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Love God, Grow Together, Reach the World

    Daily Devotions - Entries from September 2012

    FriFridaySepSeptember28th2012 Seek first...

    “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:28-34)

    Truth be told, I do sometimes worry about what I am going to eat and drink. There are times when I look at my bank account and I wonder where we are going to find the money to pay all the bills. I wonder about college tuitions, and financing four weddings for my four daughters. I look at my car and I worry about how to fix the transmission or pay for new tires. The concerns of this world are real and present and pressing in on me every day. I can’t spiritualize away the bill for a trip to the doctor or the weekly visit to the grocery store.

    Does this make me no better than the pagans? I guess it depends. How severe is my worry? There is a healthy and appropriate degree of concern that stems from careful planning and a clear assessment of potential risks. This is what leads us to save our money and manage our finances. This is what leads us to eat well and exercise often.

    But we all know that at some point planning can cross the line and turn into obsession. Our imagined futures can become idols that are more important than anything else, even God. If anyone, or anything, threatens to derail our plans, then our anxiety can become all-consuming.

    According to Jesus, the solution is fairly straight-forward. “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.” That’s the corrective for us as we balance the needs of today and the pressures of tomorrow. Easier said than done, for sure, but the pursuit that has to guide everything we do and all that we are.  

    ThuThursdaySepSeptember27th2012 Do not worry

    “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? (Matthew 6:25-27)

    Given the unprecedented levels of personal affluence, advanced medical care and superior quality of living available to us living two thousand years after the birth of Christ, it is astonishing that fear and worry are still so prevalent among us. It doesn’t matter how amazing our hospitals get, how advanced the drugs become, or how clever the doctors are, we are still terrified of getting sick and dying.

    Although worry is usually directed out into the world, the truth is that the real problem is not out there at all, it’s inside me. Our fear of flying, for example, has nothing to do with planes, and everything to do with our heart. Our fears reveal whom we really trust, and how much.

    Is Jesus suggesting we just meander blindly through life assuming everything will come to us on a silver platter? Of course not. But He is calling us to live a life of radical trust in God, through thick and thin, through times of blessing and times of disaster, through births and deaths alike.

    In contrast, chronic fear and anxiety reveals a growing lack of faith, and a heart that doesn’t quite believe God really is who He says He is. God loves you deeply. Whatever your life circumstances may be. Whether you live to be 120 or die tomorrow. How can we be sure? Look at the cross. The ultimate expression of His great love for us came in the sacrifice of His Son Jesus. That’s how much He cares for you and for me.  

    WedWednesdaySepSeptember26th2012 You cannot serve both God and money

    “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24)

    Our hearts are so set on sin that it’s incredible the kinds of mental games we play with ourselves as we read the Bible. This verse is a perfect example. When we read a warning about someone who “serves money” we conjure up images of some kind of greedy financier, obsessively working all hours of the day and night in the relentless pursuit of an ever-bigger bank balance. Conveniently, few of us fall into that category. But does that let us off the hook?

    There are two ways to approach this question. First, how have we let money become our master? Think about the decisions you make, the places where you invest your time and resources, the desires that drive your actions and the needs you feel just “have” to be met. Set aside the image of a greedy man counting gold coins and think instead about a life lived in pursuit of comfort and pleasure.

    The second way to approach this question is to consider your service to God. Jesus seems to be implying here, as He does elsewhere, that there is no middle ground when it comes to following Him. Either we are serving God or we are not. We can’t “sort of” follow God. He wants every part of us (heart, soul, mind, strength).

    We are called to be obedient slaves to a mighty King. How well are we living up to that standard?

    TueTuesdaySepSeptember25th2012 The blind

     “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23)

     

    My grandfather was blind, and as a very young child this was very confusing to me. I remember trying to understand what that was like, so I would close my eyes and walk around the room without bumping into things and hurting myself. Of course, I couldn’t last more than a few seconds before opening my eyes again.

    Without healthy eyes we cannot see, and without healthy hearts we cannot live in a way that is pleasing to God. Just as our eyes provide the visual input necessary for us to discern our environment and move accordingly, so to do our hearts (when indwelt by the Holy Spirit) provide the moral and spiritual direction we need to be followers of Jesus. Therefore, in the same way that if our eyes are clouded over with cataracts or blindness, we cannot see, so to if our hearts are blinded by greed and sin and idolatry, we will not be able to live for God.

    As we read through this entire sermon (Matthew 5-7) it becomes clear that Jesus was speaking to many people who were convinced that they had 20/20 vision, when the reality was that they were in effect legally blind.

    We should count ourselves as among the most blessed people in all of history to be living this side of the Cross. For, although the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, laying bare the evil in our hearts in ways that can be quite uncomfortable and disconcerting at times, Jesus also promises us that our sin has been paid for and the slate wiped clean.

    What difference has this made in your life? What difference will it make in the lives of others this week as a result?

     

    MonMondaySepSeptember24th2012 Where is my hope?

    “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

    Clearly we all do, in fact, store up all kinds of things this side of Heaven. Our houses are filled with things we’ve collected along the way in life. Have you opened your desk drawers recently? What about all those boxes neatly stacked in the basement, crawl-space, garage and attic?

    Is this a bad thing? Are we all living in sin as a result? Should we purge our homes of everything and go live in a studio apartment instead? It sort of depends. Clearly, owning possessions in and of itself is not the problem. It would be strange for God to send us blessings and then condemn us for being blessed. However, it’s also possible than many of us are indeed accumulating wealth and possessions in a way that may be impacting our spiritual vitality and fruitfulness.

    Ultimately, it’s not the things themselves that are at issue, it’s the person holding them. Jesus is shining a light on our character here more than our actions. He is primarily concerned with the condition of our hearts. How tightly are we clinging to our possessions? When push comes to shove, where is hope really located? Is our confidence in God based on His Word? Or is it based on having a comfortable and stable life with a home in the right neighborhood, a car with the right safety features, a school with the right reputation, a sports teams with the right coaches, and access to all the right friends?

    The things we are most captivated by will in turn captivate our hearts (and eventually, our soul, mind and strength as well). What has a hold on your heart right now? What are you going to do about it?

    FriFridaySepSeptember21st2012 Learning to Pray

    Although it’s doubtful Jesus intended for the disciples to only pray these specific words, there is something to be said for having a couple of rote prayers in our prayer arsenal. Although culturally speaking we have a strong preference for more free-form prayer “from the heart,” we should not shy away from memorizing fixed patterns of prayer. Children, in particular, often don’t know how to pray or what to pray, and giving them the Lord’s Prayer can be very helpful.

    Memorized prayers can also be particularly helpful in times of distress, confusion, doubt, tiredness or fear. When you find yourself sitting in a hospital waiting room, filled with worry, the Lord’s Prayer can be incredibly comforting. When our minds are scattered and we are completely distracted by a thousand to-do items we feel compelled to complete, using a memorized prayer can save us from further confusion.

    Finally, when we want to pray, and feel like we should pray, but for some reason the words are just not coming, starting with the Lord’s Prayer as a model to build on can be a great way to re-center our minds on Christ.

    That said, this is not a magic formula, but rather a framework to help us think about the form and content of our prayers. The Sermon on the Mount forces us to re-examine every last little corner of our spiritual lives in order to root out hypocrisy and superficiality. May the Spirit guide you in that work this week. 

    ThuThursdaySepSeptember20th2012 May God's Kingdom Come

    Every Tuesday morning we come together as a staff to pray. We pray for each other, for the Church around the world, for our church in particular, for the needs of our community, and for the people in our congregation. We pray for men, women and children fighting cancer and other illnesses. We pray for provision for the many people struggling with unemployment. We pray for families that are broken and need healing and hope. We pray for divine intervention in the lives of individuals struggling with sin and addictions and the results of terrible decisions. We pray:

    your kingdom come,

                 your will be done,

                             on earth as it is in heaven.

                Give us today our daily bread.

                And forgive us our debts,

                             as we also have forgiven our debtors.

    These are the kinds of prayers that we pray every week throughout the church. We pray for God’s Kingdom to break through into the lives of families torn apart by death or divorce. We pray for God’s will to be done here and now. Today. We pray for material and financial provision. The list goes on and on. Although at times the needs may be overwhelming, it’s an incredible privilege to have the opportunity to approach God on behalf of someone else.

    There is much that I need and want and pray for in my own life, but the real joy comes from seeing God working in the lives of other people. There is something so incredibly special about praying for someone else and having God answer.

    How do you go about praying for others? Do you rely on people “coming to mind” throughout the day? Or do you use a journal? Who are you praying for today? What steps can you take this week to be more consistent in your prayer life?

    WedWednesdaySepSeptember19th2012 "Hallowed be your name"

    I will be the first to admit that a lot of my prayers are centered around me. In fact, I have a natural tendency to want to skip all the stuff about hallowing God’s name and cut straight to the “give me my daily bread” part. Yet, as the British pastor and author David Martin Lloyd-Jones once noted, we should stand in awe of God every time we even mention His name. When we open our mouths to pray, we are calling upon the Lord of the Universe Himself. We are calling out to the One who created time and space and black holes and quarks.

    “This, then, is how you should pray:

                 “ ‘Our Father in heaven,

                 hallowed be your name,”

    When Moses wanted to see the Lord, he was hidden in a cleft of a rock and only allowed to catch a glimpse of the back of God’s glory, yet he was transformed by that encounter nonetheless. When Isaiah saw the Lord, he was horrified by his sin and utter unworthiness, and fearful for his life. When Jesus was transfigured, the disciples were terrified at the voice and presence of God. When Jesus returns, it will not be as a little baby, meek and mild, but as a conquering King who will judge the world.

    We have such a hard time understanding what the Bible means when it says that God is holy. He is utterly, completely and totally unlike anything else in this world and our good deeds pale in comparison to His perfection. He is like the Sun and we are like dimly lit flashlights with batteries that are running out.

    “Hallowed by your name.” That’s my prayer for today. May God help me to see Him as Holy. May God help me to revere Him as King. May God help me to worship Him as Lord over and above all other rulers, dominions and authorities. And finally, may God open my eyes to the incredible and almost incomprehensible truth that while this Holy and powerful Creator may dwell in unapproachable light, He is also my loving Father who cares so deeply for me that He sacrificed His own Son so that I might be able to approach Him at all.

    TueTuesdaySepSeptember18th2012 This, then, is how you should pray

    Although the prayer many of us memorized has been stylized a little bit over the centuries, it’s very close to the original, which we find in Matthew 6:

    “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

    “This, then, is how you should pray:

     

                 “ ‘Our Father in heaven,

                 hallowed be your name,

                your kingdom come,

                 your will be done,

                 on earth as it is in heaven.

                Give us today our daily bread.

                And forgive us our debts,

                 as we also have forgiven our debtors.

                And lead us not into temptation,

                 but deliver us from the evil one. ’

     

    For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:5-15)

    If we can remove ourselves for a moment from the constraints of our childhood memories and church-based traditions, this is actually an astonishing moment in the development of Christianity. Right here, in these few verses, we have God Himself giving very clear directions about the manner in which we should pray. This is not pastoral advice given in a sermon, nor is it a suggested action plan from a learned teacher. Jesus, the Word made flesh, the image of the invisible God, the author and sustainer of life, the Alpha and Omega, is laying out for us in no uncertain terms exactly how we should be approaching God in prayer. That’s amazing!

    Now, of course there are still many ways to pray, and many other examples of prayer throughout the Bible. Jesus’ own prayer in John 17 is hard to line up directly with the Lord’s Prayer as we have it here. However, we should be very careful not to ignore or rush past the fact that Jesus Himself says, “This, then, is how you should pray.”

    How often do you actually pray (as opposed to merely thinking about things)? How do you go about praying? What difference does it make to know that this model was given to us by God Himself as a pattern He wants us to follow? 
    MonMondaySepSeptember17th2012 The Lord's Prayer

    One of the first things I can remember learning as a child was “The Lord’s Prayer.” This was the prayer we would recite every night before going to sleep.

