Chapter Nine – Giving and Getting

 

Two hands (farewell touch lovers)

What if I give all I have? / What will that gift do? / My child, a gift like that could change the world / It could feed a multitude – Ray Boltz, What If I Give All, from the 1996 album No Greater Sacrifice

The Christ is in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. He is in His element: He is teaching God’s truth. And at this point He takes time to address the issues of giving and worry. He talks about how when His people give, it should be quietly without drawing attention to the act. And how it should be selfless without holding back. I tell you now I have trouble giving sometimes. I tend to think of it in monetary terms and without a job, that’s hard to come by. But the truth of the matter is, there are many other things I can give: my time, my attention, my praise, my patience, clothes I no longer wear, my encouragement…and yes, what little money I have. I should give for the pleasure of giving as a response to God’s great love for me. The question I should ask each time is: Would I still do this if no one would ever know I did it? And then do it.

After the subject of giving, and not counting the cost, Jesus tackles the next logical step in the process: worry. Worry that I won’t have enough. Worry that the cost will be too high. Worry that I will be in great need after I give. And He basically says, “Don’t sweat it.” I need to keep in mind that there is no need to worry about tomorrow because God does not ignore those who put Him first and depend on Him. Any worry I conjure up shows a lack of faith in, and understanding of, God – who He is (Jevohah Jirah) and what He’s about (He wants us to bring our needs to Him). Notice, this is not a prosperity gospel. Such talk belongs only to false prophets. “God meets daily needs daily. Not weekly or annually. He will give you what you need when you need it” – Max Lucado, Facebook post from July 18, 2011, but He will not necessarily spoil us with more than we need.

Worry is a fear-based emotion and over 365 times in Scripture, God tells us not to be afraid. In his book, “Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear”, Max Lucado writes: “Become a worry-slapper. Treat frets like mosquitos. Do you procrastinate when a bloodsucking bug lights on your skin? ‘I’ll take care of it in a moment’. Of course you don’t! You give the critter the slap it deserves. Be equally decisive with anxiety” – p. 49 (2012).

I must be open-handed and give freely. I must also rely on Him to meet my daily needs. Verse 33 is the key: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.” From Matthew’s pen to my heart. From my heart to God’s ear.

 

Chapter Eight – Matthew 6: Putting Good Into the World

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Dear Father, I need You / Your strength my heart to mend / I want to fly higher every new day again – Five Iron Frenzy, Every New Day, from the 1997 album Our Newest Album Ever

I used to wonder how good overcame evil in the world. After all, evil seems so prevalent and pervasive throughout society, and I am only one person. What could I possibly do that would matter so much as to dare to change the world? But at the end of Matthew 5, the Christ gives the answer: Prayer.

Through prayer, God works. He says that by loving and praying for my enemies, I can overcome evil with good. When I pray, sometimes God changes my “world” and sometimes He changes my heart to be more in line with His. Usually, it’s the latter. It’s a counterbalance to all that is wrong, with some dynamic benefits.

But it’s not just “any” prayer and it’s not mindlessly repeating words or phrases in hopes of achieving a desired outcome. No, this is my chance to encounter the divine. To allow the holy spirit residing within me an opportunity to commune with the Father. And He gives us a format to follow just in case we’re not quite sure how all of that is to take place. Note, the Lord’s Prayer can be broken down into four main components which are more important than the actual words themselves:

  • Start with praising God
  • Remember to include a personalized request for His work to be done in the world
  • Acknowledge our daily needs
  • Finish with asking for help with our daily struggles

That doesn’t mean that every prayer has to contain all four components but so often we focus more on reciting the Lord’s Prayer to the point where it becomes mindless repetition, which He despises. Prayer is meant to be personalized and dynamic and ongoing throughout the day (Phil. 4:6). Every time I get sick about all of the junk that is happening in the world, the Christ compels me to put good out instead. The best way I can do that is by praying. How about you?

