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All posts for the month January, 2017

The book of Matthew has always been one of my favorite New Testament writings; this isn’t because I think its “better” than other texts, but it is the one I really dove into first when I gave my life to Christ at the age of 17. Matthew 4 constantly gave me life and hope when I saw the way Jesus dealt with struggles and temptations.

When I was in my first semester at Bible college, the first time I moved away to somewhere I’d never lived with people I had never met, some of those comforts of “home”: hometown, home church, family, friends, etc… were no longer there.

And this was a good thing. It opened my eyes to truly understanding that I need Christ more than anything or anyone else. He is always there with me.

On this certain day in that first semester, I was feeling dry. I was feeling down. I was feeling like there was a big chunk of me missing. I had to go to class but I knew there was something I needed to do in order to establish a healthy foundation with Christ. I couldn’t lean on people, churches, jobs, or things: I needed to lean solely on Christ. Without looking at a Bible, Matthew 6 jumped in my head. I couldn’t remember what was in it. But I Felt this very present, burning desire to finish up my class and run back to my room, close the door, and go spend time with God: in prayer and in the Word.

I did that very thing. I hurried back to my room, closed the door shut and opened up my Bible to Matthew 6.

Funny thing: its about prayer. Its all about how we can and should pray. And to put the cherry on top: Verse 6 just lays it out “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Instantly I was like “OK God, I’m listening!”

So this is a passage I love to look back to, glean from, and continue to go deeper into it because it impacted me in such a positive way as God spoke to me as a young college student.

What I want to focus on today is, as you may have guessed, the “And when you” statements.

These statements are really about how to do good things without them becoming about us. Its about remembering why we are doing what we do: giving, praying, you name it.

Jesus starts this chapter off with a warning, to be careful to not boast our righteousness just to be noticed by those around us. The reward isn’t to be recognized for “how great we are” but to point out how great God is and one day receive the reward of living eternally with Him!

The “and when you” statements that follow are directly related to this warning. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you like the hypocrites. Rather, give in secret, not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing. God will reward you, don’t try to force an earthly reward by making sure people know how great of a giver you are.

Likewise, when we pray, it shouldn’t be done boasting lofty words out loud from the street corners.

Rather, as I mentioned earlier, when we pray, we need to focus solely on God. Prayer isn’t about how eloquent we sound to our friends and fellow believers. If that is the reward we seek, then it pales in comparison to the reward we receive for truly caring for actually recognizing that this conversation and intimate time spent with God is far greater.

Notice the theme here: The thing that all of these “and when you” statements have in common is that it requires us to turn our eyes towards Christ and away from ourselves. Our prayers, our giving, our _____, fill in the blank, need to be so sincere and honest that if all we have is prayer time in a sectioned off closet in our house where no one but God can hear us and know we have a vibrant prayer life and in our giving, if no one in the world knows that we give a dime to help anyone or anything, then that is enough because it is for God.

This does not mean that people can’t know we give or can’t hear us pray, though. What ultimately is important here is our attitude that goes into it. Are we seeking approval of man and thus cheapening the authority of God in our lives?

Essentially, if we care more about what those around us think more than Him, then that is what we are doing.

Its about trust. We need to trust God throughout all of this. This is discussed here in verse 8 “So do not be like them;” (the hypocrites, the Pharisees, those who are putting on a show for men rather than seeking after God’s heart) “for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

That right there is deep! We get so wrapped up in what others think and the pseudo-approval we think we need from them that we sail right past the mark God has for us.

Jesus then outlines a wonderful prayer for us that should guide our lives: Give glory to God, seek His kingdom, trust Him to provide for our needs, help us to love and forgive those around us, protection us from evil and temptation, and recognize that God is in control.

So, when you _________, trust in the Lord! We are living in a time where everyone seems to be at odds with one another. We live in a time where it may feel confusing as to how to “be Christ to the world”. It can be hard, especially if we try putting everything on our own shoulders.

It is as important as ever to seek to live like Christ. When we focus on the things that are close to His heart and make it our priority to please Him rather than ourselves or others first, that is when greater things will come. Trust in Christ, God knows our needs, let us seek His will here on the Earth.

