Devotion Day #11 – Mt. 5:17-20

9.29.14  6:26am – Family room. chair

Lord, You are Awesome. Thank you for breathing air into my lungs that I may spend another day moving in your will. Walk with me through today’s devotion and journaling that I might understand and communicate your message.

I love atheists, even if they do sometimes drive me crazy with their preposterous presuppositions and horrible hermeneutics. They challenge me to look at difficult areas of my faith that I might be tempted to gloss over. I’ll be honest, I was one of them once too. Today’s reading was one of those verses I liked to use to build a case for the inconsistency of Christians. And because I found it challenging after I became a Christian it was one of the first passages I tried to understand.

Matthew 5:17-20  The Fulfillment of the Law

  • Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

The law and prophets were very important to Jesus, down to the  smallest letter or the least command. But like the Pharisees who were outwardly obedient to the law, Jesus stressed that it was your motivation for that obedience, what was in your heart that really mattered. This is made clear throughout the gospels, and you see further clarifications in the following paragraphs. I can see myself doing this in a sense. I tend to rate sin and compare myself with other people. I mean, at least I never killed anyone. At least I never physically cheated on my wife. Sure I may have wished someone would die, and maybe I looked lustfully at a woman or two, but surely that’s not as bad as actually doing those actions! I still struggle with this, probably because I don’t want to admit that I am wrong. This is what challenges me now.

What use to challenge me was why do some Christians get tattoos and eat bacon if Jesus said he didn’t come to abolish the law. I started to look into this and even posted once on this blog about my personal struggles about whether I should get a new tattoo or not. I haven’t gone back to read it since I wrote it, but I remember touching on a different category of law. Further into my studies I discovered that the categories of laws can essentially be broken down into three groups:

  1. Ceremonial Law: These are the laws God gave to Israel to separate the people of Israel from the Polytheistic Pagan nations that surrounded them. These laws included regulations concerning clothing, cleanliness, diet. We no longer need to sacrifice animals to cover our sin, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross took away our sin and these laws were fulfilled in Him, meaning they have come to completion.
  2. Civil/Judicial Law: Are laws which are culturally specific to ancient Israel. Laws falling into this category included penalties for various crimes, rules for business transactions. These expired after the fall of the Jewish civil government. Today, as a U.S. citizen I no longer have to pay parliamentary taxes, because we are no longer under control of the British government.
  3. Moral Law: These are God’s laws that are binding for all people, in all cultures, at all times. These will never expire, because God’s moral character will never change. These include the ten commandments; laws that we all know, they are the laws written on our hearts (Rom 2).

And it is the moral laws that Jesus further goes on to describe in the following paragraphs. I have found that reading a verse in context will overrule many of these objections.  When God says he has judged other nations for having broken a law, it is most likely a moral law. Understanding this, has helped me significantly in so many areas.

Lord, I thank you for the objections you have overruled and opened my eyes to your grace. I pray that you change my heart so that your moral laws come naturally, so that I don’t have to struggle as much as I do with impure thoughts. As always it is in Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN!

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Devotion Day #10 – Mt 5:13-16

9.27.14 7am – family room chair

Father, thank you for your guidance in continuing with this devotion, as I type and reflect on todays passage I ask for your work in me to transform me to your will.

I could technically be finished with this devotion challenge, as I hit the minimum number of entries. But I am really enjoying it. I plan to continue in this format until our next small group meeting, and after I think I will change the format a little. Maybe removing the date and time, and keeping the prayers private.

I decided to keep rolling with Matthew and the Sermon on the Mount. I have always liked this discourse, but as I have discovered with the beatitudes there is a lot I have skipped over without giving much thought.

Matthew 5:13

  • You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

I do most of the cooking at our house, and one thing that drives me crazy is when my wife salts her food without tasting it. But what makes it worse if I have to reach across the table for the salt shaker because after tasting my food it turns out she was right. Salt enhances the flavor of bland food and cuts bitterness. Health effects aside, it is a pretty useful seasoning and preservative, and it is essential for human life. As a Christian I should be the seasoning to a bitter world. In lieu of the preceding beatitudes and in light (pun intended) of the following verses, it stands to reason that being salty is  expressed in how I live and love.  But salt that doesn’t have any flavor isn’t good for anything except making soil infertile. I have met Christians like this. People who claim to be Christian but are not living like Christians. I feel they do more to harm Christianity and make it difficult for any seeds planted to grow.

