacrifice something I have so another may be better off? These are the very thoughts and actions this commandment should drive us to, and hopefully those thoughts will turn into actions as we submit to the Holy Spirit and grow in faith and closeness with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Lifestyle of Prayer

In Matthew 7 Jesus again speaks on the subject of prayer. Where as before he gave a model prayer, here he tells us not only that we should be praying, but what kind of God it is to whom we are praying. This is actually very important as it impacts what we pray, how we pray, and when we pray. If we thought we were praying only to some vindictive God, we may be too formal in our approach, or if God was as fickle and prone to whims as people are, we may be reluctant to pray at all. But instead, Jesus assures us that God is like a good father who only gives his children good gifts.

What a blessing and reassurance this is to know that when we pray to God, he not only hears us, but responds with what is in our best interest and for our ultimate good. Now we may not see that in the moment, for just like children when they don’t have their way, we are apt to misjudge our Father when he doesn’t give us what we want either. Sadly this passage has to often been misinterpreted to mean that, “If we have enough faith and if we ask God for something, whatever it is, he will grant that request.” This reduces God to little more than a cosmic Santa Claus or Aladdin’s genie and would seem to grant us some level of power and control over God and what He does. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jesus’ injunction upon us to ask, seek, and knock has to do more with persistence than anything. We are to be continually asking, continually seeking, continually knocking. We can maintain this persistence because we know that God not only hears us, but he will respond, and just like a good earthly father, when he does, it will be for our benefit. Now all this about asking, seeking, knocking can seem a bit abstract, so let’s provide a concrete example of what we are talking about. On that night Jesus was arrested, after the “Last Supper,” he went out to the garden to pray. He was seeking the Father because he had something to ask. For the next three hours or so, Jesus poured himself out asking, seeking, and knocking on the doors of heaven (more like pounding) with one request. He did not want to be crucified. He didn’t want to have to deal with the pain, the weight of the sins of the world on his shoulder, and that momentary “separation” from God when the Father would not be able to look upon him because of the sin. This moment was perhaps Jesus at his most human. I encourage you to read the account of this scene and see how it unfolded. In the end, Jesus was essentially told No. After all the asking, seeking, and knocking Jesus request was denied. Why? Because for Jesus the cross, while excruciating beyond belief, was ultimately the best way and really, the only way for God’s will to be done. This Jesus accepted, and aren’t we glad he did.

I know this is an exceedingly difficult time for so many in the world, so I encourage all of you to ask for help and guidance from the Father. Seek his face and seek out his word, spending time in the scriptures and studying that you may learn and grow; and when you find a door seemingly closed to the Father, knock upon it. It may be awhile before you get a response and you may not get the answer you “wanted,” but rest assured that your Father will only give you what is best.

Seeking Jesus

Below is a bit of a longer read than normal, but since most of us are in some level of lock down / isolation, I figure you have the time.

There is no doubt that this past Easter was one of the most unique for most people in their lives. For the first time, millions of people who normally would have gathered at church and homes did not. No egg hunts, large family meals, or special services that pastors and choir directors have been preparing for. What is normally a special time for Christians to gather and celebrate the most important event of their faith was spent by many in some form of isolation. While many of us may mourn the loss of our traditional Easter service and activities, I wonder could it be that such a time as this could help us as we seek to grow closer to Jesus?

Like many pastors, I had to make alternative plans. With weather threatening, a decision was made and thanks to the generosity of a local radio station, my message went out across the airwaves. They offered up a block of time at reduced rates so area churches could do the same. Our church did not meet as we have been for drive-in church. So, with such a turn of events, how can I possibly think this would make it easier to find Jesus, especially in such a dark and confusing time as we now find ourselves?

My message came from John chapter 20 where Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb seeking the body of Christ. In her grief over his death and confusion over the empty tomb, she could not stay away. For the disciples, Friday and Saturday had to be one of the darkest moments of their lives. They were isolated, confused, scared and I’m sure time seemed to stop. Sunday morning brought more confusion and Mary returned seeking answers, seeking Jesus. This is what many of us do, especially in times of crisis. We want answers; we want to understand. We cling to things familiar for a sense of stability. Mary had last saw the broken and bloodied body of Jesus hastily wrapped and placed in a tomb and that is what she longed for. Just once more to see that form, to perform the final rights, to demonstrate her love. In a world where everything had turned upside down, this one thing offered a sense of normalcy and it, too, had been seemingly taken from her. Truly, could her world grow any darker?

This happens to us as well, especially when we seek to cling to what was, but is no more. While she can be excused, Mary’s problem was she was looking in the wrong place. She was looking in the darkness for the light, in the place of death for life. Because of this she missed the light and life of men. Often pain and confusion make our worlds terribly small and blind us to all the wonderful things going on around us and this is what happened to Mary. Unlike Mary, we know that Jesus is not in the tomb and that his body was not taken. No, he is very much alive, and he revealed himself to Mary. Though she went seeking Him, He found her. He does this for us as well. He will not leave us groping in the dark for long, though we must be willing to lift our heads and respond to Him. When he first addressed her, she barely noticed Him. The second time He used her name, something she could not mistake and on a second, deeper, longer look, she saw the face of Jesus, she “found” what she was after.

If we spend all our time looking for Jesus in the darkness and confusion of this time, we will not see Him. If we rely on the old things and old ways, if we are stuck in programs and pageants, if in order to celebrate Easter we have to have all the trimmings and normal decorations, then we have missed a very important lesson. Just like in the classic, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the mean Grinch learned that he could not stop Christmas just because there were no “physical” signs of Christmas. Easter is not stopped because we can’t gather and celebrate together. So perhaps all this gives us time to reflect on what Easter means to us on a personal level? Why do we celebrate it anyway? What does it really mean for me and the world?

It means Hope and Promise and Peace and Comfort. It means we mustn’t be separated from Jesus, ever, for any reason, and it means that nothing, not even physical death can separate us from Him. It means that He is always right there, and He is searching for and seeking us to bring us the same hope and joy that he brought to Mary in the Garden. Easter is the proof that God is on the throne and that He will never leave nor abandon us, and even in what seems like the darkest of times, there is still a beacon of light shining forth that nothing in this Universe can blot out. Can you see it? Can you feel its warmth? Are you looking in the right place or are you groping about in the darkness?  I encourage you to reclaim the true meaning of Easter, that Jesus has defeated death, hell, and the grave and because of that fact, we have nothing to fear. No matter how bleak the situation, if we have placed our faith and trust in Him, then we have already won. So, every story of kindness, generosity, love, grace, and compassion you hear of, that is Jesus at work. Those moments when you get the boost you need, the song that uplifts and inspires, the card, the kind word, all of these are reminders you are not alone. There is nothing wrong with seeking Jesus and we ought to do so, just make sure if you do, you are looking in the right places, and don’t ignore the small or the seemingly insignificant, for there, you may just catch a glimpse of the light.

Yes, even as bad as things are now, God can still work this out for His Good and I believe He is.

But I Say

As the sermon on the mount progresses, Jesus moves from discussing the importance of the Law to what it looks like to be a follower of the Law. He tells his hearers that their righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. This would have been nearly impossible, as these groups strove to follow the myriads of rules and regulations that, in their mind, demonstrated righteousness. So what would this new righteousness look like? Unlike the scribes and Pharisees, whose focus was “orthopraxy”, that is doing the right things, Jesus said a person had to think and feel the right thing. This is a far different standard indeed.

Over the next several verses, Jesus would upend standard after standard as the people of his day knew them. Perhaps the most radical thing that Jesus said is something that we, today, might miss. Following on the heels of each known rule, law, or commandment, Jesus would declare “But I say.” This was revolutionary talk for any teacher. No teacher would dare to speak to the law, or of the law, in their own authority. They would quote and reference other teachers or prophets to buttress their opinions. Jesus does no such thing. Speaking as only one with supreme authority could, he repeatedly bases the change on his own word and nothing more. Since he is referencing the law, Jesus is clearly and boldly stating that he is God and has the power to make such pronouncements because such statements could only come from God. He doesn’t try to explain himself or qualify his statements, he just simply says, while you have heard it say X, I’m telling you Y, and that’s good enough. Right here Jesus is claiming the prerogatives of deity, as only deity could.

This is a reminder that we are not just dealing with a prophet, teacher, or wise man, but the true Son of God and what he says goes. Nothing he says ever takes away from the law he references, but shows us where the bar is a bar that, for humanity, is unattainable. Thankfully for us, what is impossible for man is possible to God, and as a Christian, we walk not by ourselves and in our own power, but with the very spirit and power of God. You haven’t killed someone that’s great, but have you ever insulted and put down someone? Have you ever demeaned and disrespected another person? If so, you are guilty. Have you ever looked at a person and thought only how they could serve you and meet your needs, saw them as an object and not a person? Guilty. Have you ever demanded your rights and let obstinate pride stand in the way or reconciliation? Guilty. Time and time again, we see the standard set by God and know that we have fallen far short.

In such situations, what are we to do? Surely, we can no longer think it acceptable to try to live by our own standard and be judged accordingly. Hopefully people aren’t reading this and thinking they have nothing to fear from standing before God the judge all alone and on their own. Therefore, Jesus had to come to fulfill the law, because we are incapable of it. Therefore, we must stand on His righteousness, because ours is as filthy rags. Speaking of putting away pride and rights, God, in his mercy and grace is the one to take the initiative and work at reconciling man with God. It was man that made the mistake; it was man that broke the law; it was man that has trampled upon the grace and goodness of God; and it is man in his stubborn pride and arrogance, that time and time again turns his back on God. It is God that reconciles; it is God that forgives; it is God that loves, and it is God that bore our sin, shame, guilt, and punishment. No wonder we sing of wondrous love and amazing grace.

So where do you stand – on your law, your rules, your rights? Or, do you stand on Jesus Christ and His righteousness?

Being Useful

Many people wander through life concerned about such things as their purpose and can be quite undone by the uncertainty that this causes. People have spent countless hours and dollars trying to figure out why are they here and what are they supposed to be doing, and I admit that this can be a struggle. Still, there are other people who couldn’t care less and who are perfectly happy just to drift through life as it were, with no purpose, and no real interest in seeking greater purpose. To both of these types Jesus speaks as his sermon on the mount continues as he deals with Salt and Light.

Jesus calls his would-be followers the salt of the earth. Now what does he mean by that? To modern ears that phrase means someone who is humble, meek, and down to earth, certainly not a snob. While I think this is an appropriate meaning, I believe that Jesus referred to more than humility. Salt was, and is, a very important mineral, used for cleaning, preserving, and flavor. As followers of Christ, we are to be about all of this work. We are to help the world around us be cleaner, or purer rather. We are to stand up and speak out against the baser elements of life and not tolerate immorality to reign. As for what is the standard of moral vs. immoral, look to the Bible. Also we preserve to try to reduce the decay and rot of sin by instilling Christ and His teachings in the world. Lastly, we add flavor, not by doing away with fun, life, and joy, but by showing the world that they can have all this in Christ far better than without Him. The Christian life is one of love and joy. We have hope assured and an inheritance beyond belief, so no need for gloom, but smiles of delight. This is the flavor we offer to a bland world. Still, Jesus continues that if we, as salt, are not going to serve our purpose, then we might as well be thrown out. If we become impure and degraded to where we aren’t doing any of these things we stop being good for anything and will be cast aside. Not terribly comforting but it serves as a reminder that we aren’t just to be, but to be about our Master’s work.

He then transitions from salt to light. While this is a tremendous compliment, since Jesus calls himself the light and life of men, it is also a tremendous responsibility. We, who are possessors of the true light, or more realistically the reflectors there of (think the moon vs. the sun), are to be beacons by which humanity can see God more fully. We are to shine brightly wherever we are, in whatever situation we find ourselves. Our faith must never be something we consider with shame or dismissal, but always something we are willing to show and share with the world. Again, we have a purpose and that is to drive out darkness. If we hide that light or do things to purposefully diminish it, then we are not serving our purpose and become useless instead of useful.

So are you being useful? Are you being that salt, helping this world to be cleaner, purer, and more joy-filled, or are you dragging it down and becoming the opposite of what you have been called to be? Are you reflecting the light of God and shining before men, or hiding it so they won’t see or worse still, willfully preventing that light from shining in an increasingly dark world? This is a balanced position to be in and it takes work and effort. None of us are perfect, nor gets it right all the time every time, and sometimes we miss the opportunities God has given us to demonstrate our usefulness. So we return to Him to mine for the treasures He has to give, and to be filled again with the radiance of the true light so we might shine brighter and brighter. As long as we are here and have breath, we can and ought to be useful for the kingdom. This is our purpose and role in life, so that all we do may point others to the Father, that they know the joy and fullness of a life filled with His light.

Fear Not!

In times such as these fear is a very real and palpable emotion. There are many unknowns and uncertainties which breed stress, worry, and fear. Between social media, the news, and what we see around us it can be all to easy to get caught up in the events of the world and let them carry us away to dangerous and unhealthy places. As our emotions carry us along like leaves on the March wind, we must force ourselves to return to what we know. For the Christian times like this should lead us closer to God.

The Bible is constantly reminding us that God alone sits on the throne of the universe. That He is a God of order, not of chaos and confusion. This reminds us that regardless of what people and nations may do God, not man is in charge. It also reminds us that whenever discord reigns, it is not the work of the Lord. We live in a fallen world and Satan does have power to create confusion and sow disorder, but his time is limited. The failings of institutions and their inability to deal with problems reinforces our understanding of the limited power we humans really have on the Earth. It should also drive us back to the Father.

Throughout the Bible God and his messengers are constantly having to tell people to “fear not”. We see this most often in the Christmas story, but it also comes up as Jesus is about to be crucified. He reminds his followers that while he will be leaving, he will not abandon them and he will come again. The darkness of the cross is ultimately overshadowed by the light of the Resurrection. It might be dark now, but the morning is coming and with it will come the brightness of the sun and knowing this we can be filled with hope and peace. This is real peace, not as the world knows it but as God knows it. A peace that is not based on circumstances or the direction of the wind, but in the steadfast knowledge that God sits on the throne and while we may be powerless to change the world, He is not. That everything in this world is only temporary and is only for a season, but He endures forever.

This is the peace, love, and joy that Christ came to provide us by reconciling our fallen-ness with God’s holiness. Because of what Christ did, we can be adopted into the family of God and be entitled to all the rights and privileges thereof. This includes eternal life with God filled with and surrounded by his perfect light and love. Knowing what awaits us and knowing that nothing, no person, no nation, no institution, no virus, no affliction, no power can take that from us or separate us from it allows us to have a level of peace and calm in an ever changing world. This is real peace and real comfort as can only come from God.

This my earnest prayer, that God will abate this disease and we all can come to know His love and comfort and peace and lean on him all the more. That those who have been afflicted will be healed and restored to full health and his comfort will ease the panic and fear filling the world. That people and leaders will hearken unto His wisdom and judgment and His leading and not give way to our own fragile understanding. This I do pray in Christ Holy name, Amen.

Be well, be safe, and rest in the Lord.

Good News!

As chapter 5 of Matthew opens, we find the start of what we know as the “Sermon on the Mount”. This is also the sermon on the plain from Luke. Starting in 5 and going through 7 we have a comprehensive, though certainly not exhaustive view of the teachings of Jesus. Chapter 4 closed with Jesus teaching the good news of the kingdom of heaven and starting in chapter 5 we see what that teaching was. It also helps us to understand why Jesus’ message resonated so much with the people around him as he proclaimed a radically different view of both man and God and the relationship between the two.

It’s worth noting that in his “sermon”, Jesus is not placing some incredibly high bar that no one can reach, nor is he only speaking about the distant future. Instead he is proclaiming what is and what we can aspire towards and the blessings we can live in now as well as look forward to. Yes, later on there are high moral claims that seem unrealistic, but we always have to remember that with God anything is possible. Jesus isn’t pushing people to try and live in moral utopia, rather he is explaining the holiness of God and that for us to approach that, we must go through God and that God himself is providing the way. It eliminates prideful self-righteousness and forces the hearer to adopt the proper posture of humility before God.

The first several verses are the well-known “blessed – are” passages. The people that Jesus describes may not consider themselves blessed as they are spiritual bankrupt, self-aware, distraught over their own fallenness and the worlds, longing for a day when God’s will shall be done, pouring out mercy and trying to help people mend their own brokenness. But all these reasons are precisely why they are blessed, because these are the attitudes of people that Jesus can use. They aren’t too proud to call on God. They know they are lost and must rely on him and not themselves. They look at pain and feel it rather than distant themselves from it and above all that look to God for answers and not to man. For this reason, Jesus promises that they will be comforted and filled and sustained. They shall inherit the earth and possess the kingdom, not because they are super smart, rich, powerful, or proud, but because they are willing to submit themselves to the King and be used for His work and will and not their own and as such they shall be rewarded.

All these people that Jesus described and usually not the movers and shakers in society and most likely to be the ones that no one notices, and everyone forgets. He says to them that not only are they not forgotten but they are held in high regard. It’s a powerful reminder to anyone who feels down and out, like the world doesn’t care, that God knows them, loves them, and cares for them. It also reminds us that we don’t have to let the problems of this world keep us from enjoying life because Jesus has made some pretty staggering promises and we can enjoy that now and not have to wait for some faraway day.

Whatever you are dealing with today, never forget that God is there, not to punish, or be some horrid taskmaster making your life difficult, but to uplift and draw you closer to Him that you may enjoy all the bounties of His love and grace. This is the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven.