September 30, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Matthew 7:15-23


We embarked on a journey that has led us through the greatest sermon ever given. We have heard things, hopefully in a new light, that have helped us understand Jesus’ teaching better. Jesus’ listeners had never heard teaching like this before. The message was deeply rooted in their own religious heritage of the Law and the Prophets, but was VERY different from the teaching of the Pharisees.

Matthew 7:28-29 even says, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

Together we have walked through a good bit of teaching on some pretty important topics the past couple of weeks...what kind of people the Kingdom of God blesses, we’ve looked at anger and murder, lust, integrity, prayer, giving, fasting, worry, having the right treasure...we’ve looked at a lot of things.

Two Paths

Jesus is now winding down this sermon, and reminding his listeners they have two paths laid out ahead of them. Charlie started us off last week, but we need to look at it a little bit again to give us some context for today.

Matthew 7:13-14,
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
This isn’t just about eternal destiny. This isn’t just about where we end up in the end. This is about here and now and this life we are living. We make choices every day that determine whether we are on the path that gives true life or whether we are on the easy road that leads us down the path of destruction.

There is the wide gate with its broad road that, while it seems good...it has nice scenery...it has well paved streets...and nice safe neighborhoods...Everyone who’s anyone is on it. It is made up of those natural choices, those things that seem like common sense, those ideas that seem to be good. It can easily seem like the right path, but it actually leads to destruction. Jesus says that many people travel this road.

Instead, Jesus says choose the narrow road. Choose the road with the small gate and the narrow road that leads to life. This isn’t the road that seems good, or seems like it will lead to life. It can and will have difficulties. It requires sacrifice. It won’t allow you to continue doing things as you have been doing them, and it will constantly ask you to change and grow...if you want to stay on the path.

Jesus is talking about intentionality. The small gate and the narrow road takes work to find. You will not just stumble upon it. You have to want to be on that road because it doesn’t just happen.  And it also takes work to stay on...we are not talking about a one time decision at that one time in your life and you are good. We are talking about a regular on-going decision to stay on that road. Because life has a way of dragging you to the easy road...the broad road...the road where you do the easy thing. But the narrow road is a lifelong journey of choices to stay on that road.

The narrow road asks us to regularly confess sins...to be part of a community...to make sacrificial giving and living a part of our lives...to seek after Jesus’ way above all else...The narrow road asks us to do some pretty risky things because life, true life, is about more than just being alive...it is about having life...even though many have died because they are on the narrow road.

The choice is between two roads.

False Prophets and False Disciples

So then we come to today’s passage...let’s read it and then discuss it a bit.

Matthew 7:15-23

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Why, after talking about narrow and wide gates and choosing between two paths, would Jesus talk about False prophets and False Disciples? Because the road that leads to life isn’t an easy road, and there are many who, for one reason or another, fake it.

There are leaders, pastors, prophets in the churches and ministries both small and large...who want to fake it. They want to seem like they are on the path, but they are not. And there are “disciples” who want to fake it. They want to seem like they are on the path, but they are not.

And the danger is that those who are authentically following the narrow path can be led astray by the False Prophets and False Disciples.

We are still talking about choosing between two paths. One that leads us to destruction, and the other that leads us Life. But now Jesus is reminding us that there are those among us, both leaders and “disciples,” who would lead us away from the path of life. And part of being on the path means that we have to be aware and beware of the dangers and guard against them.

False Prophets

Jesus starts with False Prophets...because everything starts with who is in charge. And if the leaders are following a false gospel, then chances are the people are living a false gospel. Like it or not we are dependent upon our leaders. If it is okay for the leader, then it must be okay for me.

So Jesus says, Watch out for the false prophets/leaders because they look like sheep, but really they are ferocious wolves. These leaders look like they belong to the people of God. They know the right words and actions...but their intention is not to lead the people of God.

People become false prophets for many reasons. For some it is financial gain. Today, the “Christian” market is worth billions and billions of dollars. For some it is fame and recognition. For some, they just have false ideas about the Gospel, and begin to rewrite it to suit them and ask others to follow them.

These people do serious damage to the Kingdom of God.

When Jesus is talking about false prophets and describing them as ferocious wolves...these are teachers and leaders who are doing more than just making a mistake or having a doctrinal disagreement...they are leading the people of God away from the true Gospel.

And the biggest sign that a person is a false prophet or leader is by the fruit or righteousness of their life. The original Greek is very emphatic with this. It places the phrase “By their deeds” at the beginning of the sentence. By the deeds of the false prophets you will know they are false.

Just as a weed will not produce a beautiful flower and thistles will not produce grapes so false prophets will not produce good fruit because they are not connected to the life giving source of Jesus.

A good tree bears good fruit because it is healthy. A bad tree bears bad fruit. Unfortunately it is really easy to hide the bad fruit. Leaders do it for years. And some false leaders and prophets are able to openly flaunt their false gospel and people fall for it. Why? Because they don’t really know or want to know the truth.

Which is better to hear...God loves you and has a perfect plan for your life? Or, God has a master plan and He invites you to sacrifice all your hopes and dreams to see it accomplished?
Which is better...God wants us to be prosperous in our life? Or, God wants us to sacrifice our lives for His Kingdom?

Which is better...To get into heaven just say this prayer and you will know? Or, Follow Jesus, and take on His life and practices as your own?

False prophets and teachers have gotten really good at sounding like they are the real thing...they are ferocious wolves in sheep’s clothing.

False Disciples

Though Jesus doesn’t come down as hard on false disciples, He doesn’t call them ferocious wolves or anything, He does make it perfectly clear that many, believing they are just fine, will find themselves outside of the Kingdom. They will be looking forward to a day when they will be with Jesus in His Kingdom, but they are wrong.

That sounds harsh to me. Because I want Jesus to be loving and kind and readily accepting of everyone. But this passage reminds us that many will call Him “Lord” with their lips, but the problem is their lives do not reflect His Kingdom or His righteousness. Many will have said the sinners prayer, but not really be His disciple. Some will have spent years in the church, in the ministry even, and not really be a disciple of Jesus.

What makes this passage even more difficult is the long list of things these false disciples claim to have accomplished... “...did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” That doesn’t sound like a list that would come from people who don’t know Jesus.

What is the primary sign that a person is a false disciple? They do not do the will of the Father.

They may do a lot of good things, but obedience is what is required.

If I ask Bri to clean her room, and she comes home and does the dishes, cleans up the dog poop in the backyard, vacuums the whole house...those are all good things, and really would be considered miraculous...but that is not what I wanted done.

Many believe that if they make the right sacrifices or do this or that good thing that they are in...but no good thing we do, no amount of sacrifice we make, will ever replace being obedient to God’s will.

And what a horrible thing to hear...”I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” What a sharp contrast to Matthew 25 where the true disciple is welcomed with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Those are the words I want to hear. I mean I think I’m doing some good stuff for God sometimes. I get words of encouragement from some of you. But there is no validation...nothing that can outdo hearing God say, “Well done!”

But the false disciple...those who have the words “Lord, Lord” on their lips, but don’t do the will of the Father will only hear...”I never knew you.”

Both of these descriptions false prophets and false disciples leave me asking a very big question...
How do we know the right thing when we see it?

We also have some tools to help us know the difference between the false prophets and disciples and the true prophets and disciples.

1. Spend time in prayer and in God’s Word.

We have this marker at work that we use to mark monetary bills to see if it is counterfeit or not. It hasn’t happened yet, but sometimes the marker will not work because a person has “washed” a real bill and redone it as a larger amount.

I’m not a good counterfeit identifier...especially if the bills are larger than a $10 because I rarely see money that big. But there are people who are master counterfeit identifiers. When these people are trained to spot counterfeit money they know that the best way to identify a counterfeit bill is to spend their time studying real money.

For us, we have the tools of prayer and God’s Word to help us determine what is real and what is false. The only way to really know a false prophet or recognize a false discipleship is to spend radical amounts of time in God’s Word and in prayer familiarizing ourselves with the original...the problem is we do not use these tools as we should, and even worse is that many of us think we know, but don’t.

I remember having one “discussion” with a girl who was a long-time Christians and considered by some a spiritual leader in the church. She was spouting all of this stuff she said was biblical and right. She was defending a couple of positions that are considered heretical by historical Christian standards. But then she says, “No where in the Bible does it ever use the word Christian!” There was more context to it than that, but this serves to illustrate. She was making a definitive statement about what the Bible meant by making that statement and defending a position that would fall apart if the word Christian actually showed up in the Bible...problem is she was completely and utterly wrong. It is used 3 times. When I mentioned her error she responded by saying, rather annoyed, “Well, I haven’t read the Bible all the way through yet!”

Now here are the problems with that...

She was making bold claims about what the Bible did and did not say without having spent time reading it.

She had been a “Christian” for years, and had as of that time actually read the one book God had given His followers to know Him and His Kingdom all the way through. I know she had read, probably hundreds, of other books by other Christian writers, but not the one book given to us by God.

We do not have to be biblical scholars. But we do need to spend time with God’s Word. We need to study it. We need to spend time praying for God to enlighten the passages so that we understand it. And the more we study and spend time with the original, the more we recognize the false.

False prophets sound really good, and they sound very biblical, and the only way to really know a false prophet or recognize a false discipleship is to spend radical amounts of time in God’s Word familiarizing ourselves with the original.