Matthew 5:14-16

  • You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

If I truly live for Christ, and am truly being transformed by the Spirit, my life should be visible to everyone like a town built on a hill. Everyone who looks will see its lights. If I go along with a crowd, or ignore one of those fallacious internet memes which try to make a case against Christ by taking a Bible verses out of context, I am dimming that light.  I feel that if I don’t engage culture, if I don’t associate with pre-believers and live in a Christian bubble I am even further dimming that light, and have become as useless as salt without any flavor. Good deeds in Christianity are not required for salvation, but they are an expected  sign of salvation.  I don’t think my sign always points in the right direction. Sometimes, and more so since I have read the beatitudes, I wonder if my life is really as reflective of Christ’s as it could be. There are times when instead of humbly reaching across the table for the salt shaker, I try to choke down the bland food in order to prove that I was right and don’t need it. And that is exactly what I do when I remain silent and don’t live like a Christian.

Lord, thank you for challenging me with these devotions. I ask that you give me the courage to let your light shine in me in all situations. Amen!

 

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Devotion Day #9 – Mt 5:10

9.25.14 5:13 In bed

Father God, thank you forgiving me life and another day to dive into your word. As I focus on today’s devotion, the last of the Beatitudes, I humbly ask for your guidance.

Matthew 5:10

  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Un-Beatitude

  • Wretched are the uncommitted for convenience’s sake, for their destination is hell.

If anyone thinks Jesus teaches a health and wealth gospel, they should read carefully these Beatitudes! This last one tops it off, suggesting that we will be persecuted. Jesus further clarifies this in Matthew 5:11 by stating: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me”.

If I live according to the Beatitudes, if I live a transformed life, people are going to take notice.  As a Christian I am called to live a life different from the rest of the world. This was true in Roman culture and it is true today. People should know I am a Christian, not because I wear a cross, or say that I am, but because of the way I live. But as long as I am living differently, people are going to take notice, and they will not all be encouraged by my faith. I will be challenged, I will be left out of things, I will loose Facebook friends, and I will be called a close-minded intolerant bigot. And in fact I have experienced all of these things. If the world persecuted Jesus I should expect nothing less than it should persecute me for imitating Him. Deitrich Bohnhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor who was imprisoned and later sent to a Nazi concentration camp for very vocally opposing Hitler’s genocidal ideology, understood this well. In persecution he said:

“Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer. In fact it is a joy and a token of his grace”.

And this is a man who suffered and was persecuted for not backing down on the Truth. Look at the apostles, martyred for not backing down from the Truth. Paul writes letters while he is in prison and knows he is going to be executed, yet he has this unwavering hope. I can find courage in that, I need to find courage in that. I have this desire that people like me, so much so that I often I don’t say what is on my mind in order not to offend anyone. But the Truth is always offensive to those not living in it, even if I speak it in love. I don’t have to agree with someone in order to love them, in order to make peace with them, and I shouldn’t be afraid if they don’t like me. I should be afraid if God doesn’t like me. And if I can recognize that I don’t always follow these Beatitudes, then I can be certain an omniscient God knows.

When persecution comes what should I do? In Matthew 5:12 Jesus further tells me that I should “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you”.
The more I am attacked and the more I am persecuted, the more I know I am speaking truth. The enemy wouldn’t attack me if I wasn’t a threat. Yes, it is scary, but it is God’s will, and as I have stated before; there is no safer place.

Lord, thank you for this study on the Beatitudes! I pray that I can reflect on them and understand them more throughout my studies, and I ask that you transform me to your will. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!

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Devotion Day #7.5 & 8 – Mt 5:9

9..24.14 4:50 am – Bed 

Lord thank you for the clarity regarding the Beatitudes.  Help me to organize and communicate better my thoughts.

Matthew 5:9

  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Yesterday, I feel I was on to something with this Beatitude but was unable to get it out fully. I have spent the day reflecting and would spend today as well.

The first thing that comes to mind is that this Beatitude is not not a prescription for becoming a child of God. It does not say if you are a peacemaker you will be a child of God, but if you are a peacemaker you will be called a child of God. If it is looked at as prescriptive there is no room for grace, and Christianity becomes a works-based religion. I touched on this a little yesterday, but other areas took my focus. So I want to break this Beatitude down again, but I need to start with the second half.

For they will be called children on God:  In yesterday’s post I think it was an accurate assessment that to be called a child of God is an expression of  reflecting the Fathers will.  The expression, “like father, like son” comes to mind. God will call us His children when he is pleased. When our actions reflect Him. It is the children who inherit the kingdom.

If this Beatitude isn’t prescriptive, how then do I become a child of God? The answer is given elsewhere:

  • Yet to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. -John 1:12
  • So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God, through faith -Galatians 3:26
  • For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. -Romans 8:14-17

I think these passages make it clear that being a child of God is something that is only attainable through faith in Christ. The last says more about how I think the term “child of God” is used in this Beatitude. We, through faith in Christ are His heirs. But this isn’t a life of carefree bliss, just to go about doing what I want and asking for forgiveness later. This is a life of transformation by the Spirit!

