Sermon on the Mount (cont.)

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

A famous part of Christ’s teaching. I have heard and given many messages on these verses. My old youth pastor used to say something like spend about 10 years teaching before you try and teach the parables of Christ – probably wise. I am not even going to get into it. What is fresh to me this time are those last few words: verse 16. It would seems that being the “salt of the earth”, and the “light of the world” is tied closely with our “good deeds”.

Now I am not talking about the faith vs. works argument, that’s so last decade. What strikes me is that quote, “people don’t care what you have to say until they know that you care” (or something like that). The point is that so many times Christians want to tell others how to better their lives, or change, or break a habit, or whatever – but they miss the crucial point of letting “your good deeds shine”. A lot of times relationship is the key to evangelism – getting to know people, showing them you care, spending time with them, allowing God’s Spirit to work in their lives (and yours as well). Then when you’ve built some level of trust, God brings opportunities for you to speak into their lives. I am not saying this is how evangelism must work, I am just saying that this is an effective way that it does work – especially in my life with my personality.

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OK, so this is way late – but I was on the road with the family…

3 “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
4 God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they will be satisfied.
7 God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
9 God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.

The Beatitudes, the first part of the famous “Sermon on the Mount” given by Jesus Christ (thus the red lettering). You’ve heard it before probably, but “Attitude is Everything”, and Jesus chooses to share this message at the beginning of his public ministry, probably teaching and training his disciples in this very important lesson on your attitude towards ministry and life in general. As I was studying this portion of scripture here’s what really stuck out to me:

This is a code of ethics; a standard by which to live our lives. As my commentary puts it, “these are not multiple choice – they must be taken as a whole”. The questions I can ask myslef are simple – the answers profound.

  • Do I daily realize my NEED for God in my life?
  • Do I mourn? (to me this means is my heart tender towards other people – am I touched by their situations?)
  • Do I live a life of humility or has pride taken hold on my life? (probably the most important question – ask someone else to give you an honest answer to this one!)
  • Do I have a genuine concern for justice in the world? (definition of justice: the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness: to uphold the justice of a cause.)
  • Do I show mercy on a continual basis in my life? (definition of mercy: ccompassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power; compassion, pity, or benevolence: Have mercy on the poor sinner.)
  • Do I continually strive for purity of heart? (of course the Bible teaches us that the heart of man is not pure, but the Bible also says that we can receive a new heart; check out this verse:
    “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses….” Ezekiel 36:26-28
  • Do I seek peace, am I a peacemaker? (definition of peace: a state of mutual harmony between people or groups, esp. in personal relations: Try to live in peace with your neighbors. It takes a lot of humility and mercy to achieve peace – is making peace that important to me?)
  • Do I live my life without fear of being persecuted for doing what is right? (the pressure to conform to the world is ingrained so deeply within us that sometimes just doing what is right in a situation can bring persecution. Compare and contrast this with what is happening to the persecuted churches worldwide, check out this link, and it might bring clarity into our lives and challenge us to do what is right more often.)

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“From then on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near’.” Matthew 4:17

Check out what Matthew Henry’s Commentary has to say on this verse: “This he preached first upon; he began with this. Ministers must not be ambitious of broaching new opinions, framing new schemes, or coining new expressions, but must content themselves with plain, practical things, with the word that is nigh us, even in our mouth, and in our heart. We need not go up to heaven, nor down to the deep, for matter or language in our preaching…This is preached often upon; wherever he went, this was his subject, and neither he nor his followers ever reckoned it worn threadbare, as those would have done, that have itching ears, and are fond of novelty and variety more than that which is truly edifying. Note, That which has been preached and heard before, may yet very profitably be preached and heard again; but then it should be preached and heard better, and with new affections; what Paul had said before, he said again, weeping, Phil. iii. 1, 18.”

In our endeavors to be creative, relevant, and fresh, we can never forget the most basic fundamental message of Christ: “repent and turn to God”, “for it is an unspeakable privilege that room is left for repentance.”, as Matthew Henry’s so eloquently puts it.