And when we are familiar with the original then we are able to best use our second tool

2. Watch for fruitfulness.

We can’t watch for true fruit if we are unfamiliar with what God says that fruit is...so we have to start with step one. But we also have to know what true fruit is.

There are many that would have us believe that true fruit is being successful or having the biggest church or the biggest bank account or having the most Bible knowledge or doing the most church stuff or whatever.

We can’t define or know fruitfulness until we spend time getting to know God deeply.

I have a firm belief about who will and will not make it in leadership here at Crossroads Vineyard. Ready? Here it is: Bible Knowledge and activity involvement do not replace Christian character & maturity.

Do you know why? Because sometimes the people with the most knowledge are some of the meanest people around. They are just waiting to thump someone with their knowledge or more accurately to point out how little you know. What this tells me is that while they have a lot of knowledge they have very little understanding. They haven’t allowed that knowledge to transform them into the image of God. They haven’t allowed it to make them more like Christ.

And involvement in activity...doing stuff for God can become a replacement for spending time with God. There are people that do all kinds of stuff for God...serving the poor and homeless...leading classes...setting up chairs, not that we don’t need people setting up and tearing down the chairs if you know what I mean...but all of this activity does not lead us to more maturity in Christ.

True maturity is seen in the person who demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit (take a look at Galatians 5) and are doing the will of the Father.

3. Be careful about the miraculous.

Jesus indicates in today’s passage that people who are not disciples, people who are actually far from God, people who do some pretty phenomenal things...are not really disciples. There are people building big ministries and churches, feeding the poor and healing the hurting, doing miraculous things in our world, and they are built on something false.

I know that is hard to believe. I find it hard to believe. How can someone who is false do those things? Here is what I believe. I believe that Jesus’ name will be praised and lifted up even in the hands of those who don’t really know Him. Jesus will accomplish His mission and purpose for our world even through those who would seek to do it harm.

I was sitting in a healing service a while back where people were coming forward, receiving prayer, and some pretty miraculous things were taking place. People with some pretty debilitating things were being healed. It was amazing.

What was most frustrating to me was that the speaker had just given one of the most idiotic messages I have ever heard from a pulpit. Misquoting scripture...I don’t mean just getting a word or two out of place, but really just making it up as he went along. In fact, he never actually opened the Bible to read from it. He made some statements about not being tied to the actual words of Scripture. I wanted to ask another person who’s opinion I valued, but he had already walked out because he felt what was taking place was sacrilegious. But people were in awe of this guy...what a message from God.

I was frustrated and confused about the whole thing until I realized people are changed, transformed, healed, and renewed...in spite of some “false teachers” rather than because of them. While they are doing it all for the wrong reasons...God is still able to work in people’s lives. Why? Because this is about God and His glory. This is about God accomplishing His mission. God will work.

4. Spend time in prayer and in God’s Word with others.

This is so important I just want to bring it up again, but add that we are never released to do this completely on our own. God gives us scholars, teachers, pastors, leaders, and fellow Christians to help us on our journey.

They have resources that we need to fully understand God’s Word and to hear His voice in prayer.

Me sitting alone in my office reading the Bible is not enough. I have to utilize others to help me understand what God is saying. I use commentaries and books and the Internet and other Christians who have taught this stuff before. God filters it through me, but I’m not alone in this.

If we believe that by just sitting alone and reading God’s Word we will fully understand it...we are badly mistaken. There are times and situations when that is true, but the way that God has set it up is that we are meant to do this Christian life in community. We are meant to depend on others.

It is a team effort.

Conclusion

Have you ever seen that game where you have to spot the difference between two pictures? It is basically the same picture, but some things have been changed and you have to figure out what it is? Sometimes the differences are glaring, but in some the differences are extremely difficult to find.

False prophets and false disciples are a lot like that. We are expected, through prayer and God’s Word and others, to figure out who is the false prophet and false disciples.

Yes we have to be careful of the whole splinter in their eye while the log is in mine, we have to take in to account the Sermon on the Mount’s teaching on judging others, we have to make some pretty close decision about mistakes and doctrinal differences versus blatant falsehood...but we are talking about our pursuit of the narrow road. And that makes it all the more important.


This message was preached at Crossroads Vineyard Church in Huber Heights, Ohio.

Keep Writing, Preaching, Singing, Playing, and Making Art

The best way to improve your art form is to make a lot of crappy art.

If you want to write better, keep writing crappy stuff until it gets better. If you want to preach better, keep preaching crappy sermons until you get better. If you want to write great songs, keep writing crappy ones until you get better. If you want to do any form of art better, keep doing crappy art until you get better.

If you don't keep doing it, you will never get better. You have to push through and not give up. You have to do more and more...use deadlines and false expectations if you have to. Write a sermon every week even if you don't have a pulpit to preach from. Keep writing an article or blog post even if no one is reading. Write a new song everyday...especially bad ones in order to get better.

Check out this video (via Hey Whipple)


 

September 29, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Matthew 7:7-12

Persistence. It makes for a great movie doesn’t it. People who are persistent and push through the hardship, and then it pays off...That is awesome to watch. The owners of Secretariat needed money...they believed Secretariat was a winning horse, and she persisted until Secretariat became the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years!

Persistence pays off.

Have you ever been trapped, alone, in a car with a young child who really understands the meaning of persistence?

Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...

Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...

Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy

WHAT!?!

And then, in the cutest possible voice, that is just about to cry because you yelled, you hear, “I love you.”

Then you feel like a jerk.

But her Persistence pays off.

A young mother gets a divorce from her husband, but can’t find a job. She moves back to be near her family. While living on public assistance, she attends school so she can get her teaching certificate and maybe find work as a teacher. She is depressed, and feels like the biggest failure ever! She even contemplates suicide, but never goes through with it because of her child.

But in the few small moments of free-time, she begins writing a fantasy novel for children. She had the idea for the book years earlier while waiting on a train, but hadn’t really worked on it until now. She would take her daughter out for walks, and write in a local coffee shop.

In 1995, after she finished writing the manuscript on an old typewriter, she submitted her novel to a publishing company, and was flat-out rejected. Then the next, and another rejection. Then the next, and another rejection. 12 publishing companies rejected her book. One right after another.

A year later, though, she was finally receives the go ahead from a small publisher that is just getting started. They accept the novel, but tell her, “You might want to continue looking for a day job because there isn’t much money in children’s novels.”

Within 5 years, J.K. Rowling is a multi-millionaire and is now considered one of Britain’s most influential women. After 7 books and 8 movies...J.K. Rowling knows that persistence pays off.

When it comes to prayer...persistence pays off too.

Today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount focuses on being persistent in prayer.

Let’s read today’s passage and then talk about it a bit.

Matthew 7:7-12 says,

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Taken at face value this sounds like we have just won the prayer lottery! Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you...All we have to do is ask and seek and knock and God will give us what we want! That sounds great!

I don’t know if you have done much praying lately, but I have never found this to be true. I have asked for all kinds of things, and they never just happened. So I would go back and ask God...why did you put this in here? Why say this if it isn’t true? I have asked, and I have seeked and I have knocked...and nothing.

That’s when I learned that something gets lost in translation here. There is more to this verse than just asking or seeking or knocking one time. The verb tense being used here would better be translated as an ongoing, persistence. Ask and keep on asking...Seek and keep on seeking...knock and keep on knocking.

God is looking for persistent and consistent prayers. He wants prayers that are persistent because when we pray for something with persistence...it reveals a lot about us. There is a lot to learn from God’s requirement of persistent prayers.

Let’s talk about a few things that are revealed when God makes us work through the process of persistent prayer...

God’s call to persistence reveals our passion.

When we are persistent in our prayers we reveal that we are passionate about what we are asking for...that it is important enough to us to keep asking.

There are many times that I will be out shopping with Bri. And as we walk through the store, she will see something. “Dad! I just have to have this! I have always wanted this!” I have never her say anything about it before now. I tell her no, and we keep shopping. There was one trip that I felt like leaving her at the store because every aisle was something new that she wanted or couldn’t live without. I think I said No about a thousand times.

But often my prayers are like that. I am going through each aisle and asking God for this or for that. Please give me this. Please give me that. Please take care of this. Please help that person...and I sound just like a little child being pushed in the shopping cart through a store.

When God says to Ask, and keep on asking. Seek, and keep on seeking. Knock, and keep on knocking...He is trying to find out whether this is something important to us...because if it isn’t important to us...we will stop asking...we will move on...we will give up praying for it.

All of those things that our children ask for as we are shopping seem to fade from memory as soon as we leave the store...or shortly there after. Why? Because they don’t really want them. They aren’t that important. It isn’t something they are passionate about. They saw it on the shelf and it caught their fancy for the moment.

And just as it is unwise to give my child everything she asks for when she asks for it because it isn’t good for her...so God isn’t going to give me everything I want when I want it because it isn’t good for me. He is looking for persistence that reveals my true passion.

Often my prayers are just things in the moment. I want them now, but I don’t really want them in the long run. They won’t really make a difference in my life or in the Kingdom of God. I don’t really need them. I am only asking for them because I just saw them sitting there on the shelf.

But...

If it is something really important or something I believe is important to the Kingdom...it will keep coming up. I will keep asking God for it...I will keep seeking to be heard...I will keep knocking on the door until I get an answer. I won’t give up. My persistence reveals that I am passionate about what I’m asking for.

