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.

Knowing God

I need to preface this by saying this is a slight divergence from my normal post. This comes from a study in the book of Ephesians and drawing from William Barclay’s commentary on that Book. A couple of points I have found in that commentary I believe are very profound and necessary, especially in today’s climate and culture. Furthermore, I believe that the comments made by Mr. Barclay are in keeping with scriptural truths, which as will become clear in this post, are absolutely essential.

In the first chapter of Ephesians Paul prays that the readers may grow in the knowledge of God. This is an incredibly important concept for the Christian and a remarkable divergence from most religions of the world. In most faiths it is almost impossible that the followers could know their God let alone be in an intimate relationship with Him. Amazingly this is precisely what Christianity claims is the desire of God. That we would know him as fully as we can and be in constant relationship with Him. In so doing we will grow into what God has desired for us, and that is to be conformed, not to this world but to the image of Christ.

To this end, it is imperative that we learn, know, and pay attention to what God says. This should be our driving question on decisions about lifestyles, about right and wrong, about good and evil, what does God say? What matters is not what I or you think, feel, or believe. It’s not what some other person, be they a parent, professor, preacher, or theologian says, thinks, or believes, but in short what does God say.

I do believe that God speaks to us in all manner of ways, but his most complete revelation to us is in the person of Jesus Christ. So our first stop on learning what God says should be to look at what Christ has both said and done as recorded for us in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In paying attention here, we very much get a idea on the character and nature of God. Following this, we expand out to the rest of scripture which is also God breathed / inspired. Since as we are told that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, there will be no new light, revelation, or communication from God that will contradict what has already been told us in scripture. If you think you have gotten some message from on high that does this, then, I am sorry, you are mistaken. This is not just my opinion, which as noted isn’t nearly as important as what scripture says, but what scripture says. God doesn’t change and if anyone tries to teach you something different from what the Bible says, they are wrong, or as Paul says, let them be anathema (cursed).

I know in this modern or rather post modern world we live in, the idea of absolute truth is not in vogue, but it still exist whether I like it or not. You can disagree with what the Bible teaches, but that doesn’t change it being correct. Denial of the truth doesn’t make it any less true. We have been given an enormous privilege in that we have the ability to know and commune with God and be in relationship with Him. This requires work and effort on our part, but really, isn’t it worth it to be able to get close to the God of the Universes? Don’t just take my word for it. Go read and study and learn for yourself. Fill yourself from the words of the prophets, the apostles, and even Christ himself. Paul’s prayer, is my prayer, that we all would be filled by the spirit of wisdom and we all would know the fullness of God whom has done so much for all of us.

Living the Life

The end of Matthew 4 tells us of Jesus’ call to four of his disciples and about his activity in Galilee. In this passage we see four fishermen leave their known lives and livelihood to commit to Jesus. It’s worth noting that this event occurs after Jesus being rejected in Nazareth and after he has already encountered some of these people before. It most likely occurred in conjunction with the events of Luke 5. Jesus’ call, for a Rabbi, was not unusual. It was quite the norm for a Rabbi to draw around him a circle of young men that he could teach and train and that they would follow him and spend time with him learning as they went.  So far, everything is kind of normal. Now what isn’t normal is the type of people that Jesus is calling.

First, we will dispel with the myth that these people were poor. They weren’t wealthy but they weren’t peasants either. From the collection of the gospels, we can see that Peter and Andrew, James and John, along with their father, Zebedee, worked together in what was essentially a small fishing business. They had helpers and other workers, so James and John leaving would not put a strain on their father. Still, the blue-collar laboring sort who is more accustomed to the sea and the sun is not who you would expect to find around a Rabbi. So why did Jesus call these men?