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But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. Matthew 3:11

That’s John the Baptist, who in reality was a preacher. He was preparing the way for Christ to come, encouraging people to confess their sins and be baptized. He had quite a following and was creating quite a buzz, so much so that the religious leaders of the day were coming to see what He was all about. Yet in the statement above it would seem like he keeps a good perspective and stays humble.

I wonder how many of us pastors, leaders, or anyone who claims to be a Christian for that matter have lost that sense that we are “not worthy to even be his slave and carry his sandals”? Imagine being the leader of a large successful church, or ministry; or being in the Christian music & worship scene, or being a best selling author…

How tough must it be to remain humble in a world that is constantly looking for the “next best thing”. We idolize our leaders, read their books, build entire ministries based on their successes. We play their songs, go to their concerts, buy their CD’s, and wear their t-shirts. Now I am not one of those who takes the pessimistic view and says that this is awful and we shouldn’t respect successful leaders and learn from them, or even model after them – I am just saying that it is a vicious cycle that we are all a part of that breeds pride – and that is the ugliest word ever.

So the challenge is to stay humble, don’t let pride creep into your life. Pray for leaders, pray for your pastor(s). And most importantly, remember that God is in control and he will always humble the proud and make his name greater than any other name. Remember that the most mundane, insignificant task we do for God is a privilege!

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“And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.” Matthew 2:6 is actually a quote from the Old Testament prophet Micah (Micah 5:2). I love prophecy in the Bible – it’s so interesting to think that Micah “preached” this message almost 700 years before it became reality, when Jesus was born in the small town of Bethlehem.

In keeping with the theme of humility – Jesus Christ was born in an insignificant town, in a stable, a feeding trough as his cradle. He never owned a home, didn’t amass wealth, didn’t marry or have children, and didn’t build a church building. He knew his purpose and lived his life constantly moving towards that purpose . I wonder how fragmented our lives become in our search for purpose or significance – we spend our entire lives in a search, on a journey, adhering to the world’s standards of significance: getting a decent education, getting a great job, getting married, having children, amassing wealth, and finally ending up with enough wealth to retire and “enjoy” the last 10-20 years of life with that feeling that we lived a significant life, only to realize that we missed the point entirely. I hope this doesn’t sound too pessimistic…

I am just thinking that in the grand scheme of life, our true significance comes not from worldly possessions or accomplishments, but from our position in eternity, our position in “Christ” as some preachers put it. Significance is now, not when you feel like you have measured up. Realizing that God sacrificed everything to be in relationship with us, realizing that he has promised to give us a life that is significant now (abundant life, John 10:10), he has promised to take care of us, never leave or forsake us, and give us the desires of our hearts – all this puts us in an incredible position. I’m not even sure what to say.. I am just encouraged to look at life differently, to take more chances to love God, and to love people – what being a Christian ultimately boils down to.

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Spending time daily listening to God is crucial for developing a deep and meaningful relationship with God. Someone once said that “those who read his Word the most, hear his voice the best” – and so I am encouraged and challenged to spend more time reading and studying the Bible, listening to what God is saying. All that to say that I am going to begin posting my personal devotions here as a challenge to myself and as an encouragement to others. We’ll see how it goes – Here’s todays:

Matthew 1:21-23
…and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”

This was the moment in time when God stepped into time to fulfill his promise to send a Savior to redeem man. It’s like one point in history that changed everything – ok, so it’s not “like”, it is that point in history that changed everything. God sent his son Jesus to save people from their sins – He became Immanuel: God with us. And to think that God, existing outside of time and space, the creator of the Universe, came down to Earth, a tiny spec of a planet in the vast world that he created. He took on the form of his creation, and as the story goes, allowed himself to be completely humiliated by his own creation – all to redeem that which was lost: man’s relationship with God.

I think the word of the day is: Humility. It’s so easy to let pride creep up into our lives – humility is the Godlike character that we should be striving towards. Living every day knowing it is a gift from God, realizing that it is him who holds our lives in his hand gives us perspective and reminds us that God is on the throne, not us.

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