Keep Racing!

matt 24 13

In the wonderful theological “comparison” that’s the parable of the sower (Matt. 13; Mark 4; Luke 8), Jesus said that salvation is a process which must begin, continue and persist to the end. It all depends on an initial intelligent acceptance of the “seed” Gospel of the Kingdom as Jesus preached it. Only those who maintain faith and obedience to the end will be saved (Matt. 24:13).

Salvation for New Testament Christians is like a race. The goal, salvation, “is now closer to us than when we first believed” (Rom.13:11). We are “being saved” now (1 Cor.1:18; 15:2), and we were saved “in hope” (Rom. 8:24), and we will be saved at the return of Jesus.

You don’t win a gold medal when the starting gun goes off and you don’t graduate from the university at orientation. Salvation is a race to the end and the stimulus which gets us started is the Gospel of the Kingdom, which imparts to us the energy of God Himself (1 Thess. 2:13; John 6:63; Gal. 3:2).

-Anthony Buzzard of Restoration Fellowship (http://focusonthekingdom.org/)

Bearing Fruit

Matt 21 43

Matthew 21

After Jesus radically cleansed the Jerusalem Temple by driving out the thieves that were there, he came to a fig tree because he was hungry. Unfortunately, the fig tree was not producing any figs at this point in time. In a bizarre twist in the story, Jesus condemns the barren tree and it begins to wither. What is even more confusing about this story is that Jesus never explains it.

This is what most people today believe happened with this tree: Jesus was condemning the current Jerusalem for producing the fruit of righteousness that God desired. The story has basically nothing to do with the tree itself; it was a prophetic condemnation on Israel for not doing what God wanted them to do. They were simply going through the motions of their religious practice, and lacked what they truly needed: a love for their God, and a love for the people around them.

We do not want to be condemned by Jesus for not “bearing fruit”. We need to make sure that we are producing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in our lives, and “being Jesus” to the rest of the world. We need to act as faithful stewards of the grace that has been given to us. We need to be “good trees”, producing fruit that God would be proud of.

-Talon Paul

How to Find Life

Matt 10 38

Matthew 10:37-39

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

After commissioning the twelve apostles, Jesus proceeds to teach them about what this commissioning entails. First, they will be persecuted (vv. 16-25), but they don’t need to be afraid because God will be with them and cares for them (vv. 26-31). Then comes a section that deals with the seriousness of the need to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, which can be a controversial subject (vv. 32-39). Jesus says that he did not come to bring peace but a sword (v. 34). This proclamation is not Jesus’ war cry as though his intention is to bring violence, but rather, it reveals that Jesus recognizes and discloses that he will be a point of contention and disagreement for many people. In other words, the truth that Jesus came to bring (and which he represents) will inevitably cause disunity and conflict.

It is on the heels of this declaration by Jesus that we read of the even more severe nature of this conflict—it may happen even within one’s own family. Jesus assumes the natural love of one’s family as a premise and then moves to identify that as a lesser priority in life than love for him. When he says that a person who loves him less than their family is “not worthy” of me (v. 37), he is making a value claim upon himself as more important than them. To be “worthy of me” means to “be fit to be a disciple.” It is important to clarify that Jesus is not advocating that his disciples not love their families. Instead, he is simply stipulating that the value attachment of a person to their family must not exceed their value attachment to him. To be Jesus’ disciple is to prize him above even one’s own flesh and blood.

The implications of this statement are far reaching. Who would say that loving a brother, sister, child, or parent should be subservient to the love of another? But this is precisely the demand that Jesus is making of his disciples. It is a declaration of discipleship that calls for absolute devotion. This extreme requirement is extended as Jesus also says that those who would follow him must “take [up] their cross” (v. 38). This is an expression referring to being willing to self-identify and endure the shame and suffering of one who is crucified.

Jesus elaborates by uttering one of the most interesting paradoxes: Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (v. 39). In essence, Jesus is saying that the life that matters is the life that is lived for the sake of Christ. To take the road of self-denial and live for something other than one’s self is to “find life.”

From these three criteria of discipleship, where do we find ourselves? Are we willing to follow Jesus no matter what? Does our love for him exceed our love for anything else? Are we willing to take up our cross? Are we will to die to self in order to find that which may truly be called “life”? Such a price is the price of being a disciple. Are we willing to pay that price? What might be stopping us from wholehearted devotion and service to the Master?

-Jerry Wierwille

 

Call to Action

Matthew 7

matt 7 24

I have been taught that a good speech should always end with a call to action.  What this is depends on the type of speech.  A speech given by an election candidate will usually end by telling people they need to vote.  A product placement speech or demonstration will end with a way to buy the product.  Often a sermon will end with a life application.

As we look at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, we see that Jesus ends with a call to action.  He has given us some other actions to take throughout this passage, but let’s look at this final section and see how we should respond to this sermon.

Let’s start by looking at Matthew 7:21-23:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, an in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

So, making the assumption that the goal is to be in the kingdom, Jesus says our action is to do the will of God.  This is obviously more than actions that we do.  Many times in chapters 5-7, Jesus talks about our thoughts, attitudes, and reasons for doing things being as important as the actions we take.

