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Acts 12:1-5 “1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James,...

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Sitting in Sunlight on a Cool Morning

Life if full of striving.  Striving to find the perfect job, the perfect house, the perfect neighborhood, the perfect car.  Striving to be promoted.  Striving to be better at something.  Striving to grow. Striving to shrink.  Striving to impress.  Striving to raise children.  Striving to earn.

I once heard a woman say the she and her husband lived in the wrong zip code and would have to move soon if they wanted to succeed at their jobs.  I remember a time when all of our County Commissioners attended the same, large, prosperous church; as if going to the "right" church was a political necessity.  I also remember a man who attended church for the purpose of selling insurance and when he had tapped that congregation for all he could squeeze, he move on.  I overheard a student talking as she walked with a friend about how her father could not succeed at his job because he did not like to schmooze.  In her words he did not have his "politics together".

And where has all of this striving gotten us?  Are we better people now than we were 1,000 years ago?  Have we had fewer wars and conflicts?  Do we know the secret of world peace?  Are fewer people starving? 

Georg Sheehan, in his book Running and Being, quotes the philosopher Teilhard de Chardin as saying, "We are all seeking not to enjoy more or to know more, but to be more."  Well, I think we may have failed on all counts.  After all these hundreds of  years of striving, we are not one inch closer to solving the large problems that face humanity.

So, instead of striving, why don't we make time to just sit in the sunlight on a cool morning and enjoy the sound of the birds, smell the freshness of the air, drink that first cup of coffee and watch the steam rise from the cup.

And on a morning such as that, how could we be more.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Finding Home

The first time I saw the mountains I was 12 years old.  I had dreamed of seeing them years before I actually saw them.  As far as I know, I had always wanted to go to the mountains.  Being from eastern North Carolina, we were beach people.  My dad always rented a house at the beach for one or two weeks each summer.  I liked the beach, but deep down inside me, I loved the mountains, without ever having seen them.

And when I saw them for the very first time, I knew that I was home.  At last, I was home.  Something in me was at peace.  Something in me was somewhere very familiar.  I was in a place where at last I belonged.

We did all of the things tourists do in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  We went to Ghost Town.  We listened to blue grass music.  We bought apples at a roadside stand.  We toured the Cherokee Indian reservation in the town of Cherokee.  

But all I really wanted to do was stare at the mountains surrounding me and breathe the mountain air and make each day we were there last forever.

We never vacationed in the mountains again.  But I knew that I would return.  I learned about Appalachian State University during college night at my high school.  When I heard the representative say they were located in Boone, North Carolina, I knew that is where I had to go.  So, I applied; the only University to which I applied.  And I was accepted.  But I had no money to go.

Walking home from my high school graduation at the nearby baseball park (I just felt like walking and being by myself),  I stopped by the railroad tracks and asked God, "What's next?  How am I going to get to Boone?"  There was no immediate answer.

But the next morning around 7:00 am, the phone rang.  A friend of mine wanted to know if I wanted to help him paint warehouse roofs that summer.  I had nothing else to do, so all summer we painted the tin roofs of the acres of tobacco warehouses in downtown Rocky Mount.  On the last day of the last warehouse, as we were climbing down the ladder, a voice from below called up, "Do you have a driver's license?"  I yelled, "yes", to the voice below.  "How would you like to drive for the tobacco buyers down in Georgia?"  And that is how I earned enough money to pay for my first year of college in Boone, NC.  

As my parents drove away, leaving me in Boone on my first day of college life, I felt the same feelings that I had felt when I was 12 years old.  I was home, at last I was home.  And I breathed a giant breath of mountain air, knowing that I was in the place that I belonged.  

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 40 of 40: Living the Teachings

Matthew 7: 28-29
Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

The Sermon on the Mount contains the best known teachings of Jesus and it contains the longest teaching by Jesus in the New Testament.  It is one of the most widely quoted sections of the New Testament, and contains the central tenants of Christian discipleship.  St. Augustine regarded it as the perfect standard for the Christian life.  Jesus, himself, said these teachings were to be the rock on which we are to build our lives.  Yet, it is regarded by some modern scholars as the least understood of Jesus' teachings by Christians.

