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Blessed are… Matthew 5

November 24, 2020

    During this season of thankfulness, we have been focused on giving thanks to our Creator God and recognizing just how blessed we really are. Describe some ways that you would call your life blessed.  As you read Matthew 5: 1-10 you will see the phrase;  “Blessed are the…”  This blessed implies an inner sanctification and sufficiency that does not depend on outward circumstances for happiness. This is what the Lord offers for those who trust Him!

Blessed are…

    In Matthew 5:20, we see the key to the sermon the mount. The main theme is true righteousness. The religious leaders of Jesus’s day had an artificial, external righteousness based on the law. The Pharisees taught that righteousness was an external matter, an obeying of rules and regulations. Righteousness was measured by how much you prayed, gave, fasted, etc. They were all observable by those around them. What do your words or actions demonstrate about what you believe about how righteousness is measured?  Ask your children or a friend about their perception of what you value the most.

Blessed are…

Have you ever tried to open a can of coke that has been dropped or shaken up? Disaster!  All that movement causes the carbonation to put pressure on the can, and when the pressure gets to be too much, the can explodes. In the same way, when we get under pressure, what’s inside comes out, our heart is revealed. When your life is shaken up and the pressure mounts, what comes out?   Do we hate, do we lust, do we explode in ways that dishonor God?

Blessed are…

    As you read through Matthew 5, how would you describe the true righteousness that reflects God in people’s lives?  The righteousness described in the Beatitudes is a true and vital righteousness that begins internally in the heart. What we put into our hearts matters. Filling up our hearts and minds with God’s Word will fortify us for the times when the pressure of our lives builds to the explosion point. What will erupt out of us? Conduct flows out of character. “You are the light of the world…In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16) Shine brightly.

Blessed are…

lkb

If we were to ask Christians today, Why did Jesus come to earth? many would quickly reply, To die on the cross. It’s certainly true that the cross stands tall in the Gospels. But a quick crucifix around the neck, based only on how the story ended, won’t amount to much—as if it would anyway.

A recent book with the subtitle, The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, points out that many fail to grasp the heart of the gospel because they focus primarily on what they can get out of it. The “grab ‘n go” approach leads people to accept the message of the cross, but misleads them to think that’s all there is to it.

The fact is, what Jesus came to do was much more than dying on the cross. And . . . what we’re called to do is much more than bowing at the foot of the cross.

The two passages in the Gospels for today provide a helpful picture of the purposes of the incarnation. Jesus came to solve a plethora of problems. If we think we live in difficult days, we can be glad we weren’t alive in Jesus’ day.

Isaiah’s message to the Israelites of his day helps explain Jesus’ message to the Jews of his day. The Israelites never completely escaped the exile that the Gentile armies carried them off to. Gentile domination was ruthless, resulting in endless injustices. The longing for freedom pulsed through fragile veins.

In circumstances like that, Isaiah’s announcement was energizing. Hearts started beating faster. God’s favor meant that freedom could be realized; justice would be restored. It was the best news anyone had heard in what seemed like eons.

Fast-forwarding to Jesus’ day, the situation was equally depressing. People were stressed and oppressed, especially given the Roman military occupation. There were no limits to what the Roman soldiers would do to men, women, and children. People were imprisoned without fair trial. Injustices were a daily occurrence.

In that context, the words of Isaiah on Jesus’ lips were electrifying:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor,

to proclaim freedom for the prisoners,

to proclaim justice to the nations,
to proclaim the time of the Lord’s favor.”

When Jesus said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled!” it was the dawning of a new day. Hallelujah!

It’s difficult to fully appreciate the good news of the gospel unless we’re also downtrodden, discouraged, in despair. Maybe the present pandemic can give us insight into the cries for hope, freedom, and justice.

Life Application Questions

  • Earlier in our country, many African-American slaves cried out for justice. Their “spirituals” remind us of intense struggles, but also of the hope that in Jesus someday there would be justice. “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen—nobody knows but Jesus.” What can we learn from them?
  • In our day, there are many downtrodden people longing for justice: widows, widowers, orphans; victims of adultery, rape, murder; families without sufficient income—many are crying out for help. How do we share with them the hope that only in Jesus can true justice be found?
  • Do we receive justice only when others treat us fairly, or does it depend in part on what we do? Could walking according to the truths of Scripture be the path to justice? What did Jesus do when he was not treated justly? Can Jesus bring about justice even when people are not treated justly?

~ dbs & jh

According to Paul, the whole Law can be summed up in the command “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Sounds easy enough. 

Wrong.

There is this pesky thing called the flesh which has a nasty way of undermining even our best and most resolute intentions. 

Here’s the sad truth.  The flesh, which Paul in another place calls the “law of sin and death,” is stronger than the Law.  When it’s just the Law and the flesh pitted against each other, the flesh wins out most of the time. Even something as simple as loving your neighbor gets undermined by things like selfishness, jealousy, competition, fear, or laziness.

