Invest Wisely! (Matthew 6:19-24)

Do you have financial goals?

Are you doing anything with your money?

 

Many people in our culture are blessed to have Retirement Plans, whether they’re 401-k’s or 403-b’s, Roth IRA’s, etc.

Most are looking toward ‘retirement’. They are hoping to be able to travel or simply enjoy  ‘The Good Life’.

…but how much is necessary? Is it ever ‘enough’?

Should we always be saving ‘more’?

 

Others are at the opposite end of the spectrum, and are just wishing they could save $100 and keep it!

 

In either case, it may be that we’ve bought into a lie…the Lie that ‘Our hope, our peace, our security…is in money.’

 

I heard of a couple the other day who were both making good money, and rather than adopting the philosophy of most of our culture and buying a bigger house and a newer car as their salary increased, they set a cap. They determined what they would need in order to live well and live wisely, and they’ve determined to use whatever they make over that ‘cap’ to invest in other things–the Church, Good Causes, Generous Giving–all for the glory of God.

They are living comfortably, but are not trusting in their wealth for their security. They realize that their hope, their security and their peace lies in their relationship with God…and they want to live accordingly.

Jesus said:

“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.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,[c] 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!

“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 6:19-24)

 

So…what are you investing yourself in?

Are you investing in Retirement Plans? Mutual Funds? Stocks, Bonds?

Is your ‘hope’ for the future in your financial wealth, or, are you investing in the Kingdom of God?                                                                         Serving the Lord with all you’ve got–including your funds, your talents, your skills, your personality and intelligence?

Truth is, no matter how much money you have–whether you’re ‘fully vested’ in your IRA, or whether you’re just trying to get through the month with money left, God has given you ‘raw materials’ to INVEST with.

You can Invest yourself in THIS World, or in HIS Kingdom.

Jesus made it pretty clear: ‘You CANNOT serve two masters…you CANNOT serve both God and money’.

Let me put it this way: No matter your money situation, you are investing in…something.

 

Invest Wisely!

 

 

Show Off! (Matthew 6:1-18)

When you’re a kid and you learn something new, what do you do?

You show off!

Riding a bike for the first time without training wheels, learning to ride a bike with no hands, learning to dunk the basketball…all are things we ‘show off’! (ok, that last one is just ‘theoretical’–I wouldn’t know.)

But when it comes to SPIRITUAL things, Jesus says we should NOT ‘Show off’.

In Matthew 6, He mentions 3 important spiritual growth practices:Giving to those in need; Praying; and Fasting.

Of course He wants us to do those things–they show our heart for God and others, and our willingness to humble ourselves and put self-interest and appetites aside in order to pursue Him–but He wants to challenge our reasons for doing these things.

Jesus says “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1)

Note the emphasis on “in front of others to be seen by them”.

Some people want to ‘appear’ religious, and they take care to do ‘spiritual stuff’ in such a way that they can get credit for it.

Their motive is mostly ‘self’. They want the admiration and attention.

I don’t think it means that we ‘always’ need to do these things in private, or that we should ‘never’ talk about these things–there are certainly times when we want to encourage others to take the same steps that have helped us, made us grow, etc.–but the motive is the big thing.

Should you give to the needy? Absolutely! Be generous!

Should you pray? Of course! Pray constantly!

Should you fast? Yes! It helps us focus on prayer and seeking God!

But should you do it SO THAT others will think more highly of you? Should you do it in a ‘public’ way SO THAT you get ‘credit’? Should you do it SO THAT God and others are ‘impressed’ with you?

No.

Don’t ‘Show Off’.

 

 

The Law…and More! (Matthew 5:17–48)

When He came on the scene, Jesus taught a refreshingly different approach to, and understanding of, God the Father.

He taught that God wanted a relationship with His creation! He loves us and wants us to come to Him in faith and trust.

There were many around at that time–religious leaders, especially– who did not welcome Jesus’ approach. They thought He was disrespecting the history of their people, and corrupting the Law of Moses. They must have thought that Jesus was changing everything, and they were (understandably) antagonistic toward those changes.

Jesus wants to clarify them: He did not come to abolish the Law!

Matthew 5:17-18: “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.”

Jesus is not about getting rid of the Law of Moses, but rather, He has come to (finally) fulfill it!

The Pharisees looked at the Law as a set of guardrails–to keep them and the people from going outside of God’s will. And to make it more sure, they made the rules even more restrictive, coming up with a code of conduct that guided the people–or more accurately ‘hemmed them in’. In the Pharisee’s minds, the Law was all about ‘prevention of sin’ and what to do if sin happened.

Jesus came to introduce a whole new level of connection to God–one that far surpassed the Pharisees. He said “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.” (v. 20).

“Surpasses that of the Pharisees”?!

That had to sound IMPOSSIBLE to the people who heard it–the Pharisees were THE Standard of religious behavior!

He then proceeded to explain some of what this looked like:

Instead of just settling for ‘do not murder’, it was more–seek peace with your brother. Seek to check yourself, even if you’re ‘just’ using unkind words.

As to Adultery, it wasn’t only about ‘not committing’, but it was more–don’t even allow yourselves to lust in your heart!

As to Divorce (which was pretty easy for men to do), Jesus set the standard much higher: Don’t divorce, period! The only exception is due to a spouse’s marital unfaithfulness.

As to Oaths and Promises, be a person of your word–don’t make a big show of the Oaths you take. Just make sure that your “Yes is yes, and your No is no” (v. 37).

As to dealing with enemies who mistreat you, don’t think ‘An eye for an eye’, but rather go much further: LOVE your enemies! Actually be generous with them!

In these, and many other ways, Jesus set the bar much higher than the mere ‘sin management’ of the Pharisees. In fact, He said Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (v. 48)

So, what are we to do with this?

