Food & Stuff

matt 6 33 (1)

MATTHEW 6

Scrolling through the text messages I send to my wife, I realize there is a constant theme connecting about half of our communication:  food. “What are we having tonight?”, “Where do you want to go to eat?”, “Do we have any dinner plans?”, “What are you making?”, “I think I will have…”  I can only imagine if the Lord tarries for a few hundred more years, and they discover my phone in an archaeological dig, they will no doubt conclude that I was one of the hungriest people on earth.  The thing is I’m not. In fact, thank the Lord, I’ve never had to worry about a meal in my life, and truth be told, it probably would benefit me if I skipped a few meals. So why am I (and so many others) obsessed with food, or clothing, or money, or all of these things, the very things God assures over and over again he will provide what we need in exact proportions?

 

Today’s reading, Matthew 6, is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus takes the time to teach us how to pray, and then gives us the appropriate perspective on our food and stuff, to make sure our priorities are straight so our pursuits are fruitful.  How do we know what our priorities should be? Some say that the model prayer that Jesus gives is also a priority list (Matt 6:9-13). If this is true, then it is later confirmed when Jesus says “Seek FIRST His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33).  Kingdom first. Everything else, don’t sweat.

 

This reminds me of a recent discussion we have been having about theme in my classroom.  In fiction, the theme is the single most important factor that guides your story. Everything else is of significantly lesser importance.  The setting could be the United States, another country, space, or complete fantasy. Your characters could be people, animals, aliens, or inanimate objects. The conflict can be internal or external.  The main idea in these thoughts: you can tell the same story with a variance of characters, settings, conflicts, but the theme, or the central message, remains the same because it controls everything else.

 

When the theme of our lives becomes food and stuff, we become literal or figurative “packrats.”  Our pantries begin to overflow, we save for every eventuality and rainy day, and we have closets full of clothing for every season and occasion. To what purpose?  While it might be unwise to go to the grocery store to buy a single day’s worth of food, to not acknowledge retirement, or our only shoes to be flip-flops in Minnesota, is this really the side where most of us err?

 

The theme controlling our story should singly be the Kingdom of God.  It should be the driving force, controlling our story. It doesn’t matter who we are.  It doesn’t matter where we live. It doesn’t matter the challenge we face. We know the theme. It is the very reason Paul says he “can do all things through Christ who gives him strength” because rich or poor, here or there, famous or obscure, those are just the “all these things” of the story (Phi 4:13).  It is true that each day has enough trouble of its own, so don’t worry about tomorrow (Matt 6:34). The sun will rise. The birds will fly. The flowers will grow. You will get your food and stuff WHEN you acknowledge first, the Kingdom of God. Knowing this, use the details of your story – picking out your clothes, sitting down to eat, or making a purchase, to find a way to acknowledge, thank, and share God for or with your food and stuff.

-Aaron Winner

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Let Your Light Shine Before Men

Matthew 5

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Clemson University is less than 30 miles away from my house.  The people I go to church with are Clemson fans. The people I work with are Clemson graduates.  On any given day at school, half of my students could be wearing Clemson hoodies, shirts, or lanyards.  For the most part, the people of Upstate South Carolina bleed orange, accessorize in purple, and decorate with tiger print.  I know no matter where you live, there is a similar pride for a local college too, BUT your college wasn’t in the NCAA Football National Championship game (well, unless it’s Bama).

Now, it seems like I’m rubbing it in.  I’m not. My loyalties lie elsewhere, to the rival and unfortunate underdog, South Carolina; however, I do admire the fandom of many of the people I call my friends.  It did not surprise me on Monday night when I logged onto social media that orange was the color of the evening. I saw post after post after post about Clemson’s domination and victory in the National Championship game (sorry, Bama fans).  These people simply could not help themselves because there was something praiseworthy to talk about and they felt like they HAD to share. Although the rivalry and redundancy made me slightly disturbed, there was saving grace in many of these posts.  So many of my friends not only shared news about the victory, but also shared the words of wisdom and faith given by Dabo Swinney, the coach of Clemson, and the players from both sides, who used this moment as an opportunity to let Jesus Christ shine before men, sharing their faith with the cameras rolling.

In today’s reading, Matthew Chapter 5, there is an overwhelming amount of wisdom to take in as we begin the Sermon on the Mount which spans three chapters.  You could easily spend weeks studying the dissertation of Jesus in these chapters alone. To help give focus to this rich reading, so many of Jesus’ words today focus on changing the source of our actions, moving from a mindset that focuses on religious practice to a mind-changing Kingdom of God focus that infects our thoughts.  Harbored hate (5:22), disharmony with a brother or sister in Christ (5:24), looking lustfully (5:28), emphatic swearing (5:34), and even unwillful giving (5:40) become explicitly stated intentions of God’s Law. Jesus painstakingly picks at the heart because fulfillment of Law (5:17) is not in empty legalistic work, but in the motive that navigates these actions.  When the cameras of life are rolling, people will hear our words and see our actions, so intention and motive are not enough, BUT it is the Shining Light, the treasure hidden within the jars of clay, that will ultimately show the surpassing power, hope, and beauty that comes from God’s desire in our hearts (2 Cor 4:7). If we can simply love God and love others (Matt 22:36-40) every Law and moment becomes an opportunity to let our light shine, showcasing works of love and the plans of our Heavenly Father for all men to see.

Sometimes there’s trouble in this execution. It is a lot easier to share a video, applaud someone else’s effort for Christ, and feel like we have done our duty. That is simply not enough.  This is in NO WAY to slight Clemson fans. Or Bama fans. Or football fans. As a South Carolina fan, I am no fan’s judge, and as a sinner, I am no man’s judge. This is simply to mindfully consider the way we “share” our Christian faith in our time and culture.  How are we showing Jesus Christ in our lives to shine before mankind? Are we constantly placing our light on a lampstand where it fills and consumes our actions and the people around us? Or are we conveniently hiding our light under a basket until it becomes easier, safer, or more opportunistic to share? I applaud Dabo, and Trevor, and Tua for sharing their faith, and it inspires me to do the same, but there must be a light shining in OUR hearts that is driving OUR actions.  We are called to reach the dark corners of our place and time, where the voice of Jesus and Dabo do not reach (Acts 1:8) or where they are simply treated as white noise until the fulfillment of the Law is felt with all-consuming actions by us who carry the same message of hope.

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We must stop being complacent “sharers” of our faith.  It is time to get out your light and dust it off; to become deliberate and vulnerable with your faith, transforming your mind (Rom 12:1,2); to place it where any man, woman, or child who crosses your path will see your actions; and then watch the glory of God as it fills up your life and the lives of those around you.

-Aaron Winner

Call to Action

Matthew 7

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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

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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

I Once Was Blind, But Now I See

John 8-9

Sunday, May 28

Jesus is an awesome teacher. I have read Dallas Willard’s amazing work, The Divine Conspiracy, where he discusses the Sermon on the Mount. One of the points that Willard makes is that Jesus is not just a smart guy, but the smartest guy. He is not just a wise person, but the wisest person. Jesus confirms this when he says that one “greater than Solomon is here”. (Matt. 12:42, Luke 11:31) So if anyone asks you who the wisest person in the Bible was the answer isn’t Solomon; it’s JESUS!
Jesus shows his masterful hand at teaching here in John. In these first 12 chapters of the Gospel, Jesus is performing miracles, which the author calls signs. We have already read about the sign where Jesus changed water into wine (2:1-12). There have been a couple healings, one of the royal official’s son (4:46-54) and one of a paralytic on the Sabbath (5:1-15). Then he did two where he overcame the normal laws of nature by feeding the five thousand with only a little food (6:1-15) and by walking on water (6:16-21). All these signs are connected in John, because all these signs point to an important truth: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing in him, we can have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
In John 8 and 9, Jesus connects both his teaching and a sign to point to his Messiahship. In chapter 9, Jesus and his disciples see a blind man. Instead of tying the blindness to anyone’s sin, Jesus says that God’s glory, and the glory of the One and Only Son, would be displayed in the man’s life. Jesus taught previously, in chapter 8, that he is the light of the world. He declared that if we follow him we will not live in darkness but walk in the bright light of life. He then makes his point vivid by giving this blind man sight!
The once-blind man is taken in, questioned, harassed and abused by the religious leaders of his community. Instead of listening to this man tell his testimony about the truth of Jesus, they were intent on shutting down Jesus and claiming that he was a fraud. The man’s testimony is only the truth: “I was blind, but now I see.” Jesus comes to the once-blind man and basically tells him, “You can see that I am the Messiah.” Even Jesus loves puns! Jesus teaches that the blind will see and those who think that they can see are truly blind.
This story is a wonderful picture and full of rich imagery on its own. But I also come away with three thoughts for how we live today.
First, the once-blind man was “giving a testimony” about Jesus. He wasn’t even close to a “believer” as we might define it. He trusted enough to go and wash and he came back with sight; nothing more than trust that the washing would work was asked of him. That is pretty amazing. He says nothing of faith before the miracle takes place. And when people ask him about his life, all he does is tell his story. That’s all God and Christ call you to do when they say to share the good news of the gospel. It does not mean you have to have a suave and sophisticated philosophical demonstration of the proofs of God. You simply tell people how Jesus found you, and why you are better now. Were you blind and now you see? Were you addicted to something and no longer? Are you more loving to your family and friends? THAT is your evangelism, that is the good news God calls you to share.
Second, do you feel like the once-blind man? There are times when we experience God doing something in our lives that doesn’t make sense. We CAN’T explain why something is happening. This guy just says “All I know is that I was blind, and now I see!” Sometimes, we feel God moving in ways that may make our families, our churches or ourselves uncomfortable. The people who should have celebrated this man’s miracle the most, his family and his religious leaders, turned their backs on him and cast him out. When God is moving, trust in what He is doing, keep looking for Him, and no matter who let’s go of you, God will find you. 
Third, take care that you are walking in the light of Christ so that you can see and live. Just like the people of Jesus’ day, this sign is pointing us to Jesus so that we can believe and have life in his name. Take care that you don’t lose sight of that purpose. The purpose is not for us to say “I wish I could see a miracle.” The miracle has been done. Will you believe because of it? Will you trust that Jesus is who he claimed to be? Remember, if you don’t want to believe, that is still an option. But there is a cost: rejection leads to a life of darkness, and the ultimate darkness of death. Christ offers us so much more with life in this life that leads to eternal life. He is the light of the world and he offers us himself. Praise be to God through Jesus Christ, the Light of the World!
-Jake Ballard
Jake Ballard is Pastor at Pine Grove Bible Church in Brooklyn Park, MN. He is a husband to Amber, father to Melody Grace, and proud “daddy” to a black kitty named River (for my Dr. Who and Firefly fans). Jake is a graduate student at Bethel Seminary, where he is kept busy. When he does have free time, he likes to read (Tolkien and Riordan at the moment), watch Netflix (Star Wars: Deep Space Nine), and play video and board games. (Always open for suggestions, as I am less busy in the summer). He hopes that his devotions will help you, dear reader, fall in love with the Gospel of John, because if he had to pick a favorite book, it would be this one! God bless! 
(Photo Credit: http://www.boldcupofcoffee.com/blog/i-am-the-light-of-the-world)