If it isn’t worth it...I’m going to give up quickly. I will forget about it and move on. But if it is important...I will keep asking. We keep coming praying. It becomes a passionate desire.

And God is saying that for our prayers to matter...for our prayers to make a difference...they have to come from a place of passionate persistence. We have to really want what we are asking God for, and that is demonstrated most clearly in persistent prayer.

But wanting something, really wanting something isn’t enough...and when God asks for persistent prayer something else is revealed...

God’s call to persistence reveals our motives.

A few weeks ago we looked at the Lord’s Prayer, and as we looked at the prayer it became clear, almost painfully clear, that this prayer Jesus was teaching us stood in sharp contrast to the way many of us often pray. Most of the petitions in that prayer...most the things we are asking for in that prayer...have nothing to do with my individual life.

Jesus is teaching us how to pray, and the bulk of the prayer focuses on asking for God’s Kingdom to come and for His will to be done...rather than on me asking for stuff. Out of that entire prayer...our “stuff”...the time spent praying for things we need are wrapped up in just six words! Only six words. That’s all we get.

The majority of the prayer we are taught as a model for our prayers is focused around God’s Kingdom...but often our prayers are centered on what I want more than on what God wants. I can be persistent. But I’m persistent because I really want it for me, and not because I want to see God’s Kingdom expanded.

When God challenges us to persistent prayer...He is giving time for our true motives to surface, and He is giving us the opportunity to confess them and realign them in accordance with His will.

If I’m not careful my prayers are often more about me and what I want than about God and what he wants. I can take 20 minutes on my six words of wants and spend only a few seconds on the rest of that prayer.

When God challenges us to not ask for stuff for us, it isn’t because He doesn’t care. It is because He has already promised that when we seek after His Kingdom first, He will take care of everything else that we really need.

When it comes to God waiting to answer our prayers...our persistence in prayer is meant to act like a refining fire that boils out all the impurities. He waits, and as we pray we realize...I don’t really want or need that...it isn’t important so we stop praying for it. But when we find something to pray persistently about...sometimes our motives need to be challenged. God wants us to have an honest view of why we are asking for what we are asking for.

Do we want it for the right reasons?

We ask God to give us that promotion or that raise at work...not so we can be generous and use our excess to serve and expand His Kingdom, but because we want to have more things or more security or more comfort.

We ask God to give us health...not so we can better sacrifice and serve His Kingdom, but because we just don’t want to be in pain.

We ask God for a lot of things that are simply for our benefit...and God is asking us to prayer, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”

God says to “seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be given to you as well”...and persistent prayer will root out our true motives for asking.

God will use our time of persistent prayers to boil the impurity of selfishness out of us...to challenge our motives in asking.

Now there is a note of warning that needs to be given here...Sometimes God gives us what we ask for in spite of our bad motives. Sometimes we will get that raise or we will get healthy or we will get whatever it is we are asking for even though we have completely selfish motives. We will hear people say, “God gave me this!” And God gave it to them despite their selfish motives, but God’s expectation is still that all His gifts are meant to be used in service of His Kingdom. He allows us to have it, hoping we will use it in a way that expands the Kingdom’s influence.

God’s call to persistent prayer is a valuable tool. It reveals or real passions and it reveals our motives...It answers the Do we really want what we say we want question, and it answers the why do we really want this question.

Ask and keep on asking...seek and keep on seeking...knock and keep on knocking because persistence pays off. It will either change what we are asking for or it will change why we are asking for it.

But it is also important to know that...

How we respond to God’s call for persistent prayer reveals our understanding of God’s character.

It is interesting to note that Matthew has to include a statement about God’s goodness in this section.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Why would Matthew include this here?

Because when we don’t get what we want, when we want it, we will often turn and start blaming God and the enemy will use it to gain a foothold in our lives...

God isn’t good to me...he never answers my prayers.

God doesn’t love me...that’s why He didn’t give it to me.

I must not be spiritual enough...that is why He didn’t give it to me.

I must not be good enough...God never does anything for me...My prayers are never answered...

The list could go on and on...and even in the spiritually mature, the enemy will try to get a foothold in our thinking...he will try to sidetrack us...by trying to convince us that God’s delay means we are not good enough or spiritual enough or that He is never going answer this prayer.

So Matthew wants to remind us that God is not only good...He is more good than any earthly father ever has or will be!

If an earthly father, who is tainted by sinfulness, knows how to give good things to children when asked...How much more does our Father in Heaven, in His infinite love and goodness, know how to give us good gifts?

God’s delay in answering is not a sign of reluctance. He is simply waiting...testing...challenging us to grow...Is this really important and do we want this because of the Kingdom?

Sometimes God will give us what we ask for...sometimes He will make us wait, and when we are waiting, our persistence will reveal whether we really want it and whether we want it for the right reasons.

Conclusion

For us as a church, persistence means that we are going to keep praying and moving toward the goal that God has given us to reach and care for the people of Huber Heights and the surrounding area. To help each person who walks through our doors to take their next step closer to God. We are going to keep persistently praying that God opens the doors of people’s heart, that He transforms lives, that He causes us to grow in our discipleship.

As disciples, it means that we keep on asking, and keep on seeking, and keep on knocking...knowing that God’s delay is not a sign of reluctance. He loves to give good things to His children. His delay is meant as a time of growth and testing.

When we are praying and not seeing the results of the prayer we start by asking ourselves two very important questions:

1. Is this REALLY important to me or am I just acting like a selfish child?
2. Do I want this for the right reason? Do I really want this so that I can seek and honor God’s Kingdom?

This morning, maybe you have been praying for something for a long time. You have felt like giving up, but you have persisted...you have kept going...you are waiting on an answer that has not yet come...I urge you to keep persisting in your prayers. Maybe you have asked those questions and feel like you can answer them correctly. Yes, I want this, and yes it will expand the Kingdom of God.

Then keep praying.

Maybe you prayed for something for a long time...but you gave up because you didn’t understand what God was trying to do. Take up that prayer again.

I find the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth in Luke 1 very interesting. Zechariah and Elizabeth are relatives of Mary the mother of Jesus, and they spent most of their lives praying that God would give them a child. Now in their old age, they have given up hope. But when the Angel appears to Zechariah and announces, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.”
Zechariah and Elizabeth probably had prayed that prayer a thousand times...but more than likely, they had given up praying about it by now. They were old. If human nature stands the test of time, there is no way they had prayed that prayer in years, but the angel announces it as though they had just prayed the prayer.

We don’t know when or how God will answer our prayers...but we know that He is constantly working, even when we don’t see or understand. And even when the answer is no...as painful as it may be, we learn to trust that God is good and knows how to give good gifts to those who ask Him.

September 28, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Matthew 7:1-6


Our journey through the Sermon on the Mount has been interesting...at least it has been for me. There have been several times where God has spoken to me about some thing I need to work on in my spiritual journey. When you work through the Scripture systematically and study God’s movement through a particular passage, you begin to see God’s message being laid out in front of you that you don’t get when you just read the Bible in bits and pieces or as single verses.

In fact, when you pull one verse out of the Bible and read it apart from its context, it is very easy to misinterpret that passage...even making it say the exact opposite of what it was meant to say. The passage we are going to look at in a minute is a prime example of this.

Last week, God came and spoke with many of us about our issues with worry. And I think He met many of us in a way that we really needed in order to find healing for that issue. Today we look at another issue that is very applicable to our lives and to us as a church...the issue of judging.

Matthew 7:1-6
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Don’t judge me.

In a survey about Bible knowledge, people who couldn’t quote John 3:16 could quote Matthew 7:1...especially in the very popular KJV, “Judge not, lest ye be judged!”

Many have ripped this verse out of context...

“Who do you think you are to judge me? You have no right to judge me! I can do what I want. The Bible says, ‘Judge not, or you will be judged!’”

That’s a pretty popular sentiment in our day; isn’t it? People think and say this even when we are simply stating our position and offering no form of judgment whatsoever. And they rip this verse completely out of context to emphasize that you shouldn’t be making them feel bad for what they are doing!

So is this what Jesus has in mind when He said this? That we don’t make judgments about the rightness or wrongness of certain actions? That we don’t judge at all?

Taken out of context then, yes, this is what it would mean, but we won’t do that. Besides, a simple look down the page reveals that Jesus is not asking us to stop making judgments...

Matthew 7:6 says, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

Determining the dogs and pigs and what to put in front of them requires that we judge a person’s actions properly. Jesus is warning us about putting what we teach regarding our faith in front of certain people who will never appreciate it. There are things of the faith that we cannot talk to certain other people about because they immediately become defensive or angry or abusive. They take the pearls of God’s Kingdom and trample them under their feet...that takes judgment on our part.

Matthew 7:15-16 says, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.”

Again...more judgment about a person and their actions. Deciding who is a false prophet or teacher requires us to compare the person’s words and actions with what the Bible says.

Again in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

More judgment concerning a person and their actions. Not everyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus...not everyone who has “said the prayer” is really a disciple of Jesus.

Jesus isn’t talking about checking our brain at the door...allowing everyone to do whatever they want without making decisions about what is right and what is wrong and what behavior will be allowed for those who claim to follow Jesus.

