Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Properly Measured

At some point, most everyone prepares (or at least helps to prepare) a meal. Perhaps this preparation is grabbing a bag of chips from the cabinets or perhaps it is as a chef in a five-star restaurant. But except in the rarest of occasions, everyone has done this. But when I say prepare a meal, most of us consider cooking something. Perhaps it is grilling some steaks or roasting a turkey, browning some beef for tacos, cooking a casserole of some kind, or baking a favorite dessert. Anyone hungry yet?

But some people cook and some know how to cook. For instance, some people get the recipe and follow it perfectly, making doubly sure everything is just right because they read it about five times – and that is before starting to cook! But others may cook many types of food filled with various ingredients without any printed recipe at all. Just add a dash of this, try a bit of that, and eventually, the item is done and ready to eat.

But the key to cooking – with a recipe or not – is to know which ingredients to use and how much of each is appropriate. I am often amazed when I look at certain recipes to think how someone came up with the right combination and cooking time. How many times did they fail before getting it right? Or to paraphrase Ben Franklin, “I didn’t fail, I just found 100 ways not to make it.”

Why do I talk about cooking and measuring ingredients? The goal is not to make you hungry, but rather to consider how we think about judging others. Do we just respond in the moment – usually irrationally and therefore in a hostile manner, or do we take time to measure our response? Contrary to what many believe, the Bible says that we are to judge, but like any good cook, we better beware of what measure we use when judging other people.

Properly Measured Judgment Requires Humility (Matt. 7.1-2)

Let me begin this portion with a very pointed question: Whom have you judged this week? The judgment could have been in any number of ways. Perhaps gossip was involved. Perhaps you thought of someone in a manner that degraded them in some way – especially not knowing the full situation. Perhaps, you are thinking it now or will by the end of this blog post with the thought: “Boy, I wish so-and-so would read this post.” Perhaps you are reading it because God needs you to heed this message!

I know I have had some of these thoughts this week. I can think of one man in a nearby town whom I judged for his not stopping at a sign on Thursday. It wasn’t that I judged his action as wrong, it was that I thought of him as a jerk for doing it.

And that example is how we must understand the first two verses of Matthew 7. The Greek word for judge is “krino” which has two primary meanings. It can mean to analyze or evaluate. It can also mean to judge and condemn. As we will see today, Christians are supposed to evaluate the actions of others and we are supposed to help others correct those actions, when necessary. However, we are not to condemn the person committing those actions. The right to condemn is God’s alone.

The reason we judge is because we put ourselves in authority over another person. Now, I am not saying that some do not have authority in many situations. I am saying that in judging we either feel superior to another person or we judge another person so we can feel superior.

Thus, we must be humble. Humility is important because we are not superior to other humans. Everyone is created in the image of God, just like us. God is superior; we are equals, at least before God. And that is why Jesus says we must not judge in the condemning way. Instead, Jesus invites us to help others by evaluating their needs as we will see in the next section.

Properly Measured Judgment Avoids Hypocrisy (vv. 3-5)

The metaphor Jesus uses in these verses is hilarious. If a cartoonist were to draw this, it might get quite the laugh. But the meaning of the statement is anything, but funny. Imagine if you went into an eye surgeon for a procedure and his/her vision was impaired because of a beam protruding from the eye. The word Jesus uses for the “log” (or “plank” in some translations) is like a support beam for a house. Consider the last point, wouldn’t we want this eye specialist to have the humility to get an eye exam before doing a procedure on someone else?

That is what Jesus is saying here. We often criticize others when our shortcomings far exceed theirs. This fact is especially true when considering the shortcoming of others against us compared to our shortcomings against God. Again, the idea of humility is present. And if we are not humble, then we are hypocrites.

We are hypocrites because of our sin.
Let me be blunt by considering Jesus words in this context. Do you worry? Then, you have a log in your eye because the preceding verses are Jesus commands not to worry. So, if you are worrying, regardless of what other sins you have or have not committed, you have no room to judge others until you remove the worry from your life!

We are hypocrites because of our bias.
Do we judge everyone the same? Very few people might, but for most, the answer is “of course not.” For instance, If a relative steals $100 from you would you seek the same justice as if the $100 had been stolen by a stranger while you were walking in a store? Would your answer be the same if you had $500 in assets vs. $5 million in assets. If the answer is no, then this is a form of hypocrisy. As humans we are not perfectly consistent in our dealings with others, and thus we are hypocrites.

So, a proper measurement of judging prevents us from being hypocritical. But the key to understanding these verses is found in verse 5. This verse is critical to our understanding this short passage. Again, many will quote verse 1 and say we are not to judge. But notice what Jesus says. We are FIRST to fix our own problem, and THEN we are to help the other person. That is, once the log is out of our eye, we have an obligation to help get the speck out of the other person’s eye. But that is the key. Our purpose must be to help, not to tear someone down. As Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4, we are not to let any unwholesome speech come from our lips, but instead we should speak what is profitable for building up others.

Properly Measured Judgment Maintains Clarity (v. 6)

Verse 6 is one of the strangest teachings of Jesus. The idea behind the verse is difficult enough, but its placement in the text makes a perfect understanding of this principle nearly impossible. Now, many will give their opinion on what Jesus means, and I will share my belief on this verse in a minute, but the number of reasonable explanations are considerable. For instance, I read five different commentaries that I trust this week, and they each had a different take on this verse. Do the dogs and pigs represent actual animals? What is the holy that should not be given to dogs? So, why do I use the word clarity if the verse is unclear?