First, they were in touch with the real world. They dealt with people and life, as believers it’s important that we don’t isolate ourselves from the world. Second, they knew hard work and diligence. The type of fishing they did was hard, grueling work that often went unrewarded. The life they would have as disciples would require devotion, dedication, and perseverance. The life of a Christian was never meant to be easy and the thought of difficulty should not turn us away. Third, they were ordinary. Peter was brash and bold. James and John were hotheaded, still they were vital to the work of the kingdom. Jesus never looks at anyone and says they don’t have the skills I need. Everywhere he looks, he sees someone who is a perfect fit for the kingdom. The Church should be the home of every person – every type of person and personality. It is in this way that God weaves a beautiful tapestry utilizing all the multicolored strands of humanity into a beautiful image of love.

With these new disciples so committed to him, what would they learn from their new master? In the synagogue, Jesus would teach the gospel of the kingdom and heal all manner of diseases and ailments to people far and wide. So, what is the message? God loves you and wants you to be part of your life. God is not distant and unfeeling, but loving, compassionate, and generous. He wants you to be a part of his family and he willing to give totally of himself to achieve that goal.

The work of the Christian is that we, like those early followers are to be fishing for men. How do we do that? By doing what Jesus did. We tell people about the good news, that God loves them and wants them to be a part of his family. God loves them just as they are and where they are, but he isn’t going to leave them there. Instead, he will turn them into images of Christ so they can share in all the blessings and fullness of heaven. But we don’t stop there. No, we continue, for it’s not enough just to tell people this; we must show them. How? By living it out. Be loving and caring and compassionate. Smile and be gracious. Be gentle and helpful. Be generous genuine. Remember Jesus sees everyone and says they have a place in the kingdom, so should we. In this way we become fishers of men (humanity) and show and share the love that has been outpoured by Christ on us. We point others back to him, so that they, too, can receive the fullness of the love of Heaven.

Happy Fishing!

Make a U-Turn

Following his time in the wilderness, Jesus begins his public ministry in Galilee. Matthew tells us rather briefly in Chapter 4, that following the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus went to Galilee and started preaching. His message: repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. This is essentially the same message that John had been proclaiming. The main difference is that John was trying to prepare people for what was to come. Jesus is what was to come, so even though it’s the same message, it is much more poignant and powerful due its source.

It is suffice to say, repentance is an integral part of what it means to be a Christian. It is required in fact, and sadly it is also somewhat misunderstood. The easiest way I can describe it is, it is the act of recognizing you are headed in the wrong direction, stopping, turning around, and heading in the right direction. It is in fact making a U-turn with both your thoughts and actions. Whether we like it or not, we all must recognize that we are fallen creatures. We have sin-filled lives and do things that are outside of God’s will for our lives. With every step, we move further from God and his kingdom. The sooner we recognize that we are headed in the wrong direction, the better. This is in fact step one. The second step is almost as difficult. It’s stopping. We come up with all sorts of reasons why we can’t stop. “This is who I am”. True, but it’s not who you were meant to be. “I just can’t help it.” Maybe not, but Jesus can. “I don’t have time,” “I need to wait until the time is right,” “There isn’t any hope for me, I’m too far gone,” “It’s too hard,” or possibly worst of all, “It doesn’t really matter what I do”. All of these are lies fed us by the enemy to keep us heading down the wrong path even if we know we are going in the wrong direction.

Once we become aware that we aren’t where we need to be, we must stop. Thirdly, we must turn around and head in the right direction. Again, there is no point in waiting for the perfect spot, time, or occasion for turning around. We need to do it as soon as possible. The sooner, the better. No excuses, no stammering, no self-esteem building justification. Simply stop, turn around, and start moving again. This isn’t easy, but thankfully we don’t do it alone. Once we start moving in the right direction, Jesus will walk with us every step of the way. Through all the rough patches, pot holes, hills, valleys, everywhere. The process doesn’t end there; We have to keep evaluating and assessing. Am I still going in the right direction? Have I taken the exit I shouldn’t have? Have I allowed the world to distract me and veered off the road? If so, just get back on and continue on. Remember, the true assessment isn’t how well I’ve stayed on the path; it’s that I have focused on Christ and continued to pursue Him no matter what.

So where are you in life today? Are you headed where God wants you to go? Are you actively pursuing him? If not, stop, turn around, and head towards him. He is right there waiting for you, to walk with you. Remember the kingdom of heaven is near. The Holy Spirit awaits to go with you, and you will never have to walk alone.

Passing the Test

Continuing where we left off, we will look at the next two tests / temptations that Satan faced Jesus with in the wilderness. It’s also worth noting that Matthew and Luke reverse these in order. This is more about audience than accuracy. They both record the same facts, just one places the scene at the temple before the scene with the Kingdoms. Matthew was emphasizing the Kingship and Lordship of Jesus by going from smaller (the bread) to largest (the whole world) where as Luke seems to be pointing more towards the relationship between Jesus and more Jewish claims. Since we are focusing on Matthew 4, we will stick with his order of events. In addition we must remember that this whole scene had to be related by Jesus to his disciples. Matthew was an eye witness whereas Luke got his information second hand at a later time. Both tell the same story in a slightly different way, which is what one expects when dealing with such information.

The scene at the temple is what a Jewish person was expecting of their messiah. He would appear on top of the temple and descend. By doing this Jesus would stun the crowd and leave no doubt about who he was. So why didn’t he do it? Simple, his kingdom was not about flash and show. He wasn’t going to pull some big stunt just to draw a crowd. The what? The people would want even bigger and flashier demonstrations of power. God parted the Red sea and the Israelite’s didn’t believe or have faith, so why would a man jumping off the temple safely be any different? Later, Jesus would raise people from the dead and yet they wouldn’t believe. No, if people were going to follow Jesus, it would be because they loved him, not because he entertained or wowed them. It’s a reminder that the life of a Christian is not always flashy or impressive, and sometimes can be down-right tedious. Following the rules isn’t very sexy or glamorous, but it is important. The emphasis is doing things because they need done, not so one gets attention. How much would actually get done in this world if no one cared who got the credit?

The final scene takes us up to a mountain and before the kingdoms of the world. Jesus can have it all, obtain his goal of the world following him, if he will only bend a little, just one knee, and he can have it all. Again this is what the Jewish people expected. A messiah that would dominate the world. So why not? Again, simple. The world means little if you aren’t aligned with the creator. Satan only has power because he has been allowed it. Man’s decision to ignore God led to a curse that still reverberates today and gives Satan a chance. People can follow him if they choose, but beware the consequences. Jesus knows that if he breaks from God, all is lost. Sure, having a level of power may be fun and think of what he could do if he was in charge and everyone had to listen to him, but it’s simply not worth it. Jesus’ kingdom was not one where might makes right, but where love conquers. It’s not as easy or as fast, but it’s more lasting. Is it easier to do something for someone you love or simply because you have to? Not a difficult question. It also would have meant compromise. Compromise in itself is not bad or wrong, but there are some things on which we just cannot compromise. God is one of them. If you walk away from him, you really have nothing left. You may gain the world, but you will lose your soul. One is temporary and fleeting, the other is eternal. Which one is worth more? How much would you sell it for?

Jesus was able to endure these because he is intimately in tune with the Father and remained focused on God and what God wanted. Not what was easy, not allowing the ends to justify the means, but simply doing what God said and allowing that to govern every step, every choice. Many would say, “But yeah, he’s Jesus, what chance do I have?” If you are a child of the king, a very similar one. You, too, have been baptized by the spirit and so filled. You, too, have a direct line to the Father. You, too, are never far from Jesus. It’s not easy; it wasn’t for him, and yes, because of the fallen world, and our inherent brokenness, we are going to get it wrong. But as we are reminded, there is nothing we are tempted in that is not common to man and God will always provide a means of escape. For us, the question is do we have the faith to trust God and not ourselves?