  • So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. -Galatians 5:16-18

How do I know if I am “walking in the Spirit”? I know by the expression of certain attributes. The fruits of the spirit:

  • But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. -Galatians 22-23 (emphasis added)

Blessed are the peacemakers: I think it is clear that being a peacemaker isn’t something I do to become a child of God, it is something I do because I am already a child of God. It is something that can only be truly done through the transformative work of the Holy Spirit.

A peacemaker is someone who is actively attempting to make peace. Making peace is not a passive avoidance of conflict. It is actively confronting situations in attempts to resolve a conflict.  I think I was clear on the last post about how my motivation for making peace is just as important as my action. If I make peace for my personal gain it is only self-righteousness. How then should I make peace?

  • You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. -Galatians 5:13-15

The answer, throughout the Bible is clear. By loving my neighbor as myself. This includes a variety of actions; physical mental, and spiritual. It does not just involve making peace between ourselves and different people, but also making peace between people and God.

What unsettles me most is that the fruits of the Spirit, and the Beatitudes are aspects of God’s will, and I don’t always want to carry them out. I don’t always want to be a peacemaker, sometimes I just want to keep my head down and avoid conflict. But this is not what God wills and to live outside of God’s will, and  put my will above His is sin. That doesn’t sound like I am truly walking in the Spirit. I need to change, I need the Holy Spirit to transform me, and I need to stop resisting Him.

Lord, thank you for shaking me on this devotion and waking me up to areas I may not have wanted to think about. I ask that you help me to live a Spirit filled life. To help me swallow my insecurities and be a peacemaker, to speak the Truth in love even if it does not make me popular among men.  I pray that your will be done through me Lord. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!

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Devotion Day #7 – Mt 5:9

9.23.14 8:40 am – Family room chair.

Lord, thank you for today’s devotion. Guide me to responsibly reflect on it as I move through the days work.

 

Matthew 5:9

  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Un-Beatitude

  • Wretched are those who reject peace, for they will earn the title “Sons of Satan”.

Wow, the Unbeatitude is pretty harsh. I question myself here though. Why does being called a “son of Satan” make my skin crawl, but being called a “child of God” doesn’t have the opposite effect? I should rejoice that the Father has lavished me with love that I can be called child of God (1 Jn 3:1)!

Instead of focusing on what I want to be, I seem to be focusing on what I don’t want to be. It is an attitude of; as long as I am not a son of Satan I’m good. But am I really? It seems like the “at least I’m not as bad as…” argument. Truthfully, I don’t have to be as bad as Adolf Hitler or Mao Zedong, all that is required is that I don’t desire to be a child of God. If I don’t want that, then I have fallen into the enemy’s trap and am already a son of Satan.

I don’t think my lack of overwhelming enthusiasm in being God’s child is evidence of the opposite, but it could be the sign of walking a slippery slope, and that is a terrifying thought. I think I am scared more by the Unbeatitude because I know my own shortcomings. I don’t feel good enough to be God’s son. And I am not, nor will I ever be, on my own. As long as I desire to receive Christ I will receive Christ (can a repentant Christian ever commit apostasy? That perhaps, is a future entry and one I’m not prepared to discuss now). It is through Christ that God sees me. His sinlessness covers my sin. It is through Him that I am a child of God. Now, in one sense we are all God’s children being that he created us all, and that we are all image bearers of Him. But if this were the meaning of the phrase here, the first part of the Beatitude is irrelevant. Peacemaker or not, we would all be called children of God. I think perhaps the more appropriate way of looking at it is that it is the children share the Father’s will, and who live in and inherit the His kingdom.

I think a peacemaker is someone who actively seeks out peace. Someone who actively seeks to end conflict and suffering. Anyone can outwardly do that, but I feel it is the inner motives that are key. When I seek to make peace it should be because, as an image bearer of God, I am reflecting his attributes toward other image bearers of God, anything less is arrogant and self-righteous. Anything less is making peace for my own benefit, maybe because I am annoyed with the fighting or afraid something I want will get lost in the cross-fire. I cannot know the Father apart from the Son, and in order to clearly reflect God I need to be untarnished.

Sin is like dirt on a mirror, causing the reflection to be clouded. I can take my hand and try to clean it, but my actions alone just smear the dirt around. Jesus, in this image would be like a power washer filled with Windex. It is only through Christ that I can clearly reflect God’s image.  I can only make peace if I know what peace is. I can only know the will of the Father through the sacrifice of the Son, and it is through the sacrifice of the Son that God sees me as his child to work out his will.

I feel like there is more to develop here. I might take tomorrow to continue thinking about this Beatitude.