     

    Our Father who art in Heaven,

    Hallowed by thy Name,

    Thy Kingdom come,

    Thy will be done,

    On earth as it is in Heaven.

    Give us this day our daily bread,

    And forgive us our trespasses,

    As we forgive those who trespass against us,

    And lead us not into temptation,

    But deliver us from evil,

    For thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory,

    Forever and ever,

    Amen.

    These words, however old-fashioned they may sound today, were ingrained in us as children. Whatever else might have been odd or confusing about church, at the very least we knew how to pray.

    What are your memories of learning the Lord’s Prayer? When have your turned to this prayer for comfort and support and found hope as a result? If it’s been a while, spend time this week memorizing this prayer and using it as Jesus intended us to do: as a model or framework for prayer. 
    FriFridaySepSeptember14th2012 A chosen people
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    Parents and teachers often say to children, “you’re special.” A genuine effort to make kids feel good about themselves often ends up coming across as a bit condescending and perhaps even, at times, a little fake. Although the intention is honorable—to make these little ones feel important and significant, without any other context it becomes simply another generic complement.

    But the Word of God gives us a very detailed and specific reason for feeling unique, special and significant. As Peter says to his audience,

    But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

     

    Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:9-12)

    We’re not just “special” in some abstract sense of the term, but we are a chosen people, set apart by God. We are “a royal priesthood” and “a holy nation, God’s special possession.” When was the last time you encouraged someone you know with this Biblical truth?

    Note, however, that this is not about congratulating ourselves for being so awesome. We have been chosen for a reason: “That you may declare the praises of him who called you of darkness into his wonderful light.” Whose praises are you singing most often? Yours? Your children’s? God’s? To whom are you declaring God’s praises? Who will be glorifying God on the day of judgment as a result of your influence in their life?

    ThuThursdaySepSeptember13th2012 Children of light
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    What did it look like for the early believers to live as lights in a fallen world? Paul fleshed this out a little for the church in Ephesus as follows:

    For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

     

    For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:

     

                “Wake up, sleeper,

                            rise from the dead,

                            and Christ will shine on you.”

     

    Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:5-20)

     

    Having received salvation, believers are now called to live differently as a result. They are to reject evil and choose what is good and right. This reflects patterns of behavior laid down in the Old Testament law, elevated in the Psalms, and exhorted by the prophets. The call to holiness has not changed, but the amazing news is that God has now given us His Spirit so that we might actually be able to pursue Him in this regard.

    How careful are you being in the way that you live? What decisions have you made recently that were perhaps “less than wise”? In what ways are you giving your life over fully to the power of the Holy Spirit?

    WedWednesdaySepSeptember12th2012 You are the light of the world
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    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.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

    My young children are fascinated with flashlights. A favorite trick right now is trying to read under the covers at night without us knowing, which is, of course, a lost cause. But even they know what a light is for. Surely we don’t need Jesus, the Son of God, to tell us that the whole point of light is to illuminate darkness?

    The light Jesus is talking about comes first and foremost from Him, not us. In and of ourselves we have no light to offer the world. We were living in darkness before He came. But Jesus said,

    “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

    and,

    “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:5)

    Jesus is the light of the world. Any light we have to give comes from Him. He is the source of all light and everything that such light represents. Once again, the temptation can be to take this command out of context, but Jesus is not issuing a new command here to “go and be light” that stands apart from the rest of His message of salvation. That conjures up images of us gritting our teeth and trying to make ourselves burn brightly for Jesus.

    Instead, we recognize that if we are in Christ, we already have that light within us. We don’t need to work harder to get more of it. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” His follow-up command has more to do with not hiding that light we already possess.

    Where and when do you feel most like you have to “prove” your light to others? What activities are you involved in that might be suppressing that light?

    TueTuesdaySepSeptember11th2012 Salt is good
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)

    “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?