Well, the idea behind Jesus’ words here is obviously about being discerning. That is, we must determine good from bad. We must take time to understand the situation before us and be good stewards accordingly. Although I certainly acknowledge the possibility that the dogs are literal dogs and the pigs are literal pigs, I believe it is more likely that these are metaphors for people who will not receive the type of correction Jesus commends in the preceding verses. If His teaching here is rejected, then it is likely that the entire Gospel will be rejected (if the holy refers to the Gospel, this is indeed a likely interpretation). Some will not only reject this teaching, but will turn in anger on the person trying to help and persecute them maliciously (i.e. the pig attacking).

This interpretation does not mean we do not share the Gospel with others. To not share is to judge another as not worthy of hearing it which is adamantly opposed to this section on not condemning others as well as standing in contradiction to the Great Commission. However, if the message is rejected, we must use discernment and remove ourselves from the situation (like when the disciples were instructed to kick the dust off of their feet). It does not mean that the person might not be saved at a later time, but if we keep badgering them when they are not ready, they may turn themselves away from God forever.

Again, many different ways to interpret this verse have been suggested, but in the context, I believe it must relate to providing correction to those in need. However, that correction should only be offered after we have made ourselves right with God first.

How would having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord affect this teaching?

The opposite of condemnation is forgiveness, which is what we must seek. Do you remember the words Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6.12, 14-15? We are to ask God to forgive us as we also forgive others. To condemn others is to ask for God to condemn us. Jesus says this explicitly several times in this sermon (including Matthew 7.2), but how quickly we forget.

I got blunt a few minutes ago by asking if you worried. Well, let me expand that bluntness here. Consider how large or small your log might be compared with Jesus teaching beginning in Matthew 5.21. Do you struggle with:

  • anger against other people? (5.21-26)
  • lusting after other people? (5.27-30)
  • breaking the covenant of marriage? (5.31-32)
  • lying or making promises you do not keep? (5.33-38)
  • seeking to retaliate when wronged? (5.38-42)
  • loving others who are against you? (5.43-48)
  • bringing attention to yourself with your giving to others? (6.1-4)
  • bringing attention to yourself in your prayers or prayer requests? (6.5-8)
  • praying by simply reciting words rather than considering their meaning? (6.7, 9-13)
  • not remembering the holiness of God’s name and character? (6.9)
  • seeking your will over Gods? (6.10)
  • being selfish in praying the Lord’s blessings rather than praying for the community? (6.11)
  • not forgiving others? (6.12, 14-15)
  • putting yourself in situations you know would displease God? (6.13)
  • making more of your sacrifices than is truly warranted? (6.16-18)
  • focusing on earthly matters instead of heavenly ones? (6.10, 19-24)
  • worrying about life’s relatively minor aspects rather than seeking God’s kingdom first? (6.25-34)

If any of these are true, then in humility you need to seek the mercy of God? And that is the point Jesus makes here. No one, except Himself, could truthfully claim not to be at fault with at least one item in that list. And if you are like me, it is not just one item. I am guilty of many. So, in humility, to avoid hypocrisy, and to see with clarity, I must come before God and confess my sins before I have the right to pull the speck out of another person’s eye. I am to be critical of myself before I am critical toward others. But make no mistake, per Matthew 7.5 (and other passages like Galatians 6.1-2) we are to help one another with their problems too.


At the beginning of this message, I mentioned cooking and the way different cooks might handle various ingredients. In the Next Steps portion (below) I will give you are recipe for properly measuring your judging. It is a recipe I gave you before – back in the summer of 2014 during a series on what it means to be the church. I have re-evaluated the recipe against my present understanding of this Scripture and others and find no reason to change it.

The key for us to remember is that Matthew 7.1 – “Judge not, that you be not judged” – is not a verse in isolation. Neither is the full passage we reviewed today. These verses immediately follow Christ’s command to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. While the promise of “these things” being added relates to the text preceding the command, we cannot doubt that Matthew 7.2 and the measure of judgment we use relates to how well we are truly seeking God and His righteousness, not our own self-righteous desires. We must seek to be right with God before we seek to correct others. All of this is included in my recipe, but before I give you the recipe, let me reveal our JOURNEY letter today.

So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter for today is:  RREVERE.

Condemning others is God’s right alone, we must remember our place and revere Him. We are to love others, which does mean we must correct them at times, but it also requires us to forgive them and show them mercy just as we seek to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Based upon today’s message, how can we raise the bar and live on earth as it is in heaven?


To judge with a proper measure depends upon our ability to love. Therefore, as Jesus later commanded, we must love. But in continuing to love, we must confront sin and injustice. In the summer of 2014, I gave you the following recipe for judging others based upon this text.

1. Have I come before God to make sure my vision is clear?

2. If I confront another person, am I seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness or my own?

3. Do I believe this person is a Christian?
   a. Yes. Ask God how to approach the situation.
   b. No. Ask God for His grace to be revealed in you so you are not seen as merely judgmental.