So what does Jesus mean when He says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”? Jesus is not asking to stop making judgments about right and wrong, but rather He is challenging the spirit with which we judge others.

There are two primary ways we judge that are unacceptable for those who wish to be part of the Kingdom Jesus is building.

Jesus is challenging double standard judgments.

When we look at the very next verse, Matthew 7:2, Jesus says, “”For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

The same way you judge others...I will judge you. The same measuring rod you make other people stand up against...I will make you stand up against.

Jesus’ listeners would have immediately thought of the religious leaders of the day. When the Pharisees and teachers of the law sinned they gave themselves more understanding and more grace than they were willing to give to others who sinned.

Have you ever noticed that we want a lot more leniency, understanding, and forbearance than we are willing to give others? We want leniency. We want people to really understand what we meant to say and do. We want people to bear with us when we are struggling. But our tempers and judgments are a lot shorter when it comes to others.

Imagine you are going through the line to get on your favorite roller coaster, and the attendant pulls out that pole he uses to measure someone. He stands a really short pole next to the guy in front of you and says, “Great you are tall enough. Go on in!” But when you step up, he reaches behind his table and pulls out a pole that is 3 feet taller than the other pole, and says, “I’m sorry. You’re not tall enough.” He is using a double standard.

We do this so often in our lives...the person who sends us the email that we read as scathing and angry...and then find out they aren’t very good at putting their feelings on paper and meant something totally different by it. We don’t give them the same benefit of the doubt as we want given to us. The people of that group or political party that we automatically believe the worst in, but get angry when they don’t try to really understand what we are saying...when we want them to really hear what we are saying.

Jesus makes no room for a double standard when it comes to living in the Kingdom He is establishing. Those who will be part of this Kingdom will be impartial in their judgments. The standards will be fair and equal.

Those who want to be part of this Kingdom will treat the Jew and the Gentile with the same amount of respect and concern. The citizens of this Kingdom will treat the poor and the rich with the same amount of dignity and honor. They will forgive. They will give grace. They will love. All without distinction to any thing that could make that person less in their eyes.

If we want to be part of this Kingdom we are challenged to stop making judgments based on a double standard that makes it easier for us to be good and right and welcome and loved and forgiven than it is for others. We need to use the same measuring stick for others that we would like to have used on us.

Next...

Jesus is challenging a self-righteous judgments.

Jesus says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

In typical middle eastern overstatement Jesus is pointing out that when we judge others we often do so from a position of perceived superiority. What I mean by that is...we think we are better than they are so we judge them.

Can you picture what Jesus is saying. Here is a guy who has a log sticking out of his eye attempting to get a splinter out of someone else’s eye. The mental image is hilarious.

This type of judgment comes from a belief that I am better than they are because...I do this or I don’t do that.

In Jesus’ day, Jews perceived themselves as better than just about everyone else because God had chosen them and given His Law to them...so, of course, in their minds that made them better. Sometimes we as Christians carry that same idea over to our lives. We feel a sense of superiority because we are saved.

Or think about most of the -isms of our day. They are based in feelings of superiority. Sexism...feeling that one sex is better than another. Racism...feeling that one race is better than another. Elitism...feeling that education or income makes one better than others.

Name calling and derogatory terms are another example. We use words and name calling for people to demean them and because we feel we better and not part of that group. We use name calling because we feel we, in our more enlightened understanding of the situation, are better than they are.

But even beyond that....we judge those people who act like white trash or those people who are making the stupid decision...or those people who are doing what ever it is that we would not do because we are so much smarter or classier or wealthier...and we mistakenly think we are better than they are.

Most of the judgments we make about others come from this belief, and Jesus reminds us that in the things that really matter...we are no better than anyone else. When it comes to who really matters...we are all equal in God’s eyes.

We are all tainted by sinfulness.

We are all guilty and need His forgiveness.

We all need of grace.

We are all loved by the Father.

Those who want to be part of this Kingdom will not make judgements from a position of superiority. This requires a true humility. One that is fully aware of failings, sinfulness, and dependence on God...just like everyone else, but without a low self-esteem.

If we want to be part of this Kingdom we are challenged to stop making judgments based on a feelings of superiority. As the old saying goes, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” Even being a Christian doesn’t make us better than anyone else. It means we are forgiven...but we are forgiven because we, like the rest of humanity, are plagued with a sinful rebellion which we can do nothing about apart from God’s intervention.

These challenges remind us of something very important: We are not God and we don’t know all the facts.

And because of this our judgments should never be considered the final word.

The problem with judging others is that it is so easy to be wrong...to make the wrong judgments about others. 1 Samuel 16:7 is an often quoted verse when making this point, but it is quoted because it is a GOOD verse to remind ourselves with. God tells the prophet Samuel to go to the house of Jesse and annoint the next King of Israel. As he looks at Jesse’s sons they are strong and handsome and outwardly they are great King material. But God doesn’t choose the son standing in front of Samuel because

“...the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’”

I was moving in to my dorm at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Lori, my sister, and my grandmother took me up to drop me off. We were waiting around the lounge area for the room assignments when I struck up a conversation with a guy named Frank.

Frank was a bit rough looking. He was dressed in cut off shorts, a ratty and torn t-shirt, a do-rag with hair sticking everywhere. He had about 3 days growth on his face, and he, to be honest, he smelled funny.

We talked for a bit. He was an older student (about 10 years older than the average freshman), and was there to study music. Seemed like a nice guy.

I got my room assignment, moved my stuff into my room, and we went to lunch. Over lunch my grandmother, said, “I have a bad feeling about him. I don’t think you should hang around with him very much.”

When we got back to the college after lunch we stopped off at my room, and my new roommate was just moving in. His clothes were clean and neatly pressed. He was very polite, and his parents were wonderful people.

Of course my grandmother thought he was great! I mean look at the way he was dressed, and his parents were so nice. He was certainly okay for me to hang out with.

But after only two months in college, my roommate was expelled for drunkenness and a few other things...while Frank was a great guy who decided to come in his grungy clothes for move in day because he knew he was going to get dirty lugging boxes.

We all have been guilty of making bad judgment calls in regards to people and their actions...misunderstanding them or why they are doing what they are doing because we cannot see their hearts.

How do we apply this?

So what does this look like in action?

Remember, God isn’t asking us to stop making judgments. We have to make judgments about right and wrong. We have to make judgments about people before we allow them to assume leadership roles. We have to make judgments about motives and actions...but we have to do so from a position of humility.

For many of us that means we stop using a double standard and allow others to make mistakes without us having to say something about it...because we have made similar mistakes or would make similar mistakes if we were in their shoes. We give them the grace we would want if we were them.

As people of the Kingdom we have to work on making proper judgments about right and wrong without using a double standard. Letting some off easy and coming down on others really hard. We make the judgments of right and wrong, but hold people accountable for their actions and offer forgiveness no matter who they are.

Working this out also means we need to work on our humility. One of the best ways to gain a little perspective and humility is to serve others...especially those whom we feel we are better than. I have found that God always asks me to serve those I feel superior to, and in doing so I realize they are just like me with feelings and issues that need time and patience.

As a church we apply this passage with a simple statement: Come as you are...you will be loved. This means that when someone walks in here...people feel loved when we are around them. It doesn’t matter what their race, their background, their political affiliation, their sexual preference...we will love them and welcome them as though they are Jesus present with us.

The practical expression of this is something we have to constantly work on as a church. When people visit with us they will feel loved by how we treat them when they are with. If they walk in, are greeted with a hello at doors, but no one engages them in meaningful conversation...they don’t feel loved or welcomed.

It doesn’t mean we don’t love them or that we don’t care about them...it means we haven’t made the connection that allows them to sense our love and concern for them.

In a little over a month we will be sending out a mass mailing to everyone in the Huber Heights community inviting them to check out a service with us. And I believe that one of the best ways to share the Gospel with them is to love them the way Jesus loves them.

Some will walk in here expecting to be judged for their lifestyles and sinfulness...ready for the guilt trip. But we know we are all on the same playing field. Our desire is to live out the Kingdom of God in such a way that everyone feels welcomed and loved...not just in our church but as we encounter them in our everyday lives.

We are all in need of God. We don’t have a double standard, and we aren’t any better than anyone else. We are just fellow travelers on the road of life who have decided to do life the way Jesus wants us to, and we are inviting others to join us on this journey.

Those you work with...those who live around you...those with whom you interact...if they feel condemned by you...then this is an area you need to confess and work on with God. Because loving the people around really is the best way to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

September 27, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Matthew 6:25-34


A few years ago, James, a friend of mine, and I went on a backpacking trip that lasted 8 days and covered 70 miles! It was the longest backpacking trip I had ever been on, and farthest I had ever walked. It was a blast. We saw some great views, drank some sketchy water, but had a blast!

As with any trip of this nature there is a lot planning involved...a ton of planning. When going on a trip like this you do all the expected pre-trip stuff...you find maps, make meal plans, travel arrangements, acquire permits...there is just a lot of stuff to do.

One of the most important things you do is make an equipment list. You make the list, you check everything off as you gather it together, and you check it off again once it has gone into your pack. There is nothing worse than being in the middle of nowhere and realizing you left something very important out of your pack!

But after this trip, I realized there was something worse than leaving something important behind...I realized that taking something you are never going to use on a trip this size is far worse. A trip that lasts 8 days and covers 70 miles is tough enough, but to do that trip with a pack that weighted over 90 pounds, and has stuff in it that I absolutely do not need or could find a way to live without...that is worse.

When I unpacked I saw all the stuff I could have done without. I could have made the trip easier by removing 10-15 or more pounds! The trip would have been more enjoyable and way easier.

Everyone of us has Life backpack that we pick up every day. And in that pack we put all kinds of things that are either necessary or they are things we could really just leave behind. There are good things like kindness, love, generosity, commitment, integrity...and there are bad things like fear, anger, unforgiveness, and today’s topic...worry.

Most of us know the things we could do without...things that only take up space and add unnecessary weight to our journey, but we don’t know how to get rid of them. They make it impossible for us to enjoy the trip God has planned for us.

This morning we are going to look at worry. We will discuss some of the things that worry reveals about us, and also talk about some solutions.

I’m sure you have all seen this sign...Don’t let worries kill, let the church help.

Clear communication is the most difficult task for any organization. I worked as a writer and editor for a time...so I know how easy it is to make mistakes like this. But they are still funny!

Let’s begin with our passage from Matthew and continue on the Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 6:25-34

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Last time we looked at Matthew 6:19-24, and talked about God’s command to store up treasures in heaven rather than on earth. To care more about the Kingdom and what God is doing than about what we are doing. The challenge is to make God our leader and His Kingdom our focus...rather than security, or the things this world holds up as treasures to be sought after.

Today’s passage begins with the little word “Therefore...” this means that this passage we are looking at today is founded on a principle found in the previous passage. Because Matthew 6:19-24 is true and should be a fact of life for the people of God’s Kingdom...then Matthew 6:25-32 is a natural conclusion. Because our focus is on God’s Kingdom...because our treasure is in heaven...therefore “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.”

For those sitting on the hillside that day, this addressed real concern about where their meals were coming from and whether or not they would have clothing. Farms provided the food needed to survive, but crops were susceptible to disease, lack or rain, and insects. One bad year could make food very scarce. Most people only owned a set maybe two of clothing...time and the elements took its toll on clothing and they would wear out.

For us, worry usually takes a different form. Most of us don’t have to worry about where our food and clothing are coming from, but we do have other things we worry about. The economy...our jobs...our mortgage payment...the kid’s college...if we are a business owner then our business. We find things to worry about.

Science has demonstrated that worry has some very detrimental affects on our physical being, but worry also has some very detrimental affects on our spiritual lives. It has a way of pointing out a few very important areas in our life that if we do not address them will hinder our spiritual growth. It reveals some things that are lacking.

1. Worry reveals our priorities.

When we worry we reveal the things that deep down we feel are important.

Take a moment and ask yourself, “What are some of things I worry about?”  Maybe on your notes jot down one or two. Nobody has to see it but you.

For Jesus’ listeners it was the necessities of life as it is still for many in our world. People just a few miles from here question where their next meal will come from and will they have the proper clothes to wear. That is we minister to people every month with our Food for Huber Outreach who are in deep need of the food we provide.

For some of us the worries are a bit different. We don’t have to worry about our next meal, but job and financial worries get at us.

No matter what it is that we worry about...Jesus challenges us to see it as not that important.

Now that’s tough. Because I worry about things because I think they are important, but Jesus says, “Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” He is talking to people who need food. They don’t necessarily know where their next meal will come from. They need clothes...otherwise they will be naked. These are two things that everyone would consider absolute bare necessities, and Jesus is saying, “There are way more important things.”

Life is about more than just food and clothing. It is about more than our jobs, the economy, the business, the church we are planting. Jesus challenges us to change our perspective by challenging our sensed need to worry and then making us answer the question, “What is REALLY important?”

Jesus challenges whatever we put up as worry-worthy by pushing us to reevaluate our priorities. Not what do I think is important? But what is REALLY important?

So what do we do when we find that our priorities are out of whack?

As we grow in our spiritual maturity...worry should become less of a problem. Not because we don’t care, but because we get our priorities straightened out as we center our lives more and more on what Jesus wants.

Jesus’ answer is for us to focus on those things that are truly important. In verse 33 Jesus says, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Seek first the kingdom...He is saying that if we change our priorities and put God’s Kingdom, God’s values, and God’s righteousness first...we will not have to worry about the necessities of life. Why? Because everything will be in the right perspective, and all our needs will be taken care of.

If we want God’s Kingdom to be the priority then there comes a time when we realize we have to make God’s Kingdom count for more in our lives than just a visit to church on a Sunday morning or joining in on an occasional outreach.

We find ways to serve in and with our church on a regular basis. We find ways to serve our neighbors and community in Jesus’ name without the Church. We make spending time with God a priority...not so we can be a good little Christian, but so we can hear His voice and follow His leading. We implement His teaching in our lives and let it become the standard for how we act. We tell others about what God has done in our lives.

When God’s Kingdom is the priority we ask “Father, what do you want to see done?” more than we ask, “What do I want to happen?”  It becomes more about what He wants than what I want.

The things we worry about reveals our priorities and what we think really matters, but it also reveals something else.

2. Worry reveals our helplessness.

We worry because there is absolutely nothing we can do to change the situation we are worrying about. If we could change it, we would be out there doing something about it. But worry is what we do when we feel helpless. It is what we do when we have to let go of our control of a situation.

In this morning’s text, Jesus points to something very obvious when he says, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” The obvious answer to this is...we can’t. We can’t add a single hour...in fact, the opposite is true. Worry will suck the life out of you, and take years away from you. Proverbs 12:25 reminds us of this fact when it says, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down...”

In some translations there is an addition to this section of the passage that says, “Who of you can add a single inch to his height?” This would be a useful thing for the vertically challenged, but again, the obvious answer is “You can’t.” Because if someone who is short could add an inch, I believe they would...but alas they cannot.

And just as you cannot add a single hour to your life or an inch to your height our worry accomplishes nothing. It only reminds us that we are helpless.

Jesus uses the birds of the air and the flowers of the field as an example. Birds don’t sow or reap or store food in barns, and yet they are fed, housed, and cared for. The flowers of the field don’t labor or spin clothing, and yet they are more richly dressed than the richest of people. Both birds and flowers are absolutely helpless to accomplish what they need to survive in life.

I hate feeling helpless. And I think admitting that you are helpless and that you hate feeling helpless is really the first step for overcoming this aspect of worry.I want to get in there and do something. I want to do something about the situation...but worry happens precisely because I can’t do anything.

A few months ago I had a cancer scare. So what did I do? I worried about all the things that I had absolutely no control over. I couldn’t control whether or not it was cancer. I couldn’t control whether or not I needed treatment. I couldn’t control whether I would live or die. I was helpless.

And you are completely helpless when it comes to all the things you worry about in life too...

We have no control over whether we get that job or not. We put our best foot forward, but we are helpless.
We have no control over whether or not we will be laid off. We work to be the best employee they have, but we are helpless.
We have no control over the other drivers when our children go out. We teach them right from wrong and safe driving techniques, but we are helpless.

Whatever it is that you worry about...can you really do anything about it? And yet we worry about all the things we are completely helpless to control. Recognizing our helplessness leads us to our next revelation...

3. Worry reveals our trust level with God.

Worry demonstrates that we really have not yet grown to trust God. It sounds harsh when Jesus says to his worried listeners, “O you of little faith.” I bristle with that...but I bristle because it points to a wound I don’t like to have touched. It reminds me that I do not yet trust God as I should. And if we are ever going to grow up in our faith, we must learn to trust God.

There are two beliefs that really stand in the way of our being able to trust God.

  1. We don’t believe He is good.
  2. We don’t believe He will be good to us.

Before you jump too quickly to deny or defend...think about it.

Sometimes we don’t believe that God is good. We believe he is out to get us for our sins. We think He is loving maybe, but good?

Jesus says, “The pagans run after all these things (the food and clothes), and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” Do you see that...Jesus says, “Your heavenly Father...” This is someone who cares for you. Someone who knows what you need before you need it.

Someone who cares for you...like a Father. Maybe not like your father...if you had that kind of Father. No, this is someone who loves extravagantly and completely.

But probably the deeper issue is that we need to believe that God will be good to you.

I find myself believing that God is good, but when I worry...it usually centers around me not believing that God will be good to me. I believe He does wonderful things for other people...but not me.

So in the midst of everything we are worrying about...we are wrestling with these two false beliefs, and find that God’s primary way of teaching us to trust Him is to come to us in situations where you need to trust Him, and watch what He does. He uses these tough times in life to help us understand more clearly His goodness and His desire to be good to us.

It is in the everyday situations of life that He asks us to trust Him. And only by trusting Him in these situations are we able to grow in our trust levels for Him.

Psalm 9:10 says, “Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.”

Those who know God...those who know what He is like...those who have seen him in action in the past...are able to trust God in the present. Why? Because when you know Him you know that He has never forsaken those who seek Him.

When you know someone...when you have seen their character in action and watched how they respond...it is easier to trust them. The same goes with God. So Psalm 9:10 says, “Those who know your name will trust in you...”

Worry puts our focus in the wrong direction. It wants us to think that we are on our own and that we have to have the strength or the ability or the expertise to do something, that somehow our worry will do something in the situation. But worry accomplishes none of that. We simply have to trust.