Chapter Seven – Matthew 5: The Spirit of the Law

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I want to live like that and give You all I have so that everything I say and do points to You / If love is who I am then this is where I’ll stand / Recklessly abandoned / Never holding back / I want to live like that / I want to live like that – Sidewalk Prophets, Live Like That, from the 2012 album of the same name.

In His Sermon on the Mount, the Christ gives six specific ways to be more like God. (No doubt there are more than just the six but maybe He doesn’t want to overwhelm us all at once.) He’s addressing a primarily Jewish audience and referencing the Old Testament many of them are so familiar with, but His lesson can still apply to us in the 21st century as well. Jesus takes the letter of the law, so to speak, and explains the spirit of the law. For me, they are reminders of how to live.

I call these the “It’s Not Enough To…” and the “I Must Also” list, and it goes something like this:

It’s not enough to avoid killing someone, but I must also avoid anger and hatred towards others. Both of those have an emotional impact as serious as murder’s physical impact. Both are detrimental to the soul. Jesus says that you cannot claim to love God if you hate your fellow human being.

It’s not enough to offer regular gifts in worship to the Father, but I must also have the right relationship with God and others.  The internal does matter. It does me no good to show up to church on Sunday if I harbor ill-will toward someone on the outside.

It’s not enough to simply avoid the act of adultery, but I must also keep my heart from lusting and remain faithful to my spouse.  Jesus said the mere act of THINKING about sexually being with someone who is not my spouse is the same as actually having sex with someone who is not my spouse.

It is not enough to be legally married; I must also live out my marriage commitments. Those vows? God takes them seriously and so should I.

It is not enough to keep a vow; I must also avoid casual and irresponsible commitments to God. Am I known as a person of my word? Do I treasure that enough to not frivolously make promises to God that He knows I will not keep? If I do make a promise, is it kept at all costs?

It is not enough to seek justice for myself; I must also show mercy and love to others. We all tend to be selfish and look out for our own best interests, but that is not what God wants from us. He wants us to embrace justice for those who are different from us as if they were us. That’s why Black Lives Matter. It’s not that non-Black Lives matter less, not at all.  Black Lives Matter forces our American culture to see and acknowledge that some races are valued less in society, and that should not be. We are all created equal in God’s sight. We are all valuable. We all bear the Image of God and should be treated as such. That’s why Nazis and White Supremacists are so wrong and need to be shut-down wherever they raise their ugly banner. I don’t care who says it, they are NOT fine people, and never will be.

For me, these six things are perhaps the most searing in Scripture; more than Paul’s Letters to the churches; more than the Old Testament Torah. These six things are key to living a godly life. Are they the only thing to pay attention to in Scripture? No. But they deserve to be highlighted and underlined. The page they appear on in my Bible should be dog-eared and bookmarked. The challenge for me is: how well do I do these things on a regular basis? Am I consistent in living them out to the very spirit of the law?

Chapter Six – Matthew 5: To Live and Serve

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Was I love when no one else would show up / Was I Jesus to the least of those / Was my worship more than just a song… / Am I proof that You are who you say You are / That grace can really change a heart / Do I live like Your love is True / People pass, and even if they don’t know my name is there evidence that I’ve been changed / When they see me do they see You?   – Sidewalk Prophets, Live Like That from the 2012 album of the same title.

Matthew chapter five begins the longest recorded sermon the Son of Man ever gave during His time on earth which would suggest perhaps we should pay special attention to it. Unfortunately, what I see happening in the church today would lead me to believe otherwise. Christ begins with the Beatitudes and quickly delves into how those who claim to be His should live. Several points challenge me…

First of all, I notice that crowds came from across Judea to follow the Christ, which begs the question: Does what I say and do draw people from far and near? This leads me to believe the gospel should be one of attraction and demands I live accordingly. It’s also extremely inclusive.  Notice the disciples did not screen those in attendance first to see if they were worthy. This would suggest a global view which the church seems to lack nowadays.