When the scribes taught, they were very careful to cite the references of their teaching; this rabbi may have written and taught this, or that rabbi may have taught that.  This way of teaching was not a way of showing deference to a scholar as much as a way of name dropping and showing off one's education.

Jesus, when He taught, said "Verily I say to you."  He taught as one who was saying things for the first time as if he were speaking for God.  And the people were amazed.  

So, this teaching, this Sermon on the Mount, is straight from the heart and mind of God and it is meant to be a teaching around which we should center our lives; lives in which we are to be concerned not only with our outward actions but also our inward thoughts; lives in which love is our sole motivation; lives that embody God's mercy, grace and forgiveness not just to those we know and care about but also to those who are hard to love, even our enemies; lives that show the world a new kind of righteousness, a new kind of justice, a new kind of love; lives full of joy and peace and humility; lives full of trust in God; lives of prayer and forgiveness; lives built on a solid foundation.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 39 of 40: House on Rock, House on Sand

Matthew 7: 21-27
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!

My wife and I were in Jackson, Wyoming several years ago.  Above our hotel across the highway was a house on a high hillside that was split in half.  The owners of the house had begun noticing gaps in the floor and walls, cracks in the walls, doors that would not shut properly.  Years went by, more cracks and problems.  Then suddenly, overnight, their home was split into two pieces, the kitchen and living room separated from the rest of the house by a slow moving, ever present landslide that suddenly decided to slide several feet down the mountain instead of the steady quarter of an inch or so.  The family moved out of the house.   The slow motion landslide continued to carry the house down the mountain.  At the bottom of the mountain sat a newly built pharmacy.  

When you build a life on shifting ground, you will have problems and those around you may have problems.  Christ tells us that his teachings are the rock upon which we should build our lives.  In order to do this we are to listen, hear and act.

If we do not make an effort to listen, then we do not hear.  Amid all the clutter and chatter of modern life, we must constantly make an effort to hear the voices and messages that are important to us.  I know a man who rises at 4:00 am every morning to study his Bible before his busy day begins.  He is making a effort to hear God's voice first, before any other voices in his day.  In order to listen effectively we must clear our minds of any and all distractions, any and all worries or problems.

In order to hear Christ's words, we must study them and carry them in our hearts, meditate on them, internalize them.  Some people memorize them.

But carrying them around with us is not the answer to building our lives on a solid foundation.  We must act on them.  The real difference between two people who profess to know Christ is in their doing; the way they live their lives, the way they treat others, the way they reach out to those in need.  The person who says they know Christ, but does not attempt to act on Christ's words, is building their home on shifting sand.  And bit by bit, crack by crack, their home is sliding down the mountain in a slow motion landslide.

Tomorrow we conclude our study.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 38 of 40: The Heart of a Disciple

Matthew 7: 21-23
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’

Sometimes we think we are doing good but we are really doing evil.  The Apostle Paul, before his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, thought he was doing God's work by persecuting Christians.  Many Germans thought they were doing good by hauling Jews to concentration camps.  Many southerners thought that keeping and enforcing Jim Crow laws was good.

Sometimes we think we are standing up for God, but we are really pushing God away.   Not long ago I saw a man standing on a street corner yelling through a megaphone to people that were entering and exiting a Beerfest that "You are going to hell!  Go ahead into the sinfest, I am sure they serve cold beer in hell too!"

Sometimes we do work in the name of God, but it is not really God's work at all, but our work, our achievement.  And we are puffed up with self-pride when we tell people all the good things "God" has done.

Many works done in God's name are not, in reality, the works of God.  They may be works of pride, prejudice, or anger.  They may be works that actually help people but done with a grudging heart.

In these verses, Jesus is telling us that we may prophesy, we may cast out demons, we may work perform many deeds of power but still not know Christ.  

Before we can do God's work, we must first sit at the feet of Christ and let the Holy Spirit do a work in us.  Before we can transform the world for God, our hearts must first be transformed by God.

Tomorrow we study foundations.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 37 of 40: True and False Prophets

Matthew 7: 15-20
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.

Just as we are to choose the narrow gate over the wide gate, and the difficult road over the easy road, we are to choose the the true prophet over the false prophet to help us find and lead us through the narrow gate down the difficult road of spiritual living.

How are we to know who the true prophets are?  We are to look at the fruit of their lives.  A tree that does not bear good fruit cannot be called good, and a prophet or leader who does not live what he or she teaches cannot be called good.  

False prophets may appear genuine by their outward appearances and their words, but these things fall away in the light of their personal lives.  Do they teach love but show hate for others?  Do they teach peace but cause disorder?  Do they teach mercy and forgiveness but practice retribution and hold grudges?  Do they teach humility but practice arrogance?

I think we are also to examine our own lives in this way.  We are all teachers and prophets to someone, whether we know it or not.  Someone is always looking at us, and listening to our words to determine if they match the way we live and act.

How do we stand up to this scrutiny? Are we good fruit?

Tomorrow we study the heart of a disciple.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 36 of 40: The Narrow and Wide Gates

Matthew 7: 13-14
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

When I was 7 or 8 years old, my father asked me to take the hammer to my brother who was on the other side of the yard.  I did not want to walk across the yard so I threw the hammer to my brother.  I remember seeing the hammer leave my hand and watching it, as if in slow motion, fly through the air toward my brother, knowing that I had made a bad choice, wishing I had not thrown the hammer, wanting that hammer to return to me.  But the hammer continued on its slow course toward my brother's head and struck him just beneath the eye.

Life presents us with a constant stream of choices.  Researchers say that the average adult consciously makes about 35,000 decisions each and every day.  Life will not let us stand still.

For many of these choices there is a right way and a wrong way, a "high" way and a "low" way, a hard way and an easy way, a moral way and an immoral way.  People enjoy shortcuts.  But in the spiritual realm, there are no shortcuts.  There is no easy way.  

I have seen many gifted people in the sports world, the acting world, the political world, the business world, who have tried to take the easy way or went down a dark path, and they squandered their gifts.  The skills of someone who is truly gifted are a wonder to behold.  But what we do not see are the long hours of practice and the attention to details that are required to reach their level of excellence.

Excellence, either temporal or spiritual, is never arrived at by taking the easy road.  The easy road may look inviting, but what the easy road invites are things that cause us to be led astray, things that cause us to fail, things that rust and are soon broken.

The hard road looks difficult, and it is, but it leads to excellence and to life.  Everything worth having, all eternal things, are found on the hard road.

Which road do we take?  That is the decision we are really making 35,000 times each day.

Tomorrow we study good fruit and bad fruit.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 35 of 40: The Golden Rule

Matthew 7: 12
In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you; for this is the Law and the Prophets.

In this summary of the entire Old Testament, this one verse gives everyone a simple way to remember how to act in every situation.  People are naturally self serving and this rule gives us all a standard by which to measure our actions, "Am I acting in a way that I, myself, would like to be treated?"

This is a very old concept that can be dated to Confucius who said, "What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others."  Buddhists developed a similar saying, "Doing as one would be done by, kill not nor cause to kill."  The philosopher Epictetus put it this way, "What you avoid suffering yourselves, seek not to inflict upon others."

The ancient philosophers were telling their students to refrain from doing to others what they did not wish done to them.  Refraining from negative actions enables people to live together.

But, refraining from acting is not what Jesus was after.  Notice, Jesus takes what the ancient philosophers had been teaching for centuries and turns it around, reshapes this wisdom into a positive command; one that requires action, positive action.  Instead of do not do, His command is do to others.

Refraining from an action is not a very difficult thing to do.  Taking action is more difficult.  We must show love and kindness as we want kindness; we must serve as we want to be served; we must forgive as we want forgiveness.

The Golden Rule expressed in the positive is now a spiritual rule rather than a temporal rule.  It is a rule that requires us to suppress our own selfish desires and put others first; to translate our love for God into love and service for others.

Tomorrow we study the narrow and the wide gates.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 34 of 40: Ask, Seek, Knock

Matthew 7: 7-11
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 
Prayer is a necessary part of every believer's life.  It is the means that God has given us to express our deepest emotions, our deepest desires and feelings.  It is a way of moving ever closer to God and for us to understand God's will in our lives.  God answers our prayers, but in His own time, in His own way, in His own wisdom, and in perfect love.  
So, we must pray in faith; faith that there is a God that loves us and hears our prayers; faith that God will answer our prayers in the way that His love and His wisdom dictate.  
Jesus tells us in these verses that we are to pray persistently.  The Greek words used for ask, seek and knock indicate that we should keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.  We are to persist in our prayers and never be discouraged.  But in our persistence we must be willing to submit to God's will.  In Isaiah 55: 8-9 we read "For my [God's] thoughts are not your thoughts neither are your ways my ways,".
But there seems to be something more to the words ask, seek, knock than just persistence.  There is also an urgency about these words.  We are to ask as a destitute person asks, with great humility but with great urgency; a starving person seeking help, seeking assistance from the hand of the one and only one who is able to provide.  We are to seek as if we are lost, trying to find our way out of a tangle of trails that lead to nowhere.  We are to knock heavy handedly, pounding on the door until it is opened to us.
Matthew Henry, a great Puritan commentator on the bible, put it this way, "Pray; pray often; pray with sincerity and seriousness; pray, and pray again; make conscience of prayer, and be constant in it; make a business of prayer, and be earnest in it.  Ask, represent your wants and burdens to God and refer yourselves to him for support and supply.  Ask as a traveller asks the way.  Seek as the thing of value that we have lost.  Knock as he that desires to enter into the house  knocks at the door."
Monday we study the golden rule.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 33 of 40: Pearls to Pigs

Matthew 7: 6
Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

These verses seem to say that the gospel and its message of God's love, mercy, grace and forgiveness are exclusive and should not be shared with people who are considered to be dogs and swine.  Would this not contradict the previous verses in which Jesus told His disciples not to judge?

A similar statement is found in the Old Testament, “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11).  The Pharisees used this to justify the exclusion of the gentiles to their faith.  The early church used this verse and Matthew 7: 6 to exclude certain beliefs that were considered heresy and to reserve sacraments like communion only for members of the church.

There are certain people who are not yet ready to hear the word.  In fact, any mention of the gospel makes them angry.  Their minds are closed to words.  But their hearts are still searching.  What they  need is an example of faith, to experience faith through the actions of others.

We are not to judge these people but continue to love them; to pray for them and to offer them mercy, forgiveness and peace.  Hopefully our example will reach them where our words cannot.

There was a man that I knew in my youth who was a one man welcoming committee at our church.  Each Sunday he could be seen shaking hands, laughing and smiling at people who were coming through the doors.  He made everyone feel welcome and glad to be there.  

One Sunday I was fortunate to hear his testimony.  He said that he had been living in a room in a boarding house, down on his luck, drinking a lot, without a friend in the world.  But every Sunday morning, the woman who owned the house would climb the stairs to his room and knock on his door and ask if he would like to go to church with her.  He would yell, "No" through the door and he could hear her footsteps walking slowly down the stairs.  This happened each Sunday for over a year.

Then one Sunday morning, as he heard her footsteps coming up the stairs, he decided he would go with her.  And on that Sunday, he found a new life and a new reason for living.  "All this happened because she showed me the love of Christ over and over every Sunday, even though I rejected it.  If it was not for her persistence, her example, I would not be here."

Tomorrow we study ask, seek, knock.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 32 of 40: Judging Others

Matthew 7: 1-5
Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and    the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor,‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ has asked us to be humble and merciful, to recognize our own sins, to hunger for righteousness, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, go the extra mile, give the coat off your back, give to the one who asks, be the light not the darkness...

As you can see, Matthew 7: 1-5 is in keeping with Christ's teachings of a new kind of love, a new kind of righteousness, and a new kind of justice.  What did Jesus mean when he said "Judge not"?  Jesus previously asked his disciples not to act or speak the way the Pharisees did; to surpass them in righteousness (Matthew 5:20). The Pharisees had a prideful way of judging people.  They approached people not to build them up but to tear them down.  They judged others as if they themselves were beyond judgment.  There was no mercy, no love, no humility in their judgment.  

We are not to judge the way the Pharisees did.  We are first to see the log in our own eye, before we see the speck in our neighbors.  In order to do this, we must first see ourselves as sinners; we must see ourselves in the same light as the people that we are judging.  When we do, we will be humbled.  We will remember God's mercy and love and forgiveness toward us.  It is only then that we should approach another person.  

Whenever we desire to correct another person, we should examine our motives.  Is our desire to tear down that person or is it to build them up?  If we approach them in pride or in anger, then we should back away.  If we approach the person in a genuine spirit of humble love and mercy to build them up in Christ; if we can approach them in the same way we would want to be approached, then and only then should we should speak with them.

Tomorrow we study pearls and swine.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 31 of 40: Worry, Part II

Matthew 6: 25-34
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  And why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you- you of little faith?  Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or "What will we wear?'  For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  So, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today's trouble is enough for today.

There was once a Mixed Martial Arts fighter who went deep into the California desert without sufficient water supplies.  He sent several texts to his friends once he realized his error asking them to contact authorities to rescue him.  His trip to the desert was to have been a soul searching retreat after he had lost a fight that he thought he should have won.  Apparently his loss worried him more than the searing desert heat.  After many days of searching, authorities found his body a half mile from his camp.  The autopsy revealed he died of dehydration and heat exposure.

In our ordinary, everyday lives we need to worry.  We need to worry about, if nothing else, the details of survival; planning a safe route through the dangers of life; a route near water sources and shade.

There is a place for worry in our lives, but like anger and money, if we let it consume us it becomes our god; a false idol.  Most people think that they worry too much about things they should not worry about.  How can we avoid this?

Jesus' advise is not to live a life so full of worry that we lose all joy in living.  He tells us to live in the present and concentrate on the Kingdom of God; discovering and doing God's will.

How do we live this way? Even in the time of Jesus a person had to have water and could not wander into the desert without planning a route near a water source. To a certain extent, we have to worry.

We should make plans, then live within these plans one day at the time, trusting in God  and not worry obsessively over each detail. This way we can be at peace in God wherever we are, whatever our plight;  exercising care but living a life of trust.

Tomorrow we study judging others.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 30 of 40: Worry, Part I

Matthew 6: 25-34
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  And why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you- you of little faith?  Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or "What will we wear?'  For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  So, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today's trouble is enough for today.

Why do we worry?  This is the subject of many papers written by psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, ministers, etc.,.   We worry about losing the things that we have, like our health, our wealth, independence, status.  And the list goes on.  We worry as a form of self-protection; to anticipate, plan for and head off any problems or bad events from happening.  And if they do happen, we want to have a plan in place for dealing with them.  This is why we have wills and pre-paid funerals. This is why we have insurance.  This is why businesses have business plans and disaster plans and succession plans.  This is why buildings have evacuation plans and fire drills. Life is not a sure thing, and we want to make things more secure.

Let's explore Jesus' philosophy about worry.  Jesus addresses the worry of having the very basic things: food, water, clothing, shelter.  Today, over 1 billion people go to be hungry and worry about their next meal.  Over a billion people have inadequate access to water and worry about their next drink of water.  Over a billion people have inadequate housing and worry about the next rainfall or snowfall or cold spell.  Nearly one half of the world's population live on less than 2.50 dollars per day.  Certainly Jesus' reached out to serve and help and to heal the least the last and the lost.  He was conscious of their dire needs.  He was not telling these people not to worry.

Jesus was telling his disciples and followers not to worry, as they served others in need.  They were to put their trust in God that He would provide them the resources necessary to accomplish their missions.  When Jesus sent His disciples out two by two to go into the nearby towns and villages, He gave them these same instructions, "Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.  Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you eat what is set before you. (Luke 10:4, 8).  Jesus wanted His disciples to recognize that they were totally dependent on God for their subsistence.