I’m not talking about a simplistic theology of Jesus take the wheel...that’s not what the Bible teaches at all. No, we are responsible for our actions. God expects us to do our best in following Him, but in the midst of the situations of life we learn to trust God by not worrying and depending on Him.

The people of Israel learned to trust by remembering all the things God had done for them.  They look at all the times God had worked for them in the past, and believed that He would continue to work on their behalf in the future. Many times in the Psalms and other Old Testament books they recounted over and over and over all the times God had worked on their behalf. But when they failed to remember they failed to trust, and they got into trouble.

Psalm 106  says, “When our ancestors were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known. He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert. He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them. The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them survived. Then they believed his promises and sang his praise.”

The listen to verse 13: “But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold.” And so Psalm 106 continues with God acting, the people cheering, and then forgetting and grumbling and worrying.

The key to trusting God is learning to remember. To take note of all the things He has done on our behalf. I keep a journal, and write the stuff down. I also stuff things into it that I use to remember what God has done for me. I have a photocopy of a check where God provided money that I needed for a mission trip. I use whatever I can to help me remember

I know that when I start to worry...when I start to loose my trust in God’s ability to take care of things...the I have forget to look at what He has done in the past to care for me.

Conclusion

Fighting the battle against worry is not easy. It will creep in, and find a way to stick around. So much so that sometimes it seems impossible to get away from it, but this is why God asks us not to do it alone.

The Apostle Paul faced some big challenges in his ministry. He faced some situations that I hope to never face...but he says a couple of important things about worry.

Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

and Galatians 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Paul’s priorities were right. He knew there was nothing he could do about the situation. He knew he needed to trust God...so in every situation he prayed with thanksgiving...and he depended on others to help him carry the load.

There is a lot to be worried about in our lives, and worry, if don’t deal with, will eat away at us. It is extra baggage on the journey of life that we simply do not need. But often we will hold on to our worry...like Gollam in the Lord of the Rings holding on the ring that was causing him to waste away. We will hold on to our worry.

And the answer is to cast our anxieties on God in prayer and thanksgiving for the things we do have...and to depend on others. That’s why small groups are important for us as we move forward as a church. They become places where we can pray together, develop friendships, and carry each other’s burdens. They become places where spiritual growth happens.

This morning you might be carrying some worries around with you. There are some things in life that keep you always on the rocks, and worry is eating away at you. I want to invite you to cast your anxieties and worries on God...maybe you need to rearrange some priorities...maybe you need to acknowledge that you are really helpless in the situation...or maybe you need to raise your trust level in God.


September 26, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Matthew 6:19-24


Over the past few weeks we have been studying the Sermon on the Mount and how Jesus’ Kingdom is supposed to transform our lives. We see from the Beatitudes that there must be a change in our understanding of who are the valued ones. We see a different standard of morality, a deeper, more difficult level, is required for those who take up pursuit of the Kingdom. We see how our spiritual practices are meant to be between us and God and never for personal acclaim.

Today’s passage is really the first part of a two part section dealing with wealth and our relationship to it.

People start to get nervous when the pastor talks about money. Visions of televangelists and long offertory musical pieces start giving us the twitches. I remember sitting through about twelve verses of a hymn because not enough money came in...and the guilt trips for not supporting the church or our missionaries.

It is hard enough to talk about money with our families and spouses...most arguments in a marriage center around money. So talking about it in church...well, this may be as touchy as our message on lust and adultery.

My focus, though, is not to meddle. This is not a plead for money. I truly believe what we say every Sunday, that our offerings, while they are an act of worship, are to be given freely as to God because God loves a cheerful giver. And if we are compelled or guilt-ed into giving...it isn’t an act of worship.

Instead, our focus is to gain a right perspective of money and wealth in relationship to the Kingdom of God. Because like it or not money is a big part of our lives; especially in the American culture. We spend 40+ hours a week making it; sometimes 50 or 60 or more. We invest, we spend, we save, we buy...our world revolves around money, and it wants us to believe that our world should revolve around money as well. In the words of one band, “I got bills to pay. I got mouths to feed. There ain’t nothing in this world for free.”

And just as big a part as money is in the rest of life, so it is with our relationship with God. Until we get our relationship with God and our money worked out...our spiritual growth will go no where.

So let’s read today’s passage...

Matthew 6:19-24
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus uses some lead up illustrations to lead us to a “no duh” moment. He talks about storing treasures on earth and then points out that just because you store them up...doesn’t mean they are safe. Just because you hoard something doesn’t mean you can’t lose it. We read this passage and readily agree in theory...but the practical application of it to our lives is the truly difficult part because we continue to seek and to save like it is our money and savings account that will make our future secure.

For Jesus’ first century listeners wealth and treasures were found in clothing, money, land, and crops. Those who had these things were considered wealthy, and set. But they also understood that these things could be gone quickly. They lived like it would go on forever, but they certainly understood, conceptually at least, that they were not permanent.

Clothing wore out and could have holes eaten in it by moths...even expensive clothing. Money, because it was metal, could rust and become useless or lost. Land could be taken by occupying forces and tyrannical rulers. Crops could fail for want of rain or because of famine or disease or insects. Nothing was permanent.

And yet the temptation was always to live like it is what matters most. They spent their lives pursuing wealth, getting ahead, and getting more. And don’t be deceived, it wasn’t just the rich who focused on getting and having more, it was the poor too. People on all degrees of the economic spectrum focused their life on getting and having more.

We face the same thing. We may define wealth slightly different than our first century ancestors, but there are a lot similarities. Clothing means having the right label. Money means having a bigger bank account and a better retirement fund. Fame or success in our career have replaced land...but we still want the bigger and nicer house. We need to driive the right car. Our culture is obsessed with money.

But it really isn’t money that is the problem. Money is only the symptom of a deeper problem.

I get frustrated when I go to the doctor and they give me medicine for this or that symptom, and never really give me anything to take care of the problem that underlies the symptoms.

Money is just the symptom of a deeper issue. The real issue is What is the focus of my heart?

If I asked you this morning to tell me what you treasure most in life? What would your answer be? Family? Career? Sports? Getting to the weekend? Maybe God? I mean we are at church, so that must be the expected answer, right?

The problem with this question is we can’t answer it with words...because our hearts lie to us. We like to think that the expressed values of our hearts is where we place our treasure, but that just isn’t so. Our treasures...what we seek after in life is what reveals where our hearts lie.

This question can only be answered with our actions. Our actions, not our words, reveal where our heart is and what our god is. If I were to show you where I spend the majority of my time, my money, and my abilities...you would know exactly where my heart is focused. The same thing goes with you. What I treasure most in life takes over my thoughts, my time, my spending; it takes everything. It becomes our god, and once it becomes our god then it dictates our lives. We pursue it because we have given our hearts to it.

Jesus’ challenges us to evaluate where our treasure is located. Is it in earthly things? Things that really won’t last or matter. Or, are they on the thing of the Kingdom? Things that are truly eternal.

What does it mean to store up treasures in heaven?

I think it starts with something that is part of last week’s prayer...your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Building up treasures in heaven means we are focused on things that God is focused on here. We are seeking to bring God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Does my life seek to bring God’s Kingdom? Is it becoming more and more a reflection of Jesus? Is it generous? loving? forgiving? righteous?

In the context of money...Jesus’ listeners would have recognized also a call for generosity and concern for the poor.

Proverbs 19:17 would certainly have come to mind, “If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord—and he will repay you!”

One author writes, “If we value what our Lord values rather than what our society values, he demands that we meet the basic needs of people lacking adequate resources before we seek to accumulate possessions beyond our basic needs.”#

Generosity must be at the forefront of our understanding of storing treasures in heaven.

As a church we have a concern for the poor the and broken. This isn’t a political issue...this is a Kingdom of God issue. This is a heart issue. We are called to care for those whom others have forgotten and neglected.

The people of Israel were great at being religious. They had the Bible memorized. They were at the services every time the doors were open. They had it all together religiously...and yet they were missing something.

Isaiah 58 points out that the people of Israel were fasting...but it wasn’t affecting their hearts or their lives. They continued to mistreat others all while being VERY religious.

You humble yourselves
      by going through the motions of penance,
   bowing your heads
      like reeds bending in the wind.
   You dress in burlap
      and cover yourselves with ashes.
   Is this what you call fasting?
      Do you really think this will please the Lord?

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
   Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
      lighten the burden of those who work for you.
   Let the oppressed go free,
      and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
      and give shelter to the homeless.
   Give clothes to those who need them,
      and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

Real wealth begins with a right perspective on our wealth...understanding that when we focus on something it becomes our god.

One Bad Apple

Have you ever heard the phrase...One bad apple spoils the whole bunch?

Jesus says something similar in our passage...
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

That doesn’t sound like One bad apple...!

But Jesus is saying that where our eye focuses is important. If it focuses on something worthwhile and meaningful...our entire being will be filled with light. But if we focus on the wrong thing...our entire being will be filled with darkness.

There is a story about Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, that serves as a good introduction to this morning’s message. He was reading the newspaper one morning and was shocked to find his obituary inside. His brother had died, and the newspaper accidentally published an obituary for Alfred’s instead. The obituary read, “The merchant of death is dead. Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”

Alfred Nobel was struck by the way the world was going to remember him after his death.

