Chapter Twelve – Matthew 7: Building and Renovating

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I see this hurting world of humanity, Your beloved ones / I see construction crews, principalities, we’ve been overrun / I see the walls going up like towers / hiding our bleeding hearts from Your healing love and Your power / I’m on my knees in prayer, volunteering, and I can’t wait for You to send Your demolition down from the sky / these walls have got to fall / I’ll be Your Joshua / Swing me back and let me fly / I’ll ride Your wrecking ball

  • 4Him, Wrecking Ball, from the 1992 album The Basics of Life

I had a hard time with this entry, primarily because I’m not a contractor – I don’t know the first thing about building a structure. Looking at the picture above, it’s difficult for me to know if the foundation is bad or if the house was just poorly built in the first place. I suppose both could be true. I know some lives that look as bad as this house.

Matthew wraps up his coverage of the Sermon on the Mount by including the Christ’s illustration of the wise and foolish builders.  Here, Jesus is saying to use Him as the foundation to build your life upon, and the result will be a structure that can withstand even the most brutal of difficult times. The challenge for me is to ask what kind of foundation am I building on? Is it the solid rock of Jesus and His promises and words? Unlike a physical building, which lays only one foundation and then begins building…in my life I need to repeatedly choose to start with the principles and words of the Christ every day.

But what I find especially interesting is that Matthew arranges the story of the wise and foolish builders right after Jesus’ words about producing good fruit in our lives. There’s a definite correlation. It’s almost as if Matthew is trying to make the point that a wise builder will ultimately produce a good structure (or fruit) while a foolish builder will not. It’s the same point just with a different scenario. And anytime something is repeated in Scripture, it’s usually a good idea to pay close attention to it.

To build on “solid rock” means to be a hearing, responding disciple. It involves practicing obedience (see James 1:22-27). Action is meant to be taken.  Without it, to be a hearer of the word and not a doer of the word, is like building upon the sand. It’s a useless foundation. A difference needs to exist in my life or I am no better than the fool who says there is no God. In fact, I may be worse than the atheist or agnostic, in that I will ultimately do harm to the cause of the Christ and drive nonbelievers away. I see this happening across Christianity today where so-called “Christian Leaders” have compromised key elements of the faith just to score political points.

If your belief system requires you to support a racist, bigoted adulterer and habitual liar for the Oval Office, you may be in need of a renovation of your faith. If your belief system requires you to refuse service to someone based upon their lifestyle, you may need to renovate your faith. If your belief system requires you to support a policy of separating families crossing the border, you may need to renovate your faith.

Are we placing our faith (laying a foundation) built upon the rock of Christ? Time will tell. The storms of life that come (and they always come sooner or later) will reveal the material upon which we’ve chosen to build our lives – and whether the resulting structure stands or falls. Moreover, if your faith has you living in a dilapidated structure, it may be time for some renovation to occur. Bring on the wrecking ball.

Chapter Eleven – Matthew 7: Good and Bad Fruit

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“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” – Galatians 5:22 (NLT)

The Christ is finishing up his Sermon on the Mount and he has covered a lot of ground: being salt and light, not worrying about tomorrow, the refrain to avoid judging others, and more. He finally gets to the crux of the whole dissertation: You’ll be able to tell what kind of person you are dealing with based on the “fruit” they produce in their life. Good trees will produce good fruit.  Bad trees will produce bad fruit. It’s that simple.

There’s an old saying that goes: They (the world) will know we are Christians by our love. It echoes what John writes in his first letter: “…let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love (4:7-8, NLT).  The act of showing love is only the first of several fruits the apostle Paul mentions in his letter to the Galatians. Prior to his list (noted above) he gives a very definitive list of what he considers bad fruit (see verses 19-21): selfishness, hostility, quarreling, outbursts of anger, dissension, division, sexual immorality, and so on.

The question each child of God needs to challenge themselves with daily is: What kind of fruit am I producing in my life? Because depending on the fruit I produce, I am either a good tree or a bad tree. And Jesus states very clearly what happens to bad trees; they are “chopped down and thrown into the fire”.

In our country, Christians seem to have a hard time discerning good trees from bad trees. I would look no further than the highest office in the land. The current occupant of the White House seems to exhibit nothing but bad fruit on a continuous, regular basis. And yet, supposedly – evangelicals support and promote this individual as being “chosen by God” to lead our nation. I am perplexed. Maybe this is true – but this should in no way imply he is a godly man (ie: a good tree).

You can argue with me, but I hope you wouldn’t argue with Jesus, Paul, and John. Not everyone who talks about heaven belongs in God’s Kingdom. Jesus is more concerned about our walk than our talk. He wants us to do right not just say the right words. What we do cannot be separated from what we believe, and what we believe will be shown by what we do.  Just as James wrote in his letter: “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that faith save anyone?…faith by itself is not enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless…Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works” (2:14, 17, 26, NLT).

Jesus was very clear: Just as you can identify a tree by it’s fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. No ifs, ands, or buts. Let us stand up and speak out. Let us call out bad fruit when we see it in ourselves and each other. Let us remove bad trees from our fellowship. Bad trees have no business in God’s family and they sure shouldn’t receive our support. It makes the whole orchard bad.

Chapter Ten – Matthew 7: All Rise

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“She will take the hand of the believer / Wash the feet of a deceiver / She knows how to speak the language of love / She will cry with the crier / Lay down her life for the liar / She has become the language of love” – Jeni Varnadeau, Mercy, from the 1998 album No Hesitation.

In the past, I have judged others. I have put myself in the place of God and handed down a verdict about them, their life, their motives. As the Christ wraps up his Sermon on the Mount, he addresses the subject of judging others by saying we shouldn’t do it because the manner in which we judge, we in turn will be judged by it. What He really seems to be saying is that I should judge myself before I judge others, and then lovingly forgive and help my neighbor. I realize that often the traits that bother me most in others and causes me to judge them, are traits and habits I have myself. Someone, somewhere, once said, “Everything we judge in others is something within ourselves we don’t want to face”, and there may be something to that. Jesus is right – it’s often easier to point out the spec in my neighbor’s eye than to look in the mirror and remove the plank from my own.

Then there’s the point that in all my years of judging, I rarely did it from a position of love. Dr. Wayne Dyer said, “Judging a person does not define who they are…it defines who you are”. I was definitely not a loving person, and sometimes am still not. We like to say that we are not being judgmental, but discerning, which for too many of us is a smokescreen. It’s like saying we are talking about a mutual friend behind their back strictly for the purpose of informing each other how to best pray for that person. What a bunch of hooey; we’re gossiping! There is a time and place to be discerning in our lives, but most of the time we are secretly being judgmental.

I once saw a meme that said, “Never judge someone because they sin differently than you” and it reminds me that I don’t have the authority to judge others. Jesus isn’t hiring for that job. As the late Billy Graham once said, “It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love”. Dr. W. E. Vine, in his Exposition Dictionary of New Testament words, says the word “judge” means “Primarily denotes to separate, to select, to choose, hence to determine, and so, to judge or to pronounce judgment.” Love, on the other hand, unites and uplifts. And mercy enables love. As followers of the Christ, we are not to be hypercritical or hypocritical.  Max Lucado once wrote, “It’s one thing to have an opinion.  It’s quite another to pass a verdict.  It’s one thing to have a conviction; it’s another to convict the person.”

“The most generous and merciful in judgement upon the fault of others, are always the most free from faults themselves” (James H. Aughey). “God’s mercy to us is the motivation for showing mercy to others. Remember, you will never be asked to forgive someone else more than God has forgiven you” (Pastor Rick Warren). “All of us who have received mercy from Jesus have an obligation to be the hands of mercy back to hurting people” – Duke Tabor, 18 Christian Quotes on Mercy.

So, let’s step down from the bench and rise to the occasion. Let’s leave the judging to the One who judges justly and let mercy flow from us. As Mother Teresa once said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” We are encouraged not to judge. We are commanded to love one another over and over and over. Let’s work at doing that.

 

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?