This does not mean that we do not take positive steps to raise money, or create an awareness, or plan ahead.  It does mean that we should not let the many details, the problems that arise and the situations that confront us in our service overwhelm us.   The Apostle Paul put it this way,"I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me" (Luke 4:10-13). In our service, Christ's followers are to have complete faith in God.

For the most part, excessive worry never adds anything positive to our work.  Christ tells us to focus on today.  Be fully present with God in the work He has asked us to do.  Know God's will and work within that.  Worry becomes secondary or non-exsistant when God becomes the dominating power of our lives and our service.

Tomorrow we study Worry, Part II.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 29 of 40: Serving Two Masters

Matthew 6: 24
No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth.

During the first century AD, laborers would frequently have more than one employer.  Acts 16:16 describes a slave with more than one master.  While Jesus does not deny that this situation might exist, He describes a situation that results in turmoil for the slave, hating one master while loving the other, devoted to one and despising the other.

Jesus warned us earlier not to forsake eternal treasures for temporal treasures and to live a life imbued with spiritual light.  Now He is telling us what happens if we try to have it both ways, if we try to be a slave of God and a slave of the world and the world's number one temptation, wealth.

Wealth is not necessarily a sign of God's blessing.  In other passages, Jesus warned of the danger of wealth.  In Luke 18: 24-25 Jesus says, "How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."  The rich farmer (Luke 12: 16-21) who accumulated wealth was called a fool by Jesus, saying, "So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."  In His call to His disciples to live a life of sacrifice, Jesus warns in Mark 8:36, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?"

Being a follower of Christ is a commitment that affects every aspect of our lives.  It changes the way we see things.  When a person comes to faith, people become more important than things.  The accumulation of things at the expense of people is shown to us to be wrong.  Wealth, while not evil in and of itself, is subordinate to serving and loving God.  The problem with wealth is that it can become a person's primary desire; their God.  The possession of wealth is not a sin, but is a very heavy responsibility.  We cannot let the accumulation of wealth take the number one position in our lives or distract us from our vision of God, our vision of service, or our vision of sacrifice.

We must always ask ourselves, does the way I accumulate my wealth please God?  Does the way I use my wealth please God?  Does my wealth interfere with my relationship to God?  Am I a slave to wealth or am I a slave to God?

Tomorrow we will study worry.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 28 of 40: The Light

Matthew 6: 22-23
The eye is the lamp of the body.  So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If, then, the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

In a room full of light, we can see clearly where all of the entrances and exits are, and where all the obstacles are.  We can see the beauty of the room and we can see all of its imperfections.  The eye is the entrance to the mind and the heart.  The healthy eye will be an eye that is full of light, seeing and perceiving things clearly, seeing things for what they are and for what they can be.

In order to fill our eyes with light we must walk in the light of Christ's example and His teachings of love over hate, mercy over revenge, humility over pride, forgiveness over punishment, reconciliation over dissension, peace over war.  Once we are filled with light we choose eternal things (treasures of heaven) over temporal things (treasures of the earth).

Walking in darkness results in stumbling and falling.  Walking in darkness results in a dark soul and eventually our loss of desire or inability to see the light.  And soon we mistake the darkness for the light.  1 John 2: 9 says "Whoever says 'I am in the light,' while hating a brother or sister is still in the darkness."

As a result of living in darkness, temporal things become the things that we seek above all spiritual things and they become the gods that we worship.  The bad eye cannot see the beauty of living in God's will.  The bad eye sees as foolish a life of love, forgiveness and peacemaking.  The bad eye knows no mercy.  It is a worldly eye and only sees temporal treasures.

Years ago, I read a story about a farmer who sold his farm and wandered the world in search of riches.  His search yielded nothing and his dreams of being wealthy did not come true.  Finally, penniless and poor, he threw himself into the ocean off the coast of Spain and drowned himself.  Meanwhile, the man who purchased the farmer's farm found great peace and joy in the beauty of his surroundings and he thanked God everyday for his great fortune.

Sometimes we cannot see God's blessings, even though they are right there in front of us.

Monday, we will study serving two masters.