Jesus continues in verse 24 by saying, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.”  Again, the key here is to act on the words that Jesus has spoken.

The call to action is to put all the things that Jesus taught into action, which includes our thoughts and attitudes.  I encourage you to spend some more time reading through Matthew 5-7, and reflect upon seeking God, his righteousness, and his kingdom.  As we seek these more, the actions will follow.

-Andrew Hamilton

Worry

Matthew 6

matt 6 27

I worry about things.  Big things or little things, or sometimes nothing at all.  As I mentioned in a previous devotion this week, I have a plan for things.  When things don’t go according to plan, I stress out, and at times let my worry and anxiety take over.  In the last week or so, I have had a series of issues with my house that have really caused me to worry.  First our freezer broke.  Then something caused our propane tank to go from 30% full to empty very quickly.  Then the heat for our house started having problems.  I have been extremely anxious over all of these problems.  So, when reading over Matthew 6 and trying to decide what to write about, I thought that the section I needed to learn from was the section on worrying.

So, what I am writing today is aimed at myself, and I hope you can also gain something from it.

In Matthew 6:25, Jesus tells us:

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

He then compares us to the birds, to lilies, and to grass. God takes care of all of these items, and we are so much more valuable to God than these things.  Yet, we worry about these things, and try to handle them all on our own.

What good does worrying do us?  Worrying makes it hard to sleep.  It makes it hard to concentrate.  It makes us irritable and upset.  It can give us ulcers.  I can’t think of one thing that worrying actually accomplishes, but I can come up with a whole list of things it hinders.  Verse 27 sums this up nicely.  “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?”  In fact, worrying can only decrease hours in our life.

I think we all know that worrying is bad, and that we should trust in God more and release our problems to him.  I know it, and yet I still struggle with this frequently.  So, what do we do?

Jesus sums this section up with two verses, 33 and 34:

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

I often hear each of these verses talked about individually.  I don’t remember ever looking at them together.  However, they are together.  If we seek the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, all the things we worry about will be handled in God’s perfect method as well.  If we focus on God, we do not need to worry about all the other stuff.

So, I am not going to encourage you to stop worrying, because I don’t think that is the answer.  I encourage you to seek the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.  Seek it fervently so that you do not have time or room in your life for worry.   This ties back to Matthew 5:6, earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”  Hunger and thirst for righteousness….I believe this is the cure for worry.

-Andrew Hamilton

Religion Turned Upside Down

Matthew 5

Matt 5 48

Matthew 5 is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.  There is so much wisdom packed into this chapter that it is difficult to pick out pieces to include.  So, I want to start at the end, in verse 48.

“Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

This is Jesus’s concluding statement to this part of his sermon.  Reading this verse alone seems like Jesus is giving us an impossible task, and in this life, it really is.  However, we should still strive for it.  A lot of this chapter is telling us how to be perfect.

This is one of those times when Jesus is really flipping things upside down.  The Jewish people were under the law, and some of them at least followed the letter of the law without regards to the purpose of the law.  It was a specific set of rules, and consequences for not following them.

Starting in Matthew 5:21, Jesus takes some of these very specific laws, and really expands the meaning of them.  The law in the Old Testament was “You shall not commit murder”.  The consequence was that “whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.”  Jesus continues in verse 22 with the spirit of the law instead of just the letter of the law by saying, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You fool’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”  Calling someone a fool is much more difficult to guard against than killing someone.  For those that were following the letter of the law and felt they were perfect in the law, this would have completely destroyed their view of themselves.  How can we be perfect if something this easy to do makes us guilty before the court and makes us deserve the lake of fire?

Jesus then goes on to talk about adultery, and expounds on it by saying in verse 28, “but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  This may be the most difficult sin for a male to conquer.  I believe that every man has committed this sin.  So, how can we be perfect?

Jesus does not stop there.  He talks about vows and promises, about not holding grudges or repaying offences, and about loving your enemies.  He takes a set of laws that were difficult to keep, and shows us the spirit of the law, and how our hearts and thoughts separate us from God just like the physical acts separate us from God.  So, how is it possible for anyone to be perfect, or to ever be with God?

Was Jesus really changing the Old Testament laws with this?  Verse 17 answers this by saying, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law of the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.”  I think Jesus was telling them that this attitude and heart of the law was always there, but not understood by most.  So, he wasn’t really expanding the law, but explaining how it should be understood.  This still doesn’t make it any easier to be perfect.  How do we even have a chance of being perfect?

Obviously, we have to have the sacrifice of Jesus’s death, and his resurrection, to be made perfect.  We have to accept Jesus as our Savior and follow him throughout our lives.  This is the only way we will ever be considered perfect, and able to be in God’s presence in the kingdom.  However, that does not mean we should not strive to be more perfect each day, and with the help of God, and his Son Jesus, we can come closer to perfection each day (although never actually being perfect).

I think the beginning of Matthew 5 gives us a lot of traits to strive for, along with promises that go along with them.  Jesus starts in verse 3 with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  He continues the list with those who mourn, the gentle, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peace makers, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.  As we work to have the attributes described here, we draw closer to God.  It isn’t about what we do, but where our heart is and why we do the things we do.

-Andrew Hamilton