4. What does the Word of God say about the matter?

Following these guidelines does not guarantee that a confrontation of sinful behavior will go well, but it does mean you will be responding from a perspective of helping instead of one that is condemning.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Seek First

Last week’s message was on the verses immediately preceding the climactic verse of Jesus’ sermon. The climax of Jesus’ sermon is found in Matthew 6.33 where He implores His audience to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness with the promise that the other matters he has mentioned (food and clothing) will be given by God because He is our caring Father.

Three times in this last part of Matthew 6 we find the words “do not be anxious” (vv. 25, 31, 34) which means Jesus thinks this is serious business. A principle of interpreting the Bible is if we find something repeated it is probably important, and if it is repeated within a few verses, we truly need to take note.

So, I got to thinking about the idea of being anxious. If we are commanded not to be anxious, then it must not be natural. That is, we must learn how to become anxious. So, when does that start? Of course, our parents, relatives, and friends teach us about anxiety when we watch them fret over paying the bills, working out schedules, etc. This is real anxiety, and specifically the kind Jesus mentioned in His sermon. But another kind of anxiety is more short-term, but very real. When we watch movies and television shows, we become anxious as the suspense is built towards some sort of resolution. And that thought got me to thinking about movies many children watch. Specifically, I began to think about Disney movies and the fact that in the midst of the movies, kids learn not be anxious, even as the suspense builds throughout the movie. For instance, in the Jungle Book, Baloo sings that we should forget about our worry and strife as we get life’s bare necessities. And, we can’t forget everyone’s favorite meerkat and wart hog, Timon and Pumbaa, and the motto they adopted of “Hakuna Matata.” And, of course, we might even adapt the thoughts of the song most young girls sang just a few years ago – “Let it Go.”

But the point is that Jesus commands us not to be anxious because we have learned to be anxious. Ultimately, His command is for us to remember where our allegiance really lies and where our true security is found. When we seek the treasures of this world, we will inevitably find ourselves anxious at some point, and we will be sorely disappointed in the end. But, when we seek God, first and foremost, then we will find ourselves less concerned about matters of the world, and more concerned about what He wants for His creation.

So, let us take a few moments to review the words of Jesus and explore what it means to seek God first.

Seeking God First Means to Seek Differently

Matthew 6.33 is a verse that is quoted often. It is one that I mention regularly, but if truth be told I misquote it all the time. Perhaps you do too. This is what I say, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Now, you might be thinking that is what the verse says. Well, it is what the verse means, but it is not what it says. The verse begins with the word “but.”

Jesus is contrasting what has been said just before. In verse 31, Jesus says many are anxious about what they will eat, drink, or wear. Then He says that even the Gentiles go about expressing similar concerns, but the children of God do not need to worry over such matters – the Father already knows what you need.

One objection you might offer is that many Christians live and/or die in extreme poverty. I certainly have the same thoughts, but that is not the fault of the Father; rather, it is the fault of His children. It is the fault of His children who do not share!

Just as an earthly father might provide certain items for his sons and daughters to share, so too does our heavenly Father. Again, we acknowledge our need to share when we pray, “give us today OUR daily bread.” When I have enough, I am to share with those who are less fortunate. And, as Luke 12.48 reminds us, to whom much is given, much is required. So, our argument that God does not provide is not sound. The fault lies with His children who do not adequately share. And that gets to the heart of what Jesus is saying here.

Jesus is painting a contrast to what we often desire to what we should desire. When we seek earthly goods (even food and clothing), we often do so at the expense of what God wants for us and from us. “But” Jesus says, to seek God and His kingdom first is to think differently. It is to consider God’s desires over our own. It is to seek God, and His rule in our lives, over food, over clothing, and even over what we might drink. All of these items are real needs; we must have food and drink to live. But in seeking these items first, we may miss God. When we seek God first, we will get these items and more. It is as I have asked many times, “Do you want God’s blessings, or do you want God?” One is idolatry; the other is worship.

Seeking God and His Kingdom first is about recognizing who He is. Seeking other items first is to choose another master (verse 24). Seeking God first is contrary to what most people do, and that is why Jesus says, “but” in regard to seeking God’s Kingdom and His righteousness first...because to do so represents a completely different way of thinking.

Seeking God First Means to Seek Primarily

Our seeking is to put God and His righteousness first. Here, the word first does not mean sequentially, as in seek God first, then other stuff second. It means seek God above all else. Seek Him first. Put Him first. Keep Him first. And when we do all of these other things will be added to us.

Furthermore, seeking God will satisfy us. At least, seeking His righteousness will. Remember, the promise of the fourth beatitude is that hungering and thirsting for righteousness will satisfy us. That is, hungering and thirsting for God’s righteousness will satisfy us. The problem is we often seek a righteousness that is not from God. Perhaps it is our own righteous thinking or perhaps it is like that of someone else.

Again, Matthew 6.33 is the climax of this sermon, but the theme of righteousness has been prevalent throughout Jesus’ sermon. In Matthew 5.20, Jesus explicitly warns His audience not to get caught up in how righteous the scribes and Pharisees appear to be. Then Jesus proceeds to show what true righteousness is – it is evidenced by more than our actions; true righteousness affects our thoughts as well. It will also affect our giving, our prayer, and our fasting. And now, to conclude this section, being truly righteous will affect what we pursue – God or stuff.

The problem is that for many people, self-righteousness is the primary desire. We compare ourselves to others by what we do and don’t have, what we do and don’t do, what we think and don’t think, etc. But these comparisons only make us self-righteous. And, we all have self-righteous tendencies. In fact, the following quote epitomizes the thought. “We are all naturally self-righteous. It is the family disease of all the children of Adam.” – J.C. Ryle 

Self-righteousness comes in all kinds of forms. Whenever we think we are morally better than someone else, we are being self-righteous. Whenever we think that our sacrifices are better than someone else, we are being self-righteous. The truth is that the only righteousness that is worthy anything is the righteousness that comes from God – a righteousness that is only available to us because of the blood of Christ. It is that righteousness that has cleansed us from our sin not so that we are better than others, but so we can share with others that God desires to make them righteous too.

And when we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, this is exactly the attitude and approach we will take – that we are making our concerns the same concerns of God – a love of people instead of a lust for things.

Seeking God First Means to Seek Daily

Jesus concluding thoughts on this portion of His sermon are to remind His hearers to focus on today. Just as He taught the disciples in the prayer, He emphasizes the needs of the day over the considerations of the future. “Give us today our daily bread” forces us to focus on God’s provision for today rather than wondering about how we will manage next week, next month, or next year. As I mentioned last week, this does not mean that we cannot plan ahead; however, it does force us to rely upon God even as we consider the future. That is, we can plan for tomorrow, but we do not need to worry about it.

The problem is that too many people waste their lives worrying about tomorrow. In verse 27, Jesus said that worrying about various matters cannot add a single hour to our lives. In fact, we know that worry leads to stress and stress actually is harmful to our lives and takes months and years from us.

So, Jesus says that we should manage ourselves today and not worry about tomorrow. When we take this approach, we will never need to worry, because it is always today. Yesterday was, tomorrow may be, but today is. What I mean is that you never arrive at tomorrow. You only live when it is today. So, consider and plan for tomorrow, but don’t worry about it. Remember and reflect on yesterday, but don’t fret about it. Live today. And live for today. It is the only day you have available.

How would having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord affect this teaching?

As I said last week, and a few times in various conversations this week, it is much easier to say or type that we should seek God, His kingdom, and His righteousness first than it is do it. Trust me when I say that I am still in the process of learning this and adapting the principle to my life as well. But Jesus words are clear and we must not ignore them. So, how does this truly apply to us?

Well, first, we must seek God first when things are going well. We must seek God first when we have plenty of food, when we like the clothing we have, when our friends are treating us well, etc. We cannot begin to place our trust in our comforts for they offer no real security. For, as Jesus said, moth and rust may soon destroy or thieves may break in and steal. Or a rumor could harm a relationship, etc. Thus, when things are going well, we must still seek God first and as we do we should praise Him for the time of peace in our lives.

Second, seeking God must be our first response when our lives hit a rough patch. We must turn to God when we don’t have enough money to make it to the end of the month, when we don’t have enough food to last the day, let alone the week. We must seek God when our relationships are suffering, when the car won’t start, or whatever problem life throws our way. And problems will come. As Jesus said, each day has enough trouble of its own.

But God! But God is still on the throne and that is why we seek His Kingdom. But God still cares for His children and that is why we seek His righteousness. But God still desires to share Himself with you and that is why we can trust Him even when most everything around us seems to be falling apart.

So, whether life is going well or during times of struggle, we must consider what we will seek? Where will we seek to find comfort? Will it be in stuff, or in God?


As I mentioned at the beginning of the message, at some point we learn to worry. We learn what it means to be anxious. Thus, it is not natural, and therefore, it can be unlearned. To reverse our learning on much of life can be quite difficult, and reversing our tendencies towards worry and being anxious is especially difficult. But if Jesus said, “Do not be anxious” (and He did, three different times in the last ten verses of Matthew 6), then it is possible otherwise Jesus would be condemning us to break His command.

So, whether you adopt the motto of “Hakuna Matata” or simply seek the “bare necessities” do so only after having begun to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” When you begin to seek His Kingdom differently, primarily, and daily, the rest of life’s worries will begin to fade into the background.

So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter for today is: RREVERE.

Again the basic question is, will we seek what God can give us, or will we seek God? Jesus commands us to seek God. It is what He did and therefore as His followers, what we should do as well. In doing so, we show God how important He is to us and that we desire to worship Him.

Based upon today’s message, how can we raise the bar and live on earth as it is in heaven?


Seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness is not about stopping and waiting. It is about living with purpose – God’s purpose. You may have heard the phrase: “He’s so heavenly minded, he is of no earthly good.” Well, Matthew 6.33 suggests that if we want to be of earthly good, we must begin by being heavenly-minded. So seek God’s rule and righteousness and then live your live accordingly.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

As It Is In Heaven: True Security

In 2017, it was estimated that nearly $185 billion would be spent on advertising. (1)  This number counts direct mail, television, digital, radio, billboards, etc. $185 billion. The ads covered many of society’s wants like restaurants, movies, travel, and luxury cars. Other ads focused on our needs such as food, clothing, and medical supplies. Still other ads qualify as public service announcements which are designed to benefit society. $185 billion. That is 185 with nine zeros behind it. For perspective, that is more than 60% of the 2017 US-based revenues of Wal-Mart (2),  and is slightly more than the total revenue for Amazon last year.(3)  I have always wondered how much cheaper certain items would be if advertising was not involved. Of course, if we did not have advertisements, we may not know what we need to make our life complete. And isn’t that a part of the goal of advertising? Certainly, some companies and/or ads are clever and entertaining, but ultimately the goal is to sell you something. Really, it is about making you feel like you are missing out on something better than you already have or to remind you that you need more of what you have or need it again.

Truly, advertisers play to our insecurities in life. To use a key word from the passage we will cover this week, advertising causes us to be anxious or to worry. Why? Because advertising is about our future and humans worry about the future. When we see an ad, we must choose whether or not the product or service advertised meets our immediate or long-term needs or wants. If it might, then we must begin to consider how to make the perceived need a reality. Depending upon the item(s), such thought can often cause anxiety and even stress because we must make other choices (like with our budget or time) to satisfy a “need” that we might not have known existed prior to seeing the ad.

Depending on how our choices are made, more stress and more anxiety ensues. Consider the following related to home ownership. At some point, you saw an advertisement for a home. If you choose to buy a home, more more decisions are necessary like how to furnish the home. Over time, perhaps your thoughts changed on some matters, so based upon an advertisement you decided to repaint part of the house. Maybe an advertisement caused you to consider adding on to the house or building a shed (because it was on sale). Of course, you needed a lawnmower and yard/garden equipment for the outside, and new appliances on the inside. But thanks to advertisements, you knew just what items were on sale and where. But if you didn’t buy the home, you wouldn’t have cared about any of that. And if you didn’t have the home you wouldn’t have needed insurance to cover any losses that might occur. OK, I know this example is a bit extreme, and nothing is wrong with owning a home, but the point is that one decision (one choice) leads to so many others over time.

Last week’s message centered on three types of choices – the treasures we seek, the eyes with which we seek them, and the master we serve. This week’s message is really a sequel to that message because if we choose the way Jesus said we should, then our anxiety will fade away.

Before I get to Jesus’ words, I want to suggest that most people truly worry about three matters of this life more than any other – health, relationships, and money. Of course, money has multiple aspects such as food, shelter, and clothing, but ultimately all of that relates to the mammon Jesus mentioned in verse 24, and is the specific focus of His words we will review today. The problem with our society is that too many people put too much emphasis on these items. It is not enough to have shelter, we want a certain type and size of shelter. It is not enough to want clothing, we want a certain brand. Etc. And because of this, we worry, or as the ESV says, we become anxious. But when we remember who our provider truly is and from where providence (provide-ence) comes, then we need not worry. Why? Because we have placed our trust in the One who provides true security for all aspects of our lives.

Don’t Be Anxious About What You Eat Because Your Life Is More Than Basic Necessities
(Matthew 6.25)

Jesus begins by sharing that our life is more than what is seen. We tend to worry about what we will eat and drink because that reflects on our appearance, but for many it reflects their wealth as well. For instance, our friend Linus says that Kenyans believe those that are large are rich and those that are skinny are poor. The rich can afford the food they eat, the poor can’t afford food so they don’t eat.

But Jesus says that the basic necessities of life like food and water are not all that there is. Remember, just a few paragraphs prior, He has talked about fasting. Most fasting relates to food, but a few examples in the Bible exists where no food or water was taken during the fast. Jesus is expressing that for all of the concern that people place upon their physical health and diet, a spiritual aspect needs to be nourished as well.

Just consider the popularity of fitness centers in America. In 2015, some 55 million people were members of some type of fitness center.(4)  This number is fairly close to the number of people in churches and synagogues each week (if considering about 300 million Americans).(5)  Thus many people are very conscious of taking care of their bodies, but forget that their soul needs constant nourishment as well. To be concerned with basic necessities for the body without caring for the effects on one’s soul is to miss a big aspect of life’s true purpose.

Don’t Be Anxious About What You Have Because Your Life Is Worth More Than the Rest of Creation (vv. 26-30)

Jesus continues this thinking by showing that God cares for all parts of His Creation, but especially for humans – those made in His own image. God makes sure the birds are fed despite the fact they make no long-term provisions for themselves. God makes the flowers in the fields beautiful though they themselves do nothing to adorn themselves.

In both of these metaphors, Jesus uses a Jewish teaching principle called “how much more.” The essence is to share an idea and then to ask or show that something else is more valuable. In this case, humans are far more valuable to God having been made in His image, yet He cares for the smallest of birds and the most isolated of flowers. Knowing how much God cares for us shoul remove our unwarranted concerns over the most every matter – large or small.

Now, this passage does not say two important factors that some may claim. First, it does not say we should not work. It does say that the flowers do not toil, but birds do. Many birds work very hard and have little to show for it at the end of the day, but God cares for them. But we can also consider that birds do have instincts about the future because they fly south before the bad weather comes, so they do “plan” but they rely upon God.

Second, this passage does not suggest that those who follow God will have picture-perfect lives. Consider the grass mentioned in verse 30. One day it is alive and has no cares and the next it is gone – having been burned up. As humans, and even (especially) as Christians, we will go through trials and we will experience pain, but that does not mean we should worry about what is to come. Rather we know that our Father cares for us and will see us through if we keep our focus on Him.

Don’t Be Anxious About Being Cared For Because Your Faith Should Set You Apart From Others (vv. 31-32)

It is that focus on God that separates us from the world. Notice that in verse 30, Jesus chastises His hearers for not having sufficient faith. Just before the climax of this sermon about seeking God and His righteousness (which we will see next week), Jesus mentions that the Gentiles (those unbelieving, uncouth individuals), ask the same kinds of questions and seek after the same items – food, drink, clothing, shelter, etc. The Gentiles worry (i.e. are anxious) for such items, but God’s children are to trust the provision of their heavenly Father. In fact, verses 31 and 32 echo the prayers mentioned in verses 7 and 8. God already knows what we need, so while we are to ask, and we can ask repetitively if needed (consider the parable of the persistent widow, Luke 18.1-8), we need not worry if God heard our prayer and/or if He cares. He did and He does. But how He answers will be up to Him.

In fact, the reason our faith should separate us from others is because we know God can provide. Someone who does not believe in God must make life happen for themselves or hope that luck is on their side. But for the child of God, we must know that our Father loves us, knows us, and wants to provide for us as He sees fit, not necessarily as we desire. And thus, as we focus on God, we find our true treasures, and our true security. Why? Because we are seeking heavenly treasures, not the things of the world.

How would having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord affect this teaching?

Is the glory of the Lord real in your life? I believe the more we understand His glory, the more we will trust in Him for all of life’s needs. Worry will not get us the good life. Indeed, it will keep us from it. You have heard me say many times that those in Kenya have less in their homes than we do in our silverware drawer. You have now heard similar testimony from Mike, Roger, and Rick. In fact, one pastor asked Rick if his wife had more than one dress. He was also asked how many rooms his house had. Rick’s answer caught the pastor off guard – upstairs or downstairs.

As we move towards the conclusion of this message, let me provide you with a couple of pictures to consider. We must remember that these verses today do not stand alone in the Bible. In fact, they are very near the prayer Jesus taught His disciples to pray – a prayer that asked for sustenance, a prayer that asked for forgiveness, and a prayer that asked for deliverance. Only one-third of those requests relate to the material world around us, yet make up the vast majority of our worry.

See, the reality is that the more we have, the more we worry. Don’t get me wrong, the Kenyans and others in this world worry, but the worries are different. I believe their worries are more in line with what those in Jesus’ audience were thinking that day. Where will my next meal be? Will I have enough water? Etc. For us, it is, What will I wear today? What can I make to eat? Etc.

My goal is not necessarily to make you feel guilty, but to make each of us think. For those who have been given much, we must be about giving back. I am thankful our church does that in so many ways throughout the year with our various offerings. But we must not forget. And we must consider that when we worry about not having enough or having the right thing, most of us have far more than most people throughout the world. So, do not be anxious. Focus on God.

The medical word has labeled anxiety as a disorder for many types of disorders which relate to being fearful, worry, or the similar. I have said many times that just as people take medication for other internal organs such as the heart, belief does not negate the need for medications for the brain. Certain medical conditions exist where the brain must be medicated and it is not a matter of belief that will cure it. But, and this is important, and I had not put this into the same context before. Just as God gave a series of “Do not” commands on the mountain to Moses, Jesus (as the Son of God) gives a “Do not” command to His followers. Does that mean that “Do not be anxious” should be considered in the same light as “Do not lie” or “Do not steal” or “Do not commit adultery.” I think so because ultimately it is saying “Do not have any gods before me” which is the choice Jesus places before His listeners with their choice of masters between God and money (v. 24).

Much of our worry comes from a misplaced trust. While advertisers may entice us, it is our choice on what, on in whom, we place our trust. When we place our trust in earthly treasures, then we will worry when life doesn’t go our way. But when we place our trust in God, we know that whatever happens to us on earth will – good or bad – pales in comparison to the treasures we will have in eternity.

The truth is that we can only find true Security in the Father who loves us beyond the Son who overcame death...and in the Spirit who guides us into all truth. When we seek our security in God and keep our focus upon Him, we will have no reason to be anxious.

So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter for today is: RREVERE

When we truly revere God, then the world passes from our minds. Many have experienced this for a moment, maybe an hour, but Jesus wants it to be for a lifetime.

Based upon today’s message, how can we raise the bar and live on earth as it is in heaven?

As we consider worry, I have used a word repeatedly today. That word is concern. Worry is simply concern that has gone out of control. But concern has two elements, where worry only has one. See we can’t worry about what has happened in the past, we can only be concerned about it. We can be concerned about the future (which includes learning the outcome of something that may have already happened), but this often becomes worry. Worry is worthless because we can’t change the past, and 90% of our worries about the future never happen.

So, learn what concerns you have. Take inventory on what concerns you from the past. You cannot change it, but you can learn from it. Then take inventory on what worries you about the future. Why do these matters concern you? What, if anything, can be done? If something can be done, DO IT, and stop worrying. If something cannot be done, what use is there in worrying? After you have identified these areas of concern, begin to purge them from your life by acting upon your concerns rather than waiting with worry for them to happen to you.


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

As It Is In Heaven: False Security

Sunday was Resurrection Sunday. It is the day we remember that Jesus overcame death and rose from the grave. It is a day when millions around the world gather together to celebrate the reason for our faith. Of course, Jesus death on the cross purchased our salvation, but without the resurrection, what proof would we have that Jesus was any different than others who had made mighty claims and then died? See, of all the religions and beliefs in the world, everyone else worships someone who died and remained dead. Confucius – dead. Muhammad – dead. Etc. Etc. Etc. Jesus did die, but is now alive.

