Chapter Seven – Matthew 5: The Spirit of the Law


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


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!


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


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


“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?

Chapter Two – Matthew 2: Giving and Guidance

One star burns in the darkness / Shines with a promise / Emmanuel / One child born in the stillness / Living within us / Emmanuel – Matt Maher, Glory (Let There Be Peace) – Single.

It’s been said that stars shine brightest in the darkness. Yet the only people who recognized a special star in the heavens were the ones looking for it. And when it appeared, they followed it to a special baby in another country, proving that divine guidance comes only to prepared hearts. It doesn’t come to just anyone or everyone. Even though the star was there for all to see, only a select few acted upon it. Just like when the time came to quickly leave his homeland, Joseph took his wife and child and went to Africa. He had been told in a dream to marry a woman who was not carrying his child, and he did so. Now he was being told to flee before that child could be slaughtered by a jealous king. His heart had proved before that it was prepared to obey, so divine guidance was given for a second time. How am I preparing my heart to receive divine guidance that I may act? Would I recognize it because I am actively looking for it?

The second lesson I draw from this chapter concerns the act of worship by those wise men. They brought gifts. Expensive gifts. Gifts that, no doubt, cost them something. And that, in a nutshell, is the definition of worship. It’s not necessarily sitting in a special building, singing special songs or hearing someone preach a special message. It is not saved for a special day of the week. Worship is the act of giving what is valuable to me to someone else whenever it is necessary. It comes in the form of a listening ear or offering to drive someone to a doctor’s appointment across town. Sometimes it involves money. Sometimes it involves time. It always involves the heart and mind working together. Most of the time, it is quiet and doesn’t draw attention to itself. I would be willing to bet that journey and act of worship was not a one-time deal for those wise men. Scripture doesn’t record it, but I suspect those individuals had made a lifestyle habit out of seeking out opportunities to worship so that when the star appeared, of course they would follow it. So how does all of this impact me? It makes worship something that can happen on an hourly basis instead of a weekly one. And it makes worship something that is not a solitary act, nor something for my benefit. It steps me outside myself so I am reaching out to others God has placed in my path. In reaching out to them, in giving to them, I am involved in the act of worship – not of them, but through them. And I can’t help but believe that touches God’s heart as much as singing a song to Him does or sitting in a church. And it proves Emmanuel is living within us.

Chapter One – Matthew 1: Breaking the Silence

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

  • Simon and Garfunkel, 1966 From the Album, Sounds of Silence

For over four hundred years, the Jews waited in silence for God to speak to them again. For over four hundred years, all they had were the words of the prophets and leaders like Moses to give them comfort and direction. For over four hundred years, they wondered where their God had gone. Sound familiar? Have you ever turned to God only to hear nothing but silence from Him?

The first thing I notice in this chapter of Matthew is that between the end of the Old Testament writings and the New Testament writings spans four hundred years of silence, until suddenly, God proves He was working in the silence all along on His plan to redeem humankind.

An angel appears first to a young girl and then to her fiancé with astonishing news of a special baby. But His first words to these individuals are: Do NOT be afraid; the same words He says to us over 365 times in Scripture: One reminder for each day of the year. How many times in my life have I turned to God only to be met with a lengthy silence, and then to be told when that silence is finally broken: Have no fear; Be brave? As He explains His silence, I can see He has been faithfully working all along on the issue I initially took to Him. He has not really been silent; He has been working and my job is to trust that He has not abandoned me, as I fear,  during those times.

The second lesson I find in the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel is that God will provide a way I haven’t thought of if I obey Him. Joseph believed he had only two options when it came to Mary’s unexpected pregnancy: 1) to disgrace Mary publicly, or 2) to break the engagement quietly. How often do I look at a situation and believe my options are limited? God spoke to Joseph in a dream and offered a way he had never thought of – to take Mary as his wife. AND HE OBEYED. When God finally explains what He has been working on, how readily do I obey Him?

The third lesson I find comes from the lengthy genealogy of Jesus. Familiarity with the Old Testament reveals the Messiah’s family tree consisted of liars, scoundrels, prostitutes, con men, and other unsavory individuals. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for holiness and godliness, which proves that God uses all kinds of people to fulfill His purposes. We may not always understand how this is possible – but the evidence is clear as Paul would write later: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28, NLT). Even the worst of the worst can be called according to the purpose of God and used for His glory. Perhaps I should refrain from judging others while I wear the blinders of limited vision as to how the Almighty is working. Perhaps I should just trust that no one is beyond His ability to use them even if they are not the godliest of examples to follow. After all, my thoughts and ways are not His.

So, the challenge becomes will I trust He is working, even in the silences? When He does provide me with a way I haven’t thought of – will I obey Him? And who am I to judge who God chooses to use for His purpose? I see with limited vision. He sees beyond the horizons with perfect clarity. That knowledge needs to be enough for me.

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me! This site will seek to chronicle my journey through Scripture on a weekly basis as I record what God is teaching me along the way. It is good, honest and kind conversation which is desired, if you are willing. Shall we get started? The road is long and winding…

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton