Wednesday, July 8, 2015

From the inside Out

Read Matthew 6.

Jesus continued instructing His followers how to live for God and with each other.  In this chapter, He taught on the subjects of giving, praying, fasting, and investing.  While it may seem to be a broad range of topics, there is a common thread to them.  What is done in private God will make known publicly.  That statement will either spring up hope within us or a dread of exposure.

The emphasis here is not maintaining religious rituals but guarding our motives for participating.  This is not an escape from practicing these spiritual disciplines.  However, we must do them for the right reasons.  If our spiritual activities are for the purposes egoism, to be seen by others and appreciated by them, then there will be no spiritual benefit.  Indeed, such will only be a pretense of religiosity.

What God is looking for are hearts that are so grateful for His goodness that they cannot wait to give and invest in His work.  What God is looking for are hearts that so recognize their utter dependence upon Him that they seek to be alone with Him in prayer and fasting.  It is in the privacy of one's heart that the Holy Spirit sees our true motives and meets our deepest needs.  Our outward activities are to be the responses of gratitude.

Our Heavenly Father is eager to reward in His way and in His time those who faithfully obey Him.  This does not preclude people knowing or seeing some of the things we may do for God.  Rather, it is a self-judgment of why are we doing these things.

At the root is the question is one of priorities.  If we honor God, he will honor us.  If we do not, we cannot expect Him to bless us.  But we tend to worry about when and how the blessing of God may come, if at all.  That is why, I believe, the closing message in this chapter addresses that issue.  It begins with the belief that God knows our needs and that He will be faithful to us.

"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (v.33)  Maturity in the Christian life is work done from the inside-out.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

3 underlying questions for red letter People

Read Matthew 5.

With the exception of four verses, every word in Matthew chapters five through seven are quotations from Jesus in what has become known as the Sermon on the Mount.  He covered a wide and diverse range of subjects that pertain to nearly every area of our spiritual, personal, and relational lives.  For this reason, several well-known phrases have emerged.

1. "Just live by the Sermon on the Mount."
This statement comes from those who are asking how a person should live to please God.  In other words, if we behave and treat others as prescribed in these three chapters, then God will surely see our good works and accept us into His heaven.

The question is, "How does a person get to go to heaven?"
It is not by our good works.  It is only as one places their personal trust in Jesus for forgiveness of their sin.  Jesus said (also in red letters), "I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."  Good works is the proof of our genuine faith, not how one becomes a follower of Jesus.

2. "I only trust the red letters of the Bible."
A German by the name of Louis Klopsch (1852-1910), wondered if publishing a Bible with the words of Jesus printed in red ink was a good idea because there were no quotation markings in the King James Version.  In 1901, with the encouragement of T. De Witt Talmage, he did just that.  Over time, some have erroneously taken those red letters to be of more importance than the black ones.  That was never the intent of the Holy Spirit, the writers of the Scriptures, and the publishers.

The question is, "What is the Bible?"
Jesus said in 5:18, "For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished."  That reference is to all the Law and the Prophets; in other words, the entire Old Testament.  His mention of every single detail demonstrates Jesus' belief in the inerrancy of all Scripture.

3. "Jesus never said anything about that."
This statement has become a mantra of sorts by those who do not know the Bible very well in order to justify some sinful behavior or false doctrine.  In an effort to be politically correct in an ever-challenging and changing culture, the attempt is to ignore the parts of the Bible that are undesirable.  Mainline denominations and their leaders continue to relax their beliefs and their standards so they may be popularly acceptable by the rebellious.

The question is, "How are we to evaluate current issues and events?"
The Holy Spirit guided the Apostle Paul to pen, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."  Instead of changing one's behavior to align with God's word, culture will always want to change the teaching to rationalize their conflicting behaviors.

But for those who are committed to the words of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount, a warning is included.  "Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven..."  (v.19a).

Monday, July 6, 2015

Overcoming personal Temptation

Read Matthew 4.

In preparation for the launch of His earthly ministry and the selection of the twelve apostles, Jesus invested time in solitude, with prayer and fasting.  It was in this time of human weakness, having gone over a month without food, that Satan made a series of personal attacks.

Three of those temptations are listed here.  Each illustrates the mind and character of Christ.  Each of them encourages us in our times of similar temptation.  Naturally, we are selfish, self-protecting, and self-serving.

1. Overcoming Selfishness. (vv.1-4)
It surely was not selfish on Jesus' part to be hungry.  And, yes, He could have provided food for Himself at any time.  It was an intentional choice to deny His body this basic need for an extended time of spiritual concentration.  The response of Jesus was that feeding the soul with God's word was more important than feeding one's stomach.  This led Chinese evangelist Leland Wang in 1921 to coin the term "No Bible, No Breakfast."  It is easier for us to starve our soul than our stomach.  For a daily habit and health, we need to fed ourselves with both.

2. Overcoming Self-protection. (vv.5-7)
The cross proved that the human body of Jesus could be harmed, bleed, and die.  So, the threat was potentially a real one.  And, like at the crucifixion, Jesus could have summoned myriads of angels to deliver Him.  But, on that occasion He did not.  It was a time for self-sacrifice for the sin of the world.  Here, when Satan tempted Jesus to display His power it was for the purpose of self-protection.  It was a dare.  This was not the time, not the method, and certainly not the reason for Jesus to die.  Nor would Jesus allow Satan to manipulate Him for entertainment purposes.

Believers who live within the will and plan of God for their lives may be assured that they are protected until that exact moment the LORD has completed their purpose for being here on earth.  Concerning the ministry of angels, the writer of Hebrews put it this way, "Are they not ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?" (Hebrews 1:14).  Guardian angels, we call them.  But, woe to those who chose to live in disobedience.  Their protection may be removed and life cut short.  One of several New Testament examples is found in 1 Corinthians 11:29-30.

3. Overcoming Self-serving. (vv.8-11)
There are multiple incongruities in this one.  First and foremost, Jesus created all things and is already the Owner.  Satan has been given temporary ability to be the "ruler of this world" (John 12:31).  There is coming a day when he will be cast out and King Jesus will rule and reign on earth.  Second, for Jesus to assume control of "all the kingdoms of the world" before the appointed time would have thwarted the eternal plan of God, the Father.  Our human flesh wants immediate gratification rather than waiting for the fulfillment of God's will for our lives in His time.

The consistent weapon Jesus used to diffuse the temptations was quoting the appropriate Scripture.  In spiritual warfare, the word of God is our only offensive weapon (Ephesians 6:10-18).  This passage lets us know that enemy can quote the Bible also. But he dismisses the parts he does not like and only uses pieces of the Scriptures in an attempt to proof-text his own agenda, not God's.

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect was tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:15)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Publicly introducing Jesus

Read Matthew 3.

Each of the gospels emphasizes a different perspective on the life of Christ.  The Gospel of Matthew is written to prove that Jesus is King.  After providing some details concerning His birth, the Holy Spirit had Matthew skip thirty years ahead to the public introduction of Jesus.

In Luke chapter one, we are told that John the Baptist was the son of a godly and elderly couple.  His father, Zechariah, was a Levitical priest, and Elizabeth, was a relative of Mary.  So, humanly, there existed some family relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus.

Under normal expectations, John, being of the tribe of Levi, would have served in a similar manner as his father.  But his calling and ministry stood in great contrast to the Temple and the religious establishment.  The nation had been led in rituals without a heart committed to God and obedience to the Scriptures.  True faith in God had been turned into empty, and even sinful, practices.  The message was simple and clear.  Repent!  Repentance is not merely feeling sorry for doing wrong.  The Greek word literally means to turn around.

When the people heard this preaching, the Holy Spirit pricked their consciences and they confessed their sins against God (v.6).  With the admission of their sin and agreeing with God about their disobedience, they publicly declared their commitment to change the direction of their lives.  To confirm this, they were willing to be publicly immersed in the Jordan River as an outward identification with this message.

Then, came Jesus.  He did  not come confessing sin because He had none to confess.  However, He obviously desired to publicly identify with the message.  When Jesus appeared, John felt the same as the prophet Isaiah when he saw God in Isaiah 6.  Next to holiness, John and Isaiah felt unclean and humbled.  But Jesus said that being baptized by John was the right thing to do (v.15).

As Jesus came up out of the water, all three persons of the Trinity were present.    The Holy Spirit visibly alit upon Jesus.  Those looking for Messiah would have been reminded of  Isaiah 11:2.  The Father declared His pleasure aloud.  This was the first of three times in the New Testament where the voice of God, the Father, was heard audibly.  Each time it was to confirm that Jesus is none other than God, the Son.  As the angel announced in Matthew 1:23, Jesus is Immanuel, "God with us."