Here’s the happy news.  There is something stronger than the flesh.  It’s the Spirit of God.  When we repented of our sin and trusted in Jesus Christ for forgiveness, not only were we reconciled to God, but we also received the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God. He grows love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control in our lives. That’s all very helpful for loving your neighbor.

Our desire and impulse to sin didn’t just disappear when the Spirit came into our lives.  What happened was that we gained an ally in our battle against sin who is far stronger than our foe. 

Paul says, “walk by the Spirit,” be “led by the Spirit,” and “keep in step with the Spirit.”  As we grow in our relationship with the indwelling Spirit of God, the desires of the flesh lose their death grip on us.  In fact, quite the opposite happens. We will “crucify” (i.e. put to death) the self-destructive desires of the flesh.  This isn’t accomplished by the power of the Law but by the power of the indwelling presence of God.

The battle over the flesh isn’t won by naval gazing, though.  As they say, the best defense is a good offense.  Keeping in step with the Spirit involves serving one another humbly in love.  The Spirit empowers us to do that.  How can we humbly serve a neighbor today?

Teetering between two extremes, we were a crisis seeking balancing between left and right. The presence of a breeze moved all totter-riding individuals. Righteous anger, flying like incendiary moths around campfire flames, invaded North America. It was election season. Churches and individuals were either “red” or “blue.” Okay, some places and some people were more a mixture resulting in “purple,” assemblies.

Many people were certain, “My neighbor is wrong! “Absolutely wrong.” Some seized the opportunity adding, “Make that doubly wrong!”

Just about that time Jesus shows up in our soul’s memory saying, “Love one another.” A soul’s spiritual life investigation might have been helpful. Lord, have mercy.

The disciples of Jesus may ignore the gently spoken, earth-kingdom-shattering prayer. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23 NIV).

The Apostle of the Church, the one born out of season (1 Corinthians 15:8) internalizes, then proclaims Jesus tectonically seismic prayer with this interpretation: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law…whatever other commands there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10 NIV).

Life Applications

  1. During the recent election season in North America did you experience Christ’s people embracing the prayer of Jesus?
  2. Do you find yourself talking with, or describing those having different political, environmental or spiritual views in Jesus-like words?
  3. Do you find yourself diminishing the spiritual faithfulness of others, when you seek to explain your own political views?

~ajs

November 17, 2020

    What is your foundation built on? In Mark 12, we meet a teacher of the law who is listening to the Jewish leaders trying to debate with Jesus and they are trying to catch Jesus in his words. With all the political debates swirling around us, it is not hard to imagine what was happening between these Jewish leaders and Jesus. The question posed by this teacher is: “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”(Mark 12:28)

    How would the foundations of your life be revealed by your answer to the teacher of the law’s question?

Abraham chose to place what he valued as the foundation of his spiritual journey.

“The Wise man built his house upon the rock.”

Abram chose to obey God and leave Ur for a land and place that God would lead him to.

Abram chose to live where God directed him. “So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the Lord.” (Genesis 13:18)

“The Wise man built his house upon the rock.”

Abram rescues his nephew Lot with God’s help and refuses the spoils of war because Abram wanted God to get the credit for Abram’s prospering.  Abram trusted God even in the creation of his offspring. “Look up at the sky and count the stars…so shall your offspring be. Abram believed the Lord and credited to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:5-6)

“The Wise man built his house upon the rock,

And the rains came tumbling down.”

In Genesis 22, we read that the long promised son, Isaac, has been born and now God has asked what seems very counterintuitive to the promise. “Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and…sacrifice him there as a burnt offering…” (Genesis 22:2).

The choice here seems unconscionable. Will Abraham be wise or foolish? What will his choices reveal about the foundation that he has built? What do your choices reveal about the foundations that you have built? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) Abraham obeyed and trusted God even in the midst of a difficult test.

“The rains came down and the floods came up

And the house on the rock stood firm.”

Lot, on the other hand, chose to build his foundation on God plus other things. What other things do people choose to add to their foundations today? Jesus plus _______?

Lot, when given the choice of where to live, chose to live as close to the sinful people of Sodom as he could.

“The foolish man built his house upon the sand.”

“Lot lived among the cities of the Plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.” (Genesis 13:12-13) As Lot continued to go his own way, he pursued his own wealth and ignored the sins that were slowly engulfing him. It is easy to rattle off the two greatest commandments that Jesus quotes to the Jewish leader, but it is much harder to live them in the daily journey that we are all on.

“The foolish man built his house upon the sand.”

Lot has now settled inside Sodom. He has continued to create a foundation built on his own success. When God decides to obliterate Sodom, Lot barely escapes the wickedness of Sodom with his life. “So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.” (Genesis 19:29)

“The rains came tumbling down.”