But the question for us on this week is what difference does it make? It is one thing to say you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and quite another to live your life in a way that shows your actions match your belief. Please understand that I have not figured this out yet either. At times I can do well. At other times I fail, sometimes miserably. But the truth is that Jesus gave an entire sermon on what a life would be if a person was devoted to thinking AND living with a complete focus on God and His kingdom which are made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

That sermon is found in the gospel written by Matthew, specifically chapters five through seven. (Luke recorded a similar, if not the same, sermon, but our focus is on Matthew.) We have been studying the words of Jesus over the past three months and we have passed the mid-point now. In fact, we are very near the climax of His message – seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness – a message we will see in two more weeks. But for today, I want to share how Jesus’ words found in our reference labeled Matthew 6.19-24 should be considered in light of His resurrection – the single fact that should bring true security to our lives.

Although the resurrection of Jesus should make us feel secure, most people (including Christians) seek security elsewhere. Sometimes seeking other types of security is intentional, but other times it sneaks up on us. But the reality is that we all have choices to make – and those choices reveal where, in what, or in whom (or Whom) we seek and find our security.

Life Is a Choice Between Two Types of Treasures (Matthew 6.19-21)

In Matthew 6.19, Jesus makes a transition in the sermon. The content follows nicely after the first part of Matthew 6, but verse 19, truly opens the door for the rest of this chapter. Read Matthew 6.19-21. Notice the contrast between verse 19 and 20, and the directness of verse 21.

When I was young I had a hobby of collecting baseball cards. I did so for many years and including football and basketball cards, I had tens of thousands. I was once privileged to be able to select five cards of my choice from a man who died and was able to get a few cards from my favorite era of baseball – the 1940s and 50s. I selected a Mickey Mantle, a Willlie Mays, a Ted Williams, etc. The collection was a gold mine, but I was true to their request to only take five – although it was tough!

Later while in college, the rage became to collecting cards of basketball players still in college as they prepared for the NBA. The big card one year was Shaquille O’Neal. One particular card was worth thousands of dollars and I just knew it was going to be mine, so I was willing to spend hundreds of dollars to find it. Keep in mind that I was in college at the time, so I really couldn’t afford to be doing this, but I was sure it was my destiny to have this card.

When I think of my collection of ballcards – a collection of cardboard with pictures and words on them, I think of this passage. I was collecting something tangible, something I enjoyed, but something that could easily be destroyed. My card collection was very much the earthly type of treasure that Jesus mentions in these verses because they could easily be destroyed or stolen. Jesus mentions moths which could just easily be any type of bug or even rodent that is destructive. Rust is corrosive and would have been prominent after the seasons of rain. And, of course, thieves will take anything of value to sell to sustain their livelihood.

Conversely, Jesus says what we should seek cannot be destroyed my pests or stolen by man. These heavenly treasures would include:
  • developing our character to be more Christlike (2 Peter 1.5-8; Romans 8.29).
  • increasing our faith, finding true hope, learning to love – all of which will remain eternally (1 Corinthians. 13.13).
  • seeking first (hungering and thirsting for) God’s righteousness (Matthew 5.6; 6.33).
  • being active in our faith so others will know Jesus and spend eternity with Him (by prayer – Matthew 6.9-13) and witnessing (Acts 1.8)

Claiming these types of treasures will reap truly eternal treasures as promised by Jesus in Matthew 5.46; 6.4; 6.6; 6.18, and in the Beatitudes. Why? Because, as Jesus said, seeking these types of treasures reveal that our hearts on focused on God, not on earthly matters (v. 21).

Life Is a Choice Between Two Types of Eyes (vv. 22-23)

To understand Jesus point here, we need to understand a little about how the eye was understood in the first century. It is important to note that Jesus knew the truth about the eye, but used an example that incorporated a cultural understanding as well. “Sight was understood to function by means of a flow of light from the eyes out to the object in view; the light from the eyes was thought to merge with the light coming from the object (with illumination by, e.g., the sun) and then to flow or bounce back to the eye and to penetrate through the eye into the person, where sight was registered. As the lamp is an image for the eye, so the eye in turn is an image for the human capacity to absorb from what is available externally.” (1)  Thus, to have a good eye meant to not only see the light, but also to have light emanating from within you to the outside world. Conversely, an evil eye was a dark eye allowing no light in or out (i.e. blindness). Of course, blind people adapt to their surroundings remarkably well, but the adaptations they make does not mean they see light.

We must also realize that Scripture links the eye and the heart. The Old Testament links the heart and eye in places such as Psalm 119. In Psalm 119.10 and the psalmist writes of the heart seeking God and not wandering from His commandments, while verse 15 states this as fixing the eyes on God’s ways. In the New Testament, Paul would later write that the Ephesians have had the eyes of their hearts enlightened (Ephesians 1.18).

Thus, Jesus is saying that what our eyes seek (what they desire to see) is a reflection of our heart. Do we seek after the things of God (those treasures which cannot be stolen and do not decay) or do we seek to fill our eyes (i.e. our lives) with treasures which will ultimately leave us empty? Like my ballcards. I experienced joy for a while in having them, but ultimately, they caused me concern such as moving them onto shelves to help prevent possible water damage.