    It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.” (Luke 14:34-35)

    Although we have ready access to as much as want, the salt we have today is clean, pure and shelf-stable. There is no expiration date on it and it will never go bad. In the first century they didn’t have big containers of Morton salt in their cupboards. Most probably, much of the salt would have contained so many impurities that it was actually possible for the salt itself to dissolve out over time, leaving a residue that wouldn’t have been good for much of anything.

    If, for whatever reason, salt loses its saltiness, it can’t be “re-salinated.” All you can do is throw it out. As became increasingly clear to the disciples the more time they spent with Jesus, the way of life He was calling to them to participate in was an all-or-nothing affair. There was no middle ground of half-hearted commitment. Jesus called them to leave everything and follow Him.

    Please note that this is not about a works-based righteousness. As we mention almost every week, we are saved by grace alone, and sanctified through the power of the Holy Spirit. We don’t make ourselves into salt. However, there are constant reminders throughout the New Testament that we do have a responsibility to hold fast to the faith and pursue lives of holiness that are pleasing to God. However uncomfortable it may make us, there are also consequences for failing to obey.

    What steps are you taking to pursue holiness in your life?

    MonMondaySepSeptember10th2012 You are the salt of the earth
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    “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. (Matthew 5:13)

    Salt is a good thing. It’s used for seasoning food, bringing out flavors, and also preserving meat. But how were the disciples supposed to understand themselves as being “salt of the earth”?

    First of all we should consider this command in light of the 12 verses that precede it. The Beatitudes really set the stage for this comparison between the disciples and salt, since the Beatitudes describe a way of life that is radically different from the rest of the world. The person who seeks to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven is to be poor in spirit, grieved over sin, humble, self-sacrificing, merciful and a peacemaker who has a hunger and thirst for righteousness.

    As such it doesn’t matter how, specifically, you choose to interpret the salt imagery. A “Beatitudes” life should, in theory, function in a vital, life-sustaining manner to influence the world around it in profound ways.

    The question for us, therefore, is not primarily, “how salty are you?” but rather, how focused are you on the Kingdom of Heaven? How significantly do the Beatitudes influence your prayer life? What areas do you need God to help you in this week?

    FriFridaySepSeptember7th2012 Blessed are those who are persecuted

    Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

    As with the rest of the beatitudes, we have to be very careful to qualify what kind of persecution is involved here. Jesus is not talking about any old kind of persecution. Nor is he talking about people who tend to have a martyr-like personality and seemingly get themselves into tough spots all the time.

    This is not about those who are persecuted for being weird, or fanatics, or downright annoying and aggravating. Nor is Jesus talking about persecution for political reasons. There are lots of political prisoners around the world, and while I want to offer hope to those suffering unjustly, this particular beatitude seems to have a more narrow focus than just politics.

    No, here Jesus is talking about something else entirely. He is not talking about suffering in general, but in this instance specifically, persecution brought on because of the pursuit of righteousness.

    Ultimately being righteous means being like Jesus, and persecution stems from being like Him. Jesus is not saying that the persecution in and of itself is the source of blessing, but He is the source of blessing. To inherit the Kingdom of Heaven is a treasure far more significant in value than anything this world can offer.

    But the Kingdom is not simply a distant future, it is a growing present reality as well. We inherit the kingdom of God as we see His hand at work in this world. The blessing for those pursuing righteousness is that that they can revel in and enjoy the growth and spread of the Kingdom. They get to enjoy the blessings of His comfort and presence. Finally, they get to enjoy the gift of the Holy Spirit, who enables and empowers a whole new way of living as a result.

    May God bless you as you seek to live a life pleasing to Him today.

    ThuThursdaySepSeptember6th2012 Blessed are the merciful

    Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

    What does it mean to be merciful towards someone else? When was the last time you can honestly say you showed mercy?

    Just as with all the other beatitudes, Jesus is not talking about natural human tendencies here. This is not a special word simply for those people who happen to have born with a natural genetic predisposition towards being merciful.

    Nor is mercy to be confused with a laissez-faire attitude that masks laziness or conflict-avoidance under the cover of “live and let live.” Biblical mercy stems first and foremost from an active grieving over sin in our lives and in the lives of others that in turn leads us to seek out righteousness, healing, and restitution.