Secondly, in everything He says, Jesus makes it clear that those who follow Him are to serve others whether it’s by being a light on a hill or salt from a shaker. I must affect others positively just as seasoning beings out the best flavor in food and preserves it from being spoiled. More importantly, when it comes to serving others I must give up an insistence on my own rights. And, furthermore, I must give freely to those that ask of me without expecting anything in return. Finally, in serving others, obeying God’s law is more important than explaining it to others. And giving justice and mercy is more important than receiving it.

How different I see this to be than what currently resides in many Christian Leaders of today like Joel Osteen and other megachurch pastors, conservative political leaders, and right-wing pundits on TV.  I’ve listened to people like this – who claim to follow God or even speak for Him – and I don’t see the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount in them or their actions. They tend to be divisive and exclusionary. They seem to be in whatever field of work for themselves and what it can bring them. They seem to worship power, position, and money. I know these statements do not cover everyone in these positions; there are exceptions.

But I don’t know what is more alarming – that these people act like they do or that they do it with impunity; without scolding from the church. The horrible result is that those outside the church see the church, and by extension –  the Christ, as all of these negative things. And the Son of Man, who is so incredibly attractive to me, is tarnished and discarded. It can be different in this America. It must be different in this America. And in the world. The church must get out of politics and start being the servant of the Christ and His lost people. I want to live like that. You?

Chapter Five: Matthew 4 – Go Fish!

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And You reach for me / With a love that quiets all my fears…/ So many people in this world / But I hear You calling out my name./ You reach for me./ Now I’m never gonna be the same – Peter Furler, Reach, from the 2011 Album “On Fire”

I’ve only fished a handful of times in my life and never with live bait. I’ve lost a hook to a nasty Northern Pike. I’ve never caught a fish. If I had, I would have thrown it back. The thought of eating what I’ve caught has never occurred to me. I have very little patience when it comes to fishing. I don’t enjoy the peace and quiet. It’s probably safe to say, I am a horrible fisherman. And yet, my Savior calls me to be a fisher of men. How am I to successfully do this? I officially hate fishing.

The truth is, we are all called to fish for souls if we claim Christ as our master. It’s not a suggestion for if and when we feel like it. It’s not a suggestion for if and when we get good at it. It’s not a suggestion only for those who enjoy the past-time. And it’s not a way of saying everybody has to do the job the same way.

When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, He told them He would teach them to fish for men, He was meeting them where they were and encouraging them to use their already developed talents and skills for Him. And so it is with us. He’s not calling each of us to be fishermen, per say. As we’ve already established, I’m not much of one. But I do have talents and skills that He wants me to use for Him and His purpose of saving people.

One of my gifts is writing; hence, this blog. I am fishing for souls with each entry. I also have a heart to serve people. I am fishing for souls with each person I reach out to and serve. Which begs the question, what are your talents and skills? What are your gifts? More importantly, how are you using them to fish for souls? The Body of Christ has a diverse membership fully capable of diversely fishing for souls in a diverse world. Yet lately, it seems we are content to sit on the dock and yell at the fish to jump into our pews – or worse, throw dynamite – instead of seeing how far and wide we can cast our nets.

The command has been issued. What are you waiting for? Reach out. Go fish! And if you’re already fishing, keep it up. That’s how the lost get found.

Chapter Four – Matthew 4: Believing the Promises

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I’m running back to your promises one more time
Lord that’s all I can hold on to…

I know You have Your reasons for everything
So I will keep believing
Whatever I might be feeling, God, You are my hope
And You will be my strength,

  • Kerrie Roberts, No Matter What from her self-tiled 2010 album

For me, temptation burns at the wrong time like a fire on a scorching summer day. And yet, I’m drawn to the flames. It is often the combination of a real need and a possible doubt that creates an inappropriate desire. That doubt arises in God keeping His promises to me, especially when it comes to providing me with what I need to live. Come time to pay the monthly bills, I tend to panic a bit because my bank account is so low most of the time. And don’t even get me started on the future. I have a small IRA but nowhere near enough to retire on. At this point, even if I find a job tomorrow, I’m going to need to work until I’m well past 80.