Amen.

Our journey. Life. Death. Victories. Struggles. Bravery. Fear. Comfort. Agony. Confidence. Worry. Calm. Storm….. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Our lives are full of feelings, events, truths, realities, struggles, etc… I am not here to tell you that I have a secret formula to avoid anything hard in your life.

That is largely in part because it one: isn’t possible and two: even if we could avoid many of those struggles, what are we missing out on when we get to the other side?

Before I go further, I’m not being masochistic or thinking that God wants us to struggle so we can “see how good we have it” or anything like that. I truly know and believe God wants and has what is best for us. However, it is an ever present reality that we will deal with struggles in our lives.

Hence why I am titling this series of posts “The Journey”. Life is full of ups and downs. Something beautiful about a journey is that there are ups and downs, but the goal, the destination, the purpose, that is what keeps driving us forward in our journey towards the goal. 1 Corinthians 9:24 is fitting to this when Paul says “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.”

I am no star athlete by any means, but I do know that a race is not easy. Not only does it take training and practice before the race can be competed in and completed, but throughout it there are plenty of highs and lows. Your body requires a balance of hydration, rest, strength training, endurance training, etc… You can get a cramp, trip and fall, get dehydrated, heat exhaustion, etc…

And oh yeah, YOU CAN FINISH! 🙂

Let this be the focal point of what I am saying here. I didn’t state the negative things to whine or complain or try to gain compassion for our struggles, but it was instead to help us remember what we need to be focused on: Following Jesus.

In our midweek Men’s study at church, we are going through a book called “The Anatomy of a Disciple” (Taylor, 2013), and in it, there is a great, profound, yet simple statement that being a disciple means you follow “a teacher, with the intent of becoming like them.” But how? How do we become more like Jesus?

Bring your focus back to Matthew 5 here. This is a fairly popular portion of Scripture known as the Sermon on the Mount and, in the portion we are looking at directly, the Beatitudes. They are fascinating. They are short sentences that we can truly chew on for a life time and still grow and learn from.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4      “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5      “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

6      “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7      “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

8      “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9      “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10      “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11      “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.

12      “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.[1]

Some of these things, most would probably say “Yes, I want that to be an attribute of my life and character”: gentleness, righteousness, peace, purity, etc…

Then there are some that are like what? I’m blessed if I am: in mourning? If I am persecuted and insulted? How?

Those can be hard to swallow at first. If we are in mourning, that means we have experienced a loss. If we are persecuted and insulted and have false lies spoken against us, well, that isn’t fun! So how could I possibly call that a blessing?

When Jesus spoke these words, they were just as shocking to the people back then. In their society, these would have been contradictory to the norm and opposite of what people would have stated as having a favored, blessed, life.

Notice a common theme throughout the blessed statements here? Show mercy, be pure in heart, mourn, hunger for righteousness, make peace, be persecuted for the sake of righteousness. ALl of those things point away from one’s self and recognizes that our true needs are only met elsewhere: through God. Show mercy to others, make peace with others, be so willing to live a righteous life even to the point where if making a stand for God means we suffer hardship and persecution: then so be it because it is the path we need to take.

When we suffer loss and mourn, we aren’t turning inward and saying “I can take care of myself” but rather are outwardly recognizing loss and that we need to go to God for comfort.

So: The Journey. It will have its ups and downs. It will have its tough times. Hold strong to it though because as we move through this journey of following Christ, there are things to be celebrated and we must cling to the fact that even in our darkest of hours, God is right there with us, comforting and guiding our every step.

As I continue to discuss our journey of following Christ by going through the Gospels, let us remember that God is with us and that even when we face hard times, the race we are running and the prize we are headed towards so greatly outweighs the struggles the persecution we will face.

May God bless, lead and comfort you, Amen.

 

1 New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995. Print.
Taylor, Rick, and Rick Taylor. The anatomy of a disciple: so many believers, so few disciples. Fresno, CA: The Well Community Church, 2013. Print.