 

Thank you Lord, for challenging me to think about these beatitudes.  I ask that you help me to uncover any clouded area in my thought, and help me to clearly understand and communicate this. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!

 

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Devotion Day #6 – Mt 5:8

9.22.14 6:06 am – Family room chair.

Gracious Father, Thank you for this day. I ask that you kep me intellectually honest, emotionally open, and walk with me today as I reflect on this devotion.

 

Matthew 5:8

  • Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (NIV)

Un-Beatitude

  • Wretched are those with impure hearts, for thew will not see God.

Today’s  Beatitude seems pretty straight forward again. Most of the translations are the same, a couple translate “pure” as “clean”. I feel like I have a lot to say and reflect on this verse.

To be pure in heart isn’t to have a low LDL and clean arteries. The heart in Biblical language is the center of our being. Our thoughts, actions, emotions, and courage all emerge from it. Everything we do flows from it, and it is to be guarded above all else (Pr 4:23). To be pure is to be spiritually clean, to be sanitized by God from the contaminating influences of sin.

Working in a healthcare setting; I can see sin as a lot like bacteria. It can creep into clean and sterile procedures, even if we are careful and sanitize all equipment. Sometimes the patients bring it in, sometimes something was missed in cleaning procedures, and sometimes the bacteria is resistant to our techniques of purification. Regardless of how it gets to us, it only takes one microorganism of a few micrometers in size to spread throughout our body, and to wreak havoc on our systems, leading to sepsis and death.

To be pure in heart is something I struggle with daily. The phrase “garbage in, garbage out” comes to mind. I think I noticed the effects of this first when I made the switch to Christian radio when I was driving. I use to be very aggressive and on the verge of road rage. When I made the switch I essentially turned driving into rolling prayer. I am not suggesting Christian music has magickal powers, but that it changed my focus while driving. I still get angry, but it is not as often and does not last nearly as long as it did before.

Still, there are other environmental triggers that cause me contamination. It could be a magazine cover at the gas station that causes me to look a little too long, a movie or TV show that may cause impure thoughts, even an internet advertisement or suggested video that I struggle not to click. There are so many personal triggers that I am tempted to move to the mountains and homeschool my children! But I feel that would be sin too! If I disengage from secular society and pop culture, I am not in a position to make disciples. It would be like speaking in tongues without an interpreter. I feel it is important to engage people from their own culture and language. The difference is not which people or situations I interact with, but how I interact with them. And here is the heart of my personal struggle. As long as I am engaging a contaminated culture there is the risk of cross-contamination.

No sin, however, can contaminate the Cross. Christ is like the antibiotic that no sin is, or will ever, become resistant to. It is only through Him that my heart will be made pure, and only through Him that I will see God.

At this point in my walk with Jesus, I recognize some of my triggers. But unlike before I knew Him, I am now able to change my focus. To stop, drop, and pray when I feel those embers burning. I know there will be a day when they have no effect on me, but until then I will struggle. In this life, sin will still enter my system, but by the inner work of the Holy Spirit and keeping my mind on things above, I know it’s effect is only temporary.

Lord, thank you for this time of reflection, I pray that you will continue to work in me and change me. Purify my heart, help me to recognize and disarm my sinful triggers. In Jesus name I pray, AMEN!

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Devotion Day #5 – Mt 5:7

9.21.15 5:43 am- Family room chair.

Lord, thank you for this devotion, for this day, and for your word. As I study today and reflect on this Beatitude I ask that you guide me and let me hear what you are saying.

Matthew 5:7

  • Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.(NIV)

Un-Beatitude

  • Wretched are the merciless, for they will be shown no mercy.

I feel this Beatitude is pretty straight forward. What does it mean to show mercy? It means to have compassion for someone, and to be forgiving of them. It is to actively love someone, desiring to remove their suffering. When I am showing mercy I am living out God’s will. I am loving my neighbor.

Before I came to know Christ, I liked to think of myself as a charitable do-gooder. But in truth, until I learned what True mercy is, I was only acting on self righteousness. Doing good things in order to store up Karma XP points. I think I need to be careful in how I express mercy. I do not show mercy (well, at least I really hope I don’t), in order to receive mercy from God. I show mercy because I have already received mercy from God. He set the bar and on my own I can’t reach it. It is only through Him that mercy can fully express itself in me. I can take steps towards caring for someone, but it is only by Him that those steps become leaps.

Lord, thank you again for this day I have to study your word. Help me to apply it, help me to change any wrong motives I have in showing mercy. Help me not to get impatient when someone requires more than I was expecting. People say that is one thing I should never pray for, and to be honest with you God, it scares me a little. But I know that whatever happens, that in your will and by your mercy I am in the safest place there is. AMEN!

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