Sometimes it takes all I am to remember in the Old Testament God is described by Moses as Jehovah Jirah – the provider. The Israelites wandered for 40 years and every morning God provided manna. Once a week He provided quail. He became a pillar of smoke to guide them during the day, and a pillar of fire to guide them at night. He didn’t just abandon them in the wilderness. He gave them the Law and a leader to implement it. And more. Then, when the old generation had died off, He provided the new generation children with the Promised Land. If God can do all of that for His people then, why do I have so much trouble remembering it now?

What do you struggle with? Temptation tends to focus on three primary areas: physical needs and desires, pride, and possessions and power. Or the physical, emotional, and psychological. The three components that make up all people. So basically, none of us are immune to temptation. We all have to face the fire in one form or another. What promises of God do you have to keep running back to? I tell you, it’s hard to run to promises you know nothing about, which is why immersing oneself in the Word is so important. But it’s more than that. It’s looking back on our life also to see how the Hand of God has worked things out for us. And most of all, it involves trust, that He’ll deliver us once again even when there seems to be no way. After all, He promised never to leave us or forsake us (Matthew 28:20/Hebrews 13:5). And that’s a promise worth holding onto, no matter what.

Chapter Three – Matthew 3: The Work of Faith

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“Welcome home, you / I know you by name / How do you do? / I shine because of you today / So come and sit down / Tell me how you are / I know son, it’s good just to see your face”

  • Brian Littrell, Welcome Home (You), from the 2006 album, “Welcome Home”

I live in a city known as a leader in the hospitality industry. People come from all over the world to a little oasis in the desert in order to be well-fed and entertained. A single high-rise hotel may offer as many as 4,400 rooms for visitors. UNLV recently opened a brand-new, state of the art hospitality building on their campus to train future Strip workers. There are more diamond resorts in a 3 mile route than at almost any other place in the world. If there’s anything that Las Vegas excels at, it’s welcoming the world to it’s doorstep.

Which caused me to wonder how the church is doing in that department. If I’m honest, it seems more often than naught that the last place the world is ever welcomed is in the pews. And yet, if one were to look at the third chapter of Matthew, John the Baptist is a master at helping others to welcome Jesus. Yes, his primary message is one of repentance, but the purpose is to prepare people to receive the Kingdom of Heaven when it arrives. Which leaves me to wonder, how well am I doing this? Is every connection I make, no matter how great or small, one which welcomes people in Jesus’ name? Not discriminating. Not judging. Not throwing up hoops for people to jump through first. Just simply welcoming people in.

What would this look like on a practical scale? Maybe every church operates as a homeless shelter Monday through Saturday, pausing only to hold services on Sunday. And many of the homeless are congregants, along with gamblers, refugees, alcoholics, prostitutes, embezzlers, adulterers, illegal immigrants, and various members of the LGBTQ community. If people discover what I believe by the way I live, what does the current make-up of the church say about Christ? After all, if people can’t see my faith by the way I live, then I may not be much of a Christian.

Finally, I’m impressed by how tirelessly John worked to welcome people into the Kingdom. He completely devoted his time and energy to the pursuit of others, which leaves me to wonder: do I put all of my energy into the task God has for me? Because of John’s enthusiasm and Jesus’ submission to John when He is baptized, God says He is well=pleased with His Son. That phrase “well-pleased” can be interpreted as God expressing His great joy. And I have to ask myself, “Do I bring God great joy in how I live?” Do my words reflect Him? Do my actions reflect Him? Do my thoughts reflect Him? All the time or just when it’s convenient for me? And if not, why not? Again, people will know what I believe by the way I live, act, think; especially towards others. How am I welcoming them?