Life Is a Choice Between Two Types of Masters (v. 24)

Jesus’ thoughts about an eye being good and bad is a perfect transition between the treasures we seek (before) and the master we serve (after). If the eye is good, then it is healthy and fully devoted to the cause. Similarly, a slave that is good is fully devoted to the master. The problem with this statement is how our view of slavery has evolved. Many atrocities were committed (are still being committed) under the idea of slavery. Slavery has always been a huge money-making business. (In fact, that is why slavery became so prominent a few centuries ago – the more powerful tribes in Western Africa would capture people from rival tribes and sell them for good money to Europeans and later Americans.)

But slavery in biblical times was not all bad. Some of those in very respectable professions (such as accountants) were slaves. And many slaves, though certainly not all, had very good relationships with their masters and a lot of freedom because of that relationship. So, Jesus is not condoning slavery as we have come to think of it (nor should we condone it). He is merely speaking to the truth of the day.

It is important to note that Jesus does not say two masters cannot own a single slave. In fact, a great deal of evidence exists that some slaves did have multiple owners (e.g. Acts 16.16 mentions a slave girl with multiple owners.) What Jesus says is that a slave cannot be fully devoted to either owner if more than one exists. Just as a slave-owner will be more partial to some slaves (think Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings), so some slaves will be more partial to a certain owner. That is the point that Jesus is making. No one can be fully (that’s the key word) faithful, fully devoted, fully purposed to more than one anything. And God is not looking for split affection. We understand that a parent has to learn to love their children equally – that is split affection. But God desires our full devotion. The idea Jesus presents here is that we will either be devoted to that which is created (mammon – money and possessions) or to the Creator. Mammon does not care if you are devoted to it for it will be here today and gone tomorrow without any emotion on its part. Again, consider my ballcards. They did not care if I taped them to paper to construct lineups for outdoor games with my friends, or if you put them in the spokes of your bicycle (I never actually did that), or if they were mutilated in other ways. But God does care, and desires to relate to us personally and to connect with us intimately.

But like the choice of treasures and eyes, the choice of which master we will serve is left to us. But that decision is critical, because ultimately...

Life Is a Choice Between Two Distinct Destinies

Throughout His entire sermon, Jesus is obviously talking to those who are with Him – that is, those who have gathered around Him, and are willing to listen to what He says. We do not know how many may have been with Him that day, but we can assume that it is those who have been following Him for some period of time (see Matthew 4.25 and 5.1). The focus of His entire message is to have a mindset focused on the Kingdom – a mindset defined by righteousness (righteous living).

Although many may disregard the link between being “saved” and how one should live, the Bible is clear about the link. Of course, what we do (or what we don’t do) cannot and will not save us, but once we are “saved” – or to use a more loaded term, born again – our life should better reflect our decision to follow Jesus. After all, to what, or whom, are we born again? And if we are a Christian, then we claim to follow Jesus, and if that is the case, are we going to follow or not?

The passage today may not be a traditional passage to preach on the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. But, if Jesus is Lord, and He is whether anyone accepts that or not, then we need to heed His words. The part of His sermon we have reviewed today speaks to our understanding of where our security truly lies. Do we value the stuff we accumulate or do we value the one who gives us life because He defeated death? Are we seeking treasure on earth or are we seeking the true treasure of our faith who resides in heaven?

Several years ago, one of my greatest treasures was my ballcards. But what did the thousands or dollars and hours spent with them get me? At one point in our lives we were facing a real financial crisis, I remember taking thousands of cards to a dealer and sold box after box for $200 bucks. Why? So we could have food to eat as a family. That food was more important to me than a bunch of small cardboard pieces sitting in boxes in my house. See, for a period of time, I was seeking a type of security – financial security – in my cards. I thought over time they would appreciate in value and I would be rich. Just like I thought I would be the one who got that particular care of Shaq. But Shaq is not the Savior. And when the market for cards imploded, all my boxes were worth very little, but they were worth a couple of weeks of food. Ultimately, I could no longer find security in them. I had to find it where I knew it existed all along – in Jesus. (Interestingly, since we talked about fasting last week, it was during a fast that God commanded me to sell the cards.)

Most have us have sought security in someone or something other than Jesus. But any type of security we choose apart from Him can only provide a false security. True Security can only be found in the One who overcame death – in the One who was resurrected.

So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter for today is: JJESUS

Every day, we must remember that Jesus is our true security. Jesus is the only Way. But, on this Sunday, we must pay particular attention to the reason for our faith. It is not what we can collect. It is not what we can earn. It is not even what God has given us – apart from the gift of eternal life which was purchased by the blood of Christ on the cross, and secured when He rose from the dead early one Sunday morning. Because of that, He deserves our full devotion. And when we give it, we will truly accumulate treasures in heaven that will last for all eternity.

Based upon today’s message, how can we raise the bar and live on earth as it is in heaven?

I believe we can answer this question with another question. Would you rather receive $10,000,000 with no strings attached or would you rather see God’s glory fill the earth? Because we are in church, you may know what you should choose, but God knows your heart, and you likely know where it lies on this issue as well.


Truly, you may need to back up to LEARN and take inventory of your life to see if (how) your heart is divided. But the goal for us this day is to truly LOVE the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength and then to love our neighbor as well. For living a life of love in this manner will reveal that your true devotion is with Jesus.

(1)  Nolland, J. (2005). The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary on the Greek text (pp. 300–301). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.