Thursday, January 18, 2018

I Am a Hypocrite

The words of Jesus should challenge our very core. No matter how much we may know Jesus or how much we may know the Bible, life is a constant struggle to do what we want to do. This is true throughout each year of our lives, but is often made evident around mid-January as resolutions made for the new year begin to be broken.

The reality is when we say one thing and do another we are hypocrites. But saying something does not need to be audible. In Matthew 5.8, Jesus mentioned the pure in heart. So, if we perceive we should do something (even in our heart),  and do not do it, then by definition we are hypocrites. Therefore, I am a hypocrite. However, thankfully, Jesus’ words were that the pure in heart will see God, not the pure in hands.

Psalm 24.3-4 specifically states that only those with clean hands and a pure heart will see God. The problem in Jesus day was that the religious leaders (particularly the Pharisees) were focused on what people did (clean hands), without affecting the heart. Jesus knew these verses well and used them to help people see that the heart is more important. Later James would write that cleansing one’s hands is important as is purifying the heart because the people were “double-minded.” This means not only did they say one thing (the first) and do another (the second), they likely said the second thing and did the first as well.

Nothing we can do can earn God’s favor. It is our heart that He wants and which allows us to be before Him. In this life, we will always fail to do everything we believe. That makes us hypocrites to the world, but Jesus did everything His heart knew to be true. That is, His hands and His heart were clean and pure throughout His life. Thus, by placing our trust in Him, our hearts can be pure and our hands can be cleaned.

So yes, I am a hypocrite. But my belief in the only one who was not/is what matters. I must continue to better align my hands with my heart, but although the world may always see the crack that exists between the two, God only see the cross.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Keeping Up with the Meek

Teaching and preaching the Bible offers two distinct realities each week. On the positive side you get to interact with the written word of God and craft a message or lesson to help communicate God’s truths and make them applicable for our lives today. That is truly a joy. But the negative side stems from the exact same reason. The applicable aspect of the message is not just for those who receive the message; it is for the one delivering it as well. Some weeks living up to what is being taught is truly a challenge. However, gaining new insights, and stewing over them a few extra days before teaching is truly a blessing.

This past week, one insight that has brought me great joy is Matthew 5.5: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” I have read this many times and have taught that the idea of meekness is like controlled strength. And, of course, I have taught about Jesus being meek. Truly, I know the verse well, but sometimes God illumines His Word in fresh ways. I believe the fresh understanding is due, in part, to having just completed a series on God adopting those who receive Jesus (John 1.12, for instance). With that series fresh in my mind, the word “inherit” in Matthew 5.5 jumped out like never before in its context.

The truth is like many people, I am driven (at least, to a point). I am not hyper-driven, but I am very purposeful. When presented a new opportunity, I not only determine if I have time, but how the opportunity supports my long-term objectives which certainly include what I believe God is asking of me over time. While I pray the first two beatitudes are true for me, I admit, sometimes, my purposefulness can get in the way. And like anyone, I have temptations, which, for me, includes wanting a few newer, or better items.

But the key insight this week was how hard some people work for so little. The old adage is that people try to keep up with the Joneses, but really what does the Jones family have? A nicer house? A newer car? A bigger bank account? Ok, great. This post is not how they achieved those items, but for those that want what the Joneses have, it will likely take a little more effort – and that may require extra ambition, which may move a person from being meek. Meekness is much more than dealing with ambition, but when our personal ambition gets in the way of our following God’s way or pushing others out of the way for our own gain, then we have crossed a line – and gained very little.

This post is not to suggest that hard work is not valuable or a good thing. But if our reward is only a nicer meal, a nicer car, a nicer home, or something similar, then we need to ensure we are not overstepping our bounds to acquire these items. Because, as Jesus said, the meek will inherit the earth. THE EARTH! Again, hard work is good and necessary, but we must consider for whom we work and what our expectations are (Colossians 3.17, 23). Why? Because God is offering far more than a car in a driveway or a house in a neighborhood. He is offering the earth, which is simply a step-stool for Him. Imagine how much He will give those who are truly His children. And, the promise is that it is ours not by what we do, but because of who we are. The promise is that the earth is inherited, not earned, just like salvation. With salvation, we can do nothing on our own to be saved, but our response to our salvation should be to do great works for God. Likewise, inheritance is not about work, it is about being an heir – in our case referenced here, an heir of God.