Escaping with his life did not change the direction of Lot’s life. He still did not want to listen to God’s message to leave Sodom completely behind. He chose to live as close as possible to the decimated city of wickedness and finally at the end of Genesis 19, we find him living in fear in the mountains. The foundational choices that Lot made with his life have left him with little to show for all his efforts. He has not chosen to love the Lord his God and consequently has nothing left with which to love his neighbor. The foundations of our lives direct our abilities to demonstrate love to others.

“The rains came down and the floods came up

And the house on the sand went smash.”

How does your foundation impact how you demonstrate God’s love to others?

“…Love your neighbor as yourself…” (Mark 12:31)

lkb

Verse for the week: For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself (Galatians 5:14).

An expert in religious law tried to trip up Jesus by asking him, “Which is the most important commandment in the Law of Moses?” Jesus replied that we must love God supremely, and he added an equally important command: We are to love others the same way we love ourselves. Then, he summarizes his answer with an astonishing statement, “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two!”

Consider how these statements relate to the Old Testament law and its regulations.

Thomas S. Monson is credited with saying, “The Ten Commandments are just that—commandments. They are not suggestions.” No one can claim to have kept them all; they set a standard that cannot be reached by any one of us whose sinful nature will fail in one point or another throughout our lifetime. Add to those commandments all the regulations and ceremonies of the law and we’re left with very little hope of pleasing the God whose standard is righteous perfection.

We believers have all struggled with God’s demands and our shortcomings. How have you handled those struggles?

Imagine for a moment that we could love God supremely and our neighbor as ourselves. What would the world be like?  Our lives would be consumed with learning to know God intimately and worshiping him exclusively. Only then would we be able to live out the second command to love others unselfishly. If we lived by God’s standards, there would be no need for calls for justice and equity.

How do you picture what it would be like to live in a world of righteousness and justice?

Obviously, we’re not living in such a world today. When we live by the additional standard that Jesus proposed, it will be evident by our active seeking of justice for those who have been wronged. We see this in Kosciusko County through the many non-profits (194!) that provide for families who need every kind of assistance imaginable. And we see it in our church family, helping children placed in foster care through Room At The Table, just to mention one of a multitude of ways we show the love of Christ and fulfill the law of love we’ve been given.

How can you show God’s love and help to seek justice in your world today?

In keeping with Jesus’ statement, Paul reminds the Galatians, For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14). It’s an abbreviated, succinct summary that provides a really helpful and practical law of life for the Christian. No longer do we need to make life decisions based on hard-to-understand and difficult-to-keep regulations. Instead we can depend on the Holy Spirit to enable us to love God supremely and demonstrate God’s love and care for those he brings into my world.

jbd & gmd 11/16/20

The prophet Micah asks a question relevant for all of us: What does God require

There are many statements throughout the Old Testament of what God expected. Here are a few of God’s requirements:

  • To Adam and Eve God said: “From any tree in the garden you may eat freely, but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.” (Genesis 2:16-17)
  • To Abraham and his descendants God said, “Walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you.” (Gen 17:2)
  • Through the prophet Micah God said: Here’s what the Lord requires of you: To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Mic 6:8)

Unfortunately, there was a recurring pattern of God’s people not complying with the divine requirements. So he executed judgment. Here are some of God’s responses:

  • Regarding Adam and Eve: God banished them from the Garden and cursed all humanity with physical and spiritual death. (Gen 3:14-24)
  • Regarding the descendants of Abraham: God said, “I will forsake my inheritance and give them into the hands of their enemies. They have done evil in my eyes and have aroused my anger from the day their ancestors came out of Egypt until this very day.” (2 Kings 21:14-15)
  • Regarding the people in Micah’s day: God said, Because of what you have done, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill, a mound overgrown with thickets. (Mic 3:12)

Now, hold the phone! some people say. That’s the Old Testament, but the God of the New Testament is less demanding and less judgmental.

Maybe, maybe not. Note some of Jesus’ requirements:

  • Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matt 5:48)
  • Be merciful as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)
  • To the degree I have loved you, you should love one another.” (John 13:34)

Unfortunately, people who followed Jesus around often failed to meet his expectations, so, like his Father, he announced judgment. Now brace yourself for Jesus’ responses!