    In this world we will have trouble. But we have peace because our Father will show us mercy. He has shown His mercy to us in Jesus, and will continue, does continue, to demonstrate His love and compassion towards us on an ongoing basis.

    Moreover, we are called to do the same to others as well, by removing wrongs, alleviating suffering, enacting forgiveness, showing compassion and being generous.

    This sounds like a lot of work, right? How, then, is it a blessing for us to be merciful towards others? As we close our time today, read and pray through the following passage.

    But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

    WedWednesdaySepSeptember5th2012 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

    What do our appetites reveal about our hearts? What gets the best of our attention, energy and focus? Do we spend more time reading the newspaper or reading the Bible? Are we hungering for a better house/relationship/job/school/car? Or something else?

    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6)

    Although we can temporarily assuage earthly appetites with earthly things, we will never be truly be filled. Like the woman at the well, we will keep having to go back for more. But Jesus offers us a different way.

    Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:13-15)

    The starting points for this kind of “hunger and thirst for righteousness” is the poverty of spirit and associated mourning and meekness mentioned in the preceding beatitudes. The one who realizes that God alone is the source of everything will be filled, because they have stopped looking for significance and purpose and satisfaction and hope and joy in other places.

    Audit yourself today. What does your bank statement show about the things you really hunger for? How does your calendar reflect the ways in which you are trying to slake your thirst for meaning? What do your relationships indicate about your true priorities in life?

    TueTuesdaySepSeptember4th2012 Blessed are the poor in spirit

    We get so turned around about the topic of money and poverty these days. The rich are either idolized or lambasted, depending on the mood of the day. The poor are either ignored or spiritualized as being somehow closer to God. Our emotions bounce around depending on whom we compare our financial situation to. It’s common to vacillate between guilt over what we already have and greed for what we see others have.

    So it’s not surprising that we so often completely misunderstand Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Read the first verse of the Beatitudes:

     “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
    (Matthew 5:3)

    Note that this does not say that the poor are blessed. Poverty does not lead to some higher spiritual plane.  If you’ve ever spent time with the homeless or in a food pantry you know first hand that being poor is astonishingly difficult and something to be avoided if at all possible. There is no blessing inherent in living off the charity of others, walking from shelter to shelter, wandering where and when the next meal will come from.

    However, if we read the text more closely we see that that blessing is for those who are poor in spirit. In and of itself this has nothing to do with money. The poor in spirit are those who look at God and realize that they have nothing to offer. They bring nothing to the table, spiritually speaking. They are the ones who, like Isaiah, see God and cry out, “Woe to me!...I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5).

    Our material wealth, or lack thereof, may impact our ability to recognize our poverty of spirit, but does not control it. Take some time today to reflect on your relationship with God. In what way is it dominated by a sense that we are poor in spirit? 

    MonMondaySepSeptember3rd2012 "...as one who had authority"

    As we move into our next sermon series we’ll be exploring some key passages from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). While we should be cautious to avoid the tendency of some people to over-emphasize this “sermon” over and above the rest of His teaching, nevertheless it does contain some highly significant and extremely challenging lessons for all believers at all times.

    Indeed, having concluded this teaching, the people stood in awe of what they had just experienced.

    When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (Matthew 7:28-29)

    The teachers of the law were undoubtedly intelligent people who were very well versed in the Old Testament, yet in comparison to Jesus their “teaching” suddenly seemed little more than a cheap knock-off. The people may not have fully understood all the ramifications and every little nuance of this lengthy discourse, but they could tell that something different was happening in and through this man. He didn’t speak about authority—He was the authority. And that was amazing.

    So what did He say that was so earth-shattering? How did He wow such a big crowed of people? We’ll dip into these three chapters of Matthew over the next five weeks as we explore what this man of authority had to say about the Kingdom of Heaven.

    So today, even if you are short on time, even if your reading plan has you in some other book right now, take 15 minutes and read Matthew 5-7. What would it look like for you to live in light of the Kingdom of Heaven?

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