Many believe it was this shock that sent Alfred Nobel on a quest to change how he would be remembered. He set aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel Foundation, which now recognizes cultural and scientific advances for the betterment of our world. Most don’t even know that the founder of the Nobel Prize is the same Alfred Nobel who invented dynamite.

Alfred Nobel was climbing one ladder that he believed would lead him to success and recognition...luckily this shocking obituary was enough to change his perspective and help him see that he was climbing the wrong ladder.

It is easy to chase after the wrong things because they are so loud in our culture. Television, radio, movies...all trying to convince us that greed, fame, recognition, and money are all the most important things in this world. Our business and jobs will sap the life right out of us...because we need to make money to pay our bills, right?

Seeking after the treasures of our culture will leave us with a darkness inside, and reminds us...

You can’t serve two masters.

Where your treasure is there your heart will be also...and if your treasures consist of the wrong thing, you whole being will be darkness.

Why would Jesus make such demands...because he knows that we can’t serve two masters. Either we will be people of the Kingdom or we will be people of the other kingdom. We can’t live in both realms. We can’t hold both sets of values. If you value the things of this world and this culture...you cannot also value the things of God’s Kingdom.

It is impossible to value the wealth of this world...and then value complete dependence upon God...because that is really what is being asked for here in these verses.

Do you trust God enough that if you value what He values and care for those He cares for that everything will be okay?

Because you can’t serve two masters. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t share the same values as the world around us and still be part of the Kingdom of God...they just don’t mix.

That last verse says, “You cannot serve both God and money.” The word translated as “money” is a lot broader, it has more depth than just money. It means whatever you find your value in...where you find security. For most people that is in money. For some it is other things.

A couple of years ago, people were content. They had security in their jobs, their bank accounts, their homes, and their 401k’s...and then the economic crisis hit. People lost millions and millions of dollars. And as unfortunate as all that was...we got a stark lesson in the reality that all the things the world tells us will bring security...never can.

And if they can’t provide real security...then they should never serve as our ultimate master.

Our challenge is to find a way to live within the reality that we have to work, pay our bills, care for our kids, and plan for our future...but without putting our trust...without finding our security in those things because they don’t really matter.

Conclusion

So how do we seek after true treasure and ensure only having one master?

1. Seek the Kingdom of God first. Matthew 6:33 ends the second part of this section which we will look at next week, but serves as summarizing statement for it all. In it Jesus says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

God promises that when we seek after His Kingdom, when we take it as the treasure of our hearts, everything else will be taken care of. This isn’t a call to be foolish...to stop saving or investing...but it is a call to invest our money, our lives, our abilities in the things that really matter, and when we do, we are trusting that God will take care of everything else.

This doesn’t mean that if we seek after God’s Kingdom we will have the big house, the nice car, the cushy bank account. But it does mean we will have what really matters in life.

2. Live with openhanded generosity-look for ways to be generous...to give without restraint on a regular basis to others..and often to people who do not deserve it. The more we practice being generous...the more generous we become.

That is why as a church we serve and love our community. People are constantly bewildered by the way we spend our money as a church. We pay people to wash their cars. We gave away money at the gas pumps yesterday. We give bottles of water away...we give bags of candy away at Halloween...we do carnivals and Easter egg hunts...we do this as a practical act of kindness and love, but also as a way of demonstrating God’s unlimited generosity toward others.

Let me show you a couple of videos from our car wash outreach...you can see how generosity confronts the values of this world.

3. Give sacrificially-here we go. I knew this was going to happen. We are going to talk about tithing.

Just because I’m the pastor of the church doesn’t mean tithing is any easier for me. I have bills. I have things I would like to spend the money on. I have all those same feelings.

What I know is that my tithing becomes an area where God often challenges my heart. Because he knows that where I spend my money is a good indicator of where my heart is. It also serves as a spiritual discipline and an act of trust. I put the money in each week because I am saying, “I trust you, God to take care of me.”

But this is also about more than just money. God expects us to live lives of sacrificial giving. We have our time, we have our talents, we have our energy. God needs those too.

God challenges me to put him first not just with my time and words...but with my money.

This morning we are confronted with the question,  “Where does my treasure lie?”

I know that my answer is not always the churchy answer. I want this or I want that. I want to be comfortable financially. I want to provide well for my family. I want to spend my time doing other things. I want to use my talents to benefit me. I don’t want to be generous to that person.

But God will have no rival for the leadership of my life and for His Kingdom.

September 14, 2011

The Sermon on the Mount Matthew 6:9-15


This morning I do not stand up here as an expert...I stand as a fellow sojourner on the spiritual path. Prayer, at least for me, is not easy. I can do those popcorn, random whispering prayers throughout the day pretty easily, but focused, concentrated prayer has always been difficult. My ADD kicks in, and I start mentally wandering around the room. I’m more of a doer. I like to get up and go. I like to be interacting with something...and prayer at first glance can feel like a lot of nothing. I’m talking or listening...very little to do.

But that is the thing with prayer...everyone starts out as a phony and becomes real.

Some people seem to have a natural inclination to prayer. Some people become really good at in a spiritual sense....be we all start somewhere. We all have to pray without knowing what we are doing and striving to be something we are not.

So despite the difficulties and the wanderings and the fact that I’m still really trying to learn how to pray...I must pray if I want to maintain a relationship with God. It really does take time. We learn to pray by praying more. We get better as do it more often, but each of us has to start somewhere.

Jesus knew this. He knew that even though the disciples had a rich Jewish heritage with thousands of prayers in their tradition they needed instruction on how to pray as part of this Kingdom he was establishing, and which now we can be a part. Jesus never said “If you decide to prayer...” No, he says, “And WHEN you pray...”

Today, we are going to look at how the prayer we know as The Lord’s Prayer can be just what we need to kickstart our prayer life and maybe even enliven an already existing prayer life.

So let’s look at what Jesus taught.

Matthew 6:9-15

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’”

And then vs. 14-15

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.


Jesus is sitting on a hillside, teaching His disciples the ins and outs of this new Kingdom He is establishing. A Kingdom that will one day culminate in the earthly rule of God here on earth Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God. He tells them about the kind of people that His Kingdom appreciates...He explains a morality that surpasses the technical-letter-of-the-law-morality of pharisees...He explains that personal piety is done solely for God’s glory alone...and then he interjects this prayer we are looking at today.

Jesus begins by saying, “This, then, is how you should pray...

He isn’t dictating a new mandatory form of prayer; though He knew it would become part of their worship. He is teaching them what the prayers of His Kingdom will look like...what their content will be...their focus and their tone.

I might just hold the world record for the most times saying the Lord’s Prayer...ok not literally, but I have said it a lot. When we were first teaching Brianna bedtime prayers we opted to teach her the Lord’s Prayer. I wasn’t comfortable with “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep...If I should DIE before I wake...” It just seemed too creepy and morbid to me. I know she didn’t pick that up at her age, but really, death...in the night...for a child?

The Lord’s Prayer, on the other hand, was biblical, structured, and very easy to learn. She picked it up easily, and we have been saying every night together as a family since she was about 2. It is something I look forward to...and not because it means she is going to bed.

Here in Matthew, Jesus has just taught on how not to pray...don’t pray like the hypocrites because they like to be seen...don’t pray like the pagans because they babble on and on trying to manipulate their gods to give them stuff...so this is where Jesus’ turns and says, “This is how you should pray...” Don’t pray like that...pray like this.

It is not meant to be a verbatim, word-for-word, prayer we’re supposed to pray. It gives Jesus’ us a framework or structure around which to build their prayers. It is like the framework of a house. Builders begin by putting down a foundation, and then put up a frame so the walls have something to support them and the house is able to stand.

When we pray, we need a structure. We need a framework around which to build our prayers. We need a structure because if we never use a structure then our prayers have the tendency to become selfish and self-serving.

I popcorn or whisper pray a lot throughout the day, but these whisper prayers are about 9 to 1 in favor of me asking God to do something or give me something. Occasionally the pray focuses on praising God or thanking him. But the majority are requests.

We need a structure, especially in the beginning when we are learning to pray, that guides us through the various parts of prayer. It makes sure we don’t get stuck on the part we most want to spend time in. I certainly don’t believe every prayer we pray must adhere to a framework, but frameworks are good to teach us how to pray and to pull us back in and remind us of some of the essentials we might be missing.

Just like the musical scales for a musician is the framework for prayer. A good musician doesn’t play the scales on stage as a performance, but without the scales, their solos and their songs lack consistency...without the scales they sound horrible. Without the structure, our prayers can become something other than real prayer.

So let’s look at this framework...the musical scales if you will that must under-gird our prayers is we want to grow as prayers...

Prayer starts with our understanding of God.

Jesus’ teaching on prayer begins with “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,

A vital part of our understanding of who God is...is found in that word Father...

I grew up for most of my life without a father figure...and when I got one he wasn’t a very good father figure. For some people this sort of reality has skewed their view of God as father. They want nothing to do with God as their Father.

Somehow, and I really don’t know how, but from an early age I never related what I saw in my real dad or my step-dad as anyway related to God as Father. I saw God as the perfect Father, and them the broken, sinful replica that got it all wrong. I don’t know how that thought developed in me, but it did. So I have never had a problem with God as Father. But some have.

But this God, this Father is nothing like any earthly father...even the best of fathers fall short of this Father. The concept of God as Father comes from a middle-eastern culture where fathers were to be the strong heads of their families, and to lead with compassion, justice, to correct, and to guide their children. Children were powerless dependents and were to respond with respect, honor, and obedience.

But Father also carries with it an intimacy. Not the mushy intimacy we find in some modern worship songs that are really uncomfortable to sing. No, this was an intimacy born out of childlike dependence and trust on someone who is worthy of that dependence and trust. God, as Father, is someone on whom we are to respond with complete dependence and obedience because He can be trusted.

So being able to really pray means we understand that God, as Father, is the one in control, and that everything we receive comes from Him. We, like children, are dependent upon God. In order for us to really pray, we must give up control of our lives and depend on Him.

Once we have this concept of dependence upon our Father God...we can then begin to hallow or bring honor to His name because He is worthy of that trust. We praise God for who He is, what He has done, and for His concern and care for us. His faithfulness.

But hallowing God’s name is more than just a few words of praise to God in prayer. Hallowing His name means we take seriously our role in bringing honor or discredit to God’s name. Like it or not when we claim to be followers of Jesus people look to us for what Jesus is like and what he would or would not do. When we act as proper children of God, we bring honor and glory to God. When we live out the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, then God’s name is hallowed. Yes, we need to spend time in our prayer naming the wonderful attributes of God, but those words are hollow if we are not hallowing God with our lives.

Our sin brings dishonor to God’s name...Jewish rabbis were adamant about hallowing God’s name. They taught that if a Jewish person was going to sin they should go where they were unknown and pretend to be a Gentile so as not to bring God’s name to public humiliation through their sin.

Part of our prayer must be to give glory to God, but we must also seek to hallow His name with our actions.

So prayer begins with this dependence upon God as our Father; a provider and instructor. Then, because He is worthy of that trust, we hallow His name with both our words of praise and a life of righteousness.

The next major step is that

Prayer changes our priorities:

We see this very clearly in the arrangement of this prayer.

Jesus instructs us to pray:
“...your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” before he instucts them to pray for their daily bread.


  1. The first priority is God’s Kingdom.
  2. The second priority is our world.


Our prayers often get these mixed up, and that is why a structure keeps us in line. My prayers are often more about getting things lined up in my world...rather than figuring out what God wants to do.

The first priority must be God’s Kingdom.

“...your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

If we want God’s Kingdom in the future...we should live like we want in the present.

If we believe that God has invaded our world through Jesus Christ...then our lives should be a reflection of God’s reign on earth starting in our lives...and that requires a rearrangement of our priorities.

By praying for God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done...we are asking to be part of that...to have that be our primary focus. We are seeking God’s will and plan. And this will affect what kind of “daily bread” we ask for.

When we preface every decision in lives with this prayer...it changes the focus from what do I want? What would be “best” for me and my family? What would I most enjoy?

To

What does God want to accomplish? Will this help or hinder that? Is this best for God’s Kingdom? What will bring God the most honor?

Those are tough questions for our culture. Especially one that says business is about making all the money you can...and then leaves a family torn apart or feeling abandoned. It questions our understanding of retirement where people leave the local church to roam nomadically around the world...and miss their opportunity to be wise investors in the next generation. It questions our career choices. It questions our relationship choices. It questions our spending choices.

Placing God’s Kingdom above our own is a major change in focus, and must take place before we are really able to pray as part of this Kingdom.

But that doesn’t mean God is uncaring about us...no. He cares for us and our needs and concerns...but He wants us to start with the proper priorities. So after we seek God’s Kingdom...then

The second priority is our world.

This is where we pray, “Give us today our daily bread.”

But even here this shows a dependence upon God for moment by moment needs. Not tomorrow’s bread...not next week’s...today’s bread. This is our depending on the Father to meet our needs.

For Jesus’ listeners they would have immediately thought of the Old Testament story of God providing manna during their time in the desert. It was never too much or too little...it was always just right.

And we are challenged, even while praying for God to meet our needs to restrain those requests...to trust that what God gives us will be neither too little nor too much.

If we are not careful, we can turn God’s gracious provision into a disguise for our greed. Ephesians 3:20 is so often misquoted in the church it isn’t funny...”Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us...” How many of you have heard someone say this in relationship to praying for something we need?

Many take this to mean that we can get stuff beyond our wildest dreams...but in context Paul is talking about God’s ability to rescue the Gentiles and to God’s ability to dwell in the hearts of both the Jew and Gentile by faith and help them experience His great love. It sounded impossible, but God is able to do immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine to really help us grasp the great love of God.

There are many times where God does bless us beyond our wildest dreams...but that is not what this verse is saying. It carries with it the same set of priorities we are discussing in the Lord’s prayer. First the Kingdom...then our world. And praying for our daily bread is an act of dependence upon God for the things that really matter...that we really need.

In Jesus’ culture, bread is the major food group. It is the thing that sustains life. Without bread people died. Jesus is encouraging his disciples to pray dependent upon God for the very things that make life livable...that without them life would end...and to do so with absolute trust as a child looking to their father for the next meal.

So the framework we are building starts with our understanding of who God is and His worthiness to be honored. It then challenges our priorities. Prayer is not Kingdom prayer if it doesn’t have the Kingdom of God as it’s first priority. Then we ask, in dependence upon God, for our needs to be met.

Finally...

Prayer changes our understanding of us.

We see two things in this section:


  1. We are sinners in need of forgiveness.
  2. We are people in need of leadership.


We are sinners in need of forgiveness.

Jesus’ teaches us to pray “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

We are people in need of forgiveness. We have no reason or right to look down our noses at others who we falsely believe to be more sinful than us. Why? Because we are debtors to God in need of forgiveness.

This is such a powerful section on forgiveness. Jesus is asking us to pray that God would forgive our sins with the same grace and compassion as we forgive other people when they sin against us.

God, use my standard of judgment of others against me.

That is a difficult thing to pray for isn’t it? How merciful are you toward those who have sinned against you? How full of grace and understanding are you? What if God took your measuring rod, the one you use to judge the mess ups and miscues of others to judge your life?

At the end of the Lord’s prayer, Jesus returns to this because it is such a difficult thing for us. In vss 14-15 He says,

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins

God’s forgiveness of our sins is dependent upon our forgiveness of others. Why? Because if we can’t forgive others...then we haven’t really grasped forgiveness. We are unable to get what we are unable to give. Our refusal or failure to sho others shows the grace and forgiveness we have received demonstrates we don’t really understand what God is doing in this new Kingdom.

So we are really praying for two things in this section. First, God forgive me for my sins. And second, Give me a right understanding of my offense. It is important for us in the church to understand the depth of our sin so we can understand the depth of God’s mercy and forgiveness and then extend that to others.

People who are angry about the failures of others...people who refuse to forgive...people who rant angrily against the downfalls of others...do not have a clear perspective on just how bad their sins are before God.

Because we are sinners in need of forgiveness...

We are people in need of leadership.

The prayer continues, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

It is not wrong to ask God to rescue us from trials, temptations, and times of testing. This is an acknowledgement of our weakness and once again points to our dependence upon God for all things.

I used to think this section was just about keeping us out of trouble or protecting us from wrong stuff...but this is really an acknowledgment that we need God’s leadership. We need His guidance. I am not smart enough to know where I ought to go or to see all the pitfalls ahead. I may be thinking, “This is a great opportunity!” And God is screaming, in slow motion, “NOOOOOOO!!!”

We acknowledge that we are sinners in need of forgiveness, and then we acknowledge that we need him to guide our path...to show us the way we should...to come to our rescue when we go the wrong direction.

I did a search of the Bible for the words “lead us.” It shows up once in the Pentateuch talking about God leading the people into the Promised Land. Twice in the Gospels here in Matthew and Luke’s discussion of the Lord’s Prayer. The other three times is shows up in Samuel where the people are asking to replace God as their King with an earthly king.

I think there is something significant here. God desires to be our leader, but we are often so determined to lead ourselves or to find someone or something else to lead us. God wanted to lead the people into the Promised Land, and He wants to lead us into the Promised Land of His Kingdom...if we will let Him lead.

Conclusion

As I studied for this message...the thing that stood out the most in The Lord’s Prayer is requirement that we live in dependence upon God for all things. We depend on Him to bring His Kingdom, to supply our daily bread, to forgive, and to lead us. It is so easy to get caught up in the things we want and need and desire God to deal with...we need

One last thing to notice: This is a communal prayer...Our Father...Give us...Forgive us...lead us...deliver us...This is not merely a personal prayer, but rather one we pray with the community of faith. We are a body of Christ. We are the people of God. We succeed or fail together...whether we like it or not.

So we can use the Lord’s Prayer as a framework to build our symphony of prayer around...or our lead guitar solo if you wish. It is a guide. Inside your programs I have provided a handout that will fit neatly into your Bible that helps break this down into a guided time of prayer. I adapted this from a compilation book about prayer, and have found it useful in my own life. You might also want to look at some resources about using the Psalms as guides to prayer...Eugene Peterson, who did The Message, has a wonderful book about that.

This morning I want to challenge you...as I myself am challenged...to become a people of prayer. Not just popcorn, whisper, random prayer, but people who spend quality time in God’s presence through prayer. I am convinced that much spiritual growth is forfeited for lack of prayer.