  • If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matt 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke17:2)
  • Whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or the age to come. (Matt 12:32; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10)
  • I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt 8:11-12)

Life Application Questions

  • What does the Old Testament emphasize about God, which is a good reminder for us? Are we inclined to downplay what God requires and how he responds to sin? Should we fear him?
  • Might Christians be guilty of soft-pedaling Christianity? No requirements? A gift with no strings attached? No penalties? Your sins are forgiven before you commit them, so no worries?
  • Neil Postman wrote in his bestseller, Amusing Ourselves to Death, “I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.” What do you think? Is he right?     ~ dbs & jh

Jesus instructs disciples searching for spiritual insight: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Directing followers during his lifetime, followers in the first generation and in succeeding centuries know these words are true.  Disciples are people who having looked at God notice the difference between themselves and God. I am aware and confronted by my spiritual poverty. God is grandeur. I am dust. This is spiritual perspective. Man is not the measure of all things. God is the establishing authority. Before Jesus taught these truths one of God’s faithful prophets spoke with similar words.

Jeremiah speaks: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:23-24). Though I may accumulate much in the way of the goods of this world, they are soon consumed by a Santa Anna wind, burning in an afternoon of wild-fire. Even my empty spiritual wallet is consumed.  Jesus, speaking through the old prophet thus cautions his disciples: be most careful about boasting.

Spiritual poverty is revealed in my inability to live the holy life which God desires of me. Like Adam and yes, like Eve each of us fall prey to spiritual poverty revealing our impoverished souls.

Spiritual poverty means I am in debt beyond my ability to buy my way out. My dollars, my bund, my pound, yuan, yen or whatever denomination of currency you employ none are spendable in God’s Kingdom. While Jeremiah did not know the freedom of life in Christ (Romans 8:1) he issues a call for righteous living.  There is a covenant style-of-life to be followed by God’s people.

Jeremiah describes it as he writes that which he hears from Heaven’s court: “Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed…” (Jeremiah 21:12a). Spiritual poverty does not mean we cannot act. Indeed, spiritual poverty means we are aware we have a responsibility to act with God as the Sovereign.

Life Application         

  1. If you are not a member of government what actions are available to you to follow the instruction found in Jeremiah 21:12?
  2. What are the implications of failing to follow God’s instructions (Jeremiah 21:12b)?

~ajs

I often try to remind myself that it is God’s character that defines my circumstances and that my circumstances never define His character. When I’m face to face with something that seems far from fair and feels totally uncalled for I remember who He is. I remember that He is good and that He is just. I know whatever comes to me in this life has already passed through His goodness before it ever gets to me. So whatever I’m facing, His goodness has allowed it. I know that God does nothing without a purpose so I know that He has a plan it. Next, I remember that what I’m walking through will one day also come face to face with the justice of God. The hurt, the hardship, and the deep seemingly unbearable pain will pass through His justice.

I share this with you because I think it can be easy to fall into the rhythm of seeing what looks like evil winning out. I cannot count the times I have wept over something that felt like God took a step back and let evil win. Have you ever been there? I have had so many conversations with friends who have found themselves in that position this year in particular with everything going on in our world and our country. However, we serve a God who never ceases. When we are tired He is not. When it feels like He has put justice on the back burner passages like Psalm 82 remind us He indeed has not.

He rebukes injustice. This is the peace I hold to when my circumstances don’t make sense. It isn’t my job to make sense of them or to try to understand why God does what God does when He does it. However, it is my job to trust Him in the midst of it. Even when we cannot see it He is moving and orchestrating things far beyond what we could imagine. Every knee will bow, every tongue will confess, every injustice will answer to the God of true justice. Nothing gets past Him. We may not see it this side of Heaven, but justice will be served.

November 10, 2020

    Our souls long for justice. But justice, for me, may come at a price for you. How do you reconcile life’s injustices? G.K Chesterton stated, “For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.” God will always be just in all His ways despite the appearances of injustice that surround us. “Follow justice and justice alone so that you may live and possess the land the Lord you God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:20) When you act, do you act justly or are your own interests being served in some capacity? Can any human being completely act justly?

    “To some, the image of a pale body glimmering on a dark night whispers of defeat. What good is a God who does not control his Son’s suffering? But another sound can be heard: the shout of God crying out to human beings, ‘I LOVE YOU’.  Love was compressed in all history in that lonely figure on the cross, who said that he could call down an angelic rescue mission, but chose not to – because of us. At Calvary, God accepted his own unbreakable terms of justice.” (Philip Yancey) Is it any wonder that our sense of justice is perverted with our own agendas?

How would we have responded, if our child was suffering? How would we, in our human hearts, have tried to balance the scales of justice on our behalf and the behalf of those we love and retreated from the pain? I want justice, as long as it brings me contentment and peace and painless existence. But “that justice” does not reflect God’s justice.

    Justice was redeemed at the cross. How does Calvary’s justice speak to your ideas about justice and fairness? In Deuteronomy 24:14-22, God reminds the Israelites of why they should be purveyors of justice and generosity. “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.” (Deuteronomy 24:18) We were once slaves to sin. We were bound by the shackles of our own rebellion. God has freed us and because we are no longer slaves, we can point others to redeemed justice as we are known for our just treatment of others and our generosity to those in need.

lkb