So, the next time I am tempted to impose my will on another, or, even worse, on God, I must consider if the earnings from my efforts are worth more than reward I have been promised. I cannot think of an instance where my earnings would be better, but without diligence I will fall into the same trap I have fallen too many times. If you are a follower of Christ, my desire is for you to consider your meekness in all occasions as well. Perhaps we can help one another not to fall, but let us definitely be willing to help one another up if we do.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Best Sermon Ever

I have heard many good sermons. I have heard many bad sermons. And I have probably preached a few good ones, but I know I have preached a few duds as well. But the question is how do we determine what makes a good sermon? Is it how full of Scripture it is? Does it matter how well it can be understood? Should it make us feel good, feel bad, or feel challenged? Does the person preaching make a difference? Does the appearance of the one preaching make a difference? Etc. Etc. Etc. The reality is that some of these items may be important, but different people have different requirements for what they think – many of which do not really matter because what truly matters is what God thinks about the sermon.

So, how might we narrow down the greatest sermon ever? Well, one way to begin is to make sure it is without any error. The idea is to communicate God’s message so it should be done faithfully. Certainly no preacher is perfect in understanding or presenting the text, but I believe it is possible that each Sunday (or whatever day) some preachers likely come very close on this aspect and certainly their heart intends to honor the Lord by delivering an error-free message. So, communicating God’s truth must be considered important.

Clearly communicating the message is important as well. If the message is not understood, then it is not good. Some people communicate better than others, and all communicators have an off-day, but the best sermon ever should meet this qualification without any hint of failure. Clear communication does not equate to perfect understanding by the recipients, but without it being clear, any chance for understanding is lost.

The ability to remember the sermon should have some importance. If the sermon is preached and forgotten by everybody by the time they reach their homes, the sermon was not effective. But some sermons resonate deep in our bones and challenge us time and time again. Sometimes, we even remember specific words which can be an encouragement to us when life is difficult or challenge us when life is a little to easy.

I realize a few more items might be added to this list, but I will add just one more. While I believe a good, and even a great sermon, could be preached by anyone, this post is considering the best ever. Thus, the person involved does matter – not because of training or skills, but because of the person. That person is Jesus. Who better to clearly communicate the truths of God without error in a memorable way than God in the flesh?

So, which of Jesus’ sermons is the best? The Bible records a few extended teachings of Jesus, and His teaching the disciples on the night before He died (John 14-16) must be considered high on the list. But that was with the disciples and those who joined with them in the upper room. As far as a message presented to the masses, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is likely the greatest. Ultimately this teaching was profound touching on levels that are hard to fathom. However, it has several principles which are clearly understood, if hard to observe. (Of course, certain verses are misunderstood and/or misapplied as well (e.g. Matt. 7.1), but this is not the fault of Jesus.) The passage is also memorable. Most Christians can probably say the next few words of several sentences which are a part of this great sermon which was given some 2000 years ago.
  • Blessed are the...
  • You are the salt...
  • You are the light...
  • Our Father in heaven... (many non-Christians have these five verses memorized!)
  • Do not lay up for yourselves...
  • Seek first the kingdom...
  • Ask, and it will be...
  • Whatever you wish others would do to you...

In our day, phrases like “best ever” or “greatest of all time” are usually said in the moment without considering all the possibilities, but the fact is that this sermon, for the reasons given above, is very likely the greatest of all time. It was truthful, clearly communicated, and memorable. But most importantly, it was preached by Jesus. Thus, it is a sermon that is still impacting people today. I am looking forward to preaching a series of sermons on this great sermon. I realize the bar is high, but if what I have said about the sermon is true, the best thing I can do is let Jesus do the preaching while I simply add a little explanation for our modern ears.

I hope you will take time to read this great sermon (Matthew 5-7) before next week. As we go through it, I hope we each gain more insights from it (my sermon notes will be included on the church blog each week – ffxbc.blogspot.com, and my personal reflections will be posted here). More importantly, my true hope is that we are challenged to raise our level of living to another level – to live “on earth as it is in heaven.”