Are we just supposed to ‘suck it up’ and try harder?

No. In fact, Jesus alone–Himself–is the only one who could ever fulfill this standard.

And that’s the point: He DID!

He fulfilled the Law–on our behalf!

Therefore, it is no longer about “measuring up”–we can’t!

It’s about God’s gracious acceptance of Jesus’ self-sacrifice to pay for our failure to measure up.

Now we don’t try to ‘Keep the Law’ out of fear, instead we try to follow Jesus’ example out of love and faith!

Jesus is the ONLY One who could measure up–and He did! He fulfilled it!

Now we can follow Him because of our love and appreciation for Him. We will not do it perfectly, but as we allow the Holy Spirit to work within us more, we will actually come closer!

 

 

Salt and Light (Matthew 5:13-16)

If you ceased to exist, would the world around you notice?

As a believer in Jesus Christ, my faith is not only about ‘going to heaven when I die’, but rather having an impact–in Jesus name–while on Earth.

The Christian who lives his life without making any real impact is not fully following Jesus’ instructions and desires for us.

Jesus came as THE Light of the World, but in today’s passage from Matthew, Ch. 5, He calls His followers both “Salt of the Earth” and “Light of the World”.

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:13-16)

Jesus says we are ‘Salt of the Earth’. By that I do not think He meant that we should irritate and hurt–like salt in a wound. I think, instead, that He’s calling us to be a ‘preservative’–a common use for salt in that day (before refrigeration). We have a certain responsibility to ‘preserve’ this world and keep it as close to God’s plan and will as possible. This is increasingly a challenge in a world and culture that is becoming increasing hostile to the Will of God, revealed in His Word–the Bible.

Difficult, but not impossible.

Despite the difficulty and the pressure to conform, we still have that calling from Jesus to ‘preserve’ our culture.

Salt, though, is also a spice! I believe we are also called to ‘spice it up’ in this world!

Too many believers are hiding their gifts and creativity, assuming that it will not be welcomed. I believe that Jesus wants us to get out there and confidently, boldly lead and share the joy of the gifts, talents and passions that He’s given us!

One example is Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, two Hollywood insiders who put together a bold plan to portray ‘The Bible’  in a t.v. miniseries. They did it–successfully and creatively–and shared their faith as a result.

Another example: Carrie Underwood, an enormously successful country singer who is increasingly singing songs about her faith, and boldly telling the world who she is. http://youtu.be/mH9kYn4L8TI

Another Local example: The Kalamazoo Mud Run http://www.kalamazoomudrun.com/ –put together by Kalamazoo Community Church and friends on the grounds of the church as a fun, creative way to “Get Dirty, Have Fun, and Make a Difference”. Funds go to projects in Africa and locally, but all ‘make a difference’ in Jesus name!

Jesus also called His followers the Light Of The World! He said to “Let your good deeds shine out for all to see…”

That doesn’t mean to brag about yourself, but rather to simply live faithfully, live positively, love God and others, and impact this world in a positive, powerful way for His glory.

Another positive example of this: Last Saturday, volunteers gathered at KCC to distribute food to those in need–as they’ve done every 3rd Saturday of the month for 4-5 years now! At the same time, two small 2-person teams went out into the neighborhoods near the church to clear fire hydrants of the snow, ice and slush. They knew that most of those would never be needed (in fact, they prayed that way), and they knew that most people would not know (or care) who cleared them. If they were doing it for public accolades, they wasted their time.

But that’s not why they did it. Rather, they did it as an offering to God, and as a service to their neighbors, period. Every shovel full was an act of worship and service. They were rung out by the time they finished, but they knew that they had been ‘Light’ to their world.

There are MANY ways that Believers in Jesus Christ are to be ‘Salt’ and ‘Light’ in Jesus name to this world.

The overall point, however, is to DO IT!

INVEST yourself! Make a difference!

Point people to Jesus by your words, sure…but do it by your actions too!

Our world needs a lot more Christians who are engaged, positive, and powerfully making a difference, for His glory.

 

Be Salt! Be Light!

#BringTheLight

 

 

 

Blessing in the Struggle (Matthew 5:11-12)

Jesus had just told all His new followers that God would bless them as they opened up to this ‘New Kind of Faith’, this new relationship with God, through Jesus himself.

Now He has to turn a corner and let them know that this will cost! It may be hard!

He changes the subject from the abstract to the personal.

Instead of ‘God blesses those who…’, He now says “God blesses YOU…”

The problem is what follows:

“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.” (Matthew 5:11)

Well, that escalated quickly!

In all seriousness, Jesus is saying that ‘It’s true: God knows you. He sees you. He knows your heart…and He will bless you for it. However, not everyone will react that way. Some will actually HATE you because of me!

He wants His followers to know, right at the beginning, that it will be tough, and there will be a cost to pay for following Him.

How should they react when it happens?

Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.” (v. 12)

In other words, He reminds them that there has always been a ‘cost’ involved in doing God’s will, and there always will be. They were not the first ones who have had to ‘endure suffering’ for faith in God, and they would not be the last.

 

We, too, can ‘suffer’ for our faith.

Right now, in our culture–America in 2015–there usually isn’t any physical cost…but there can be many other kinds.

If we are faithful to Him as Savior and Lord, others may accuse us of being exclusionary.

If we are true to the Word of God, others may accuse us of being narrow-minded and judgmental.

Depending on the situation, you may pay with your livelihood!

Yet, our brothers and sisters across the world are paying with their homes, their jobs, their families…even with their lives! More people have been martyred for the name of Jesus in the last 100 years than at any other time in history!

Yet, in many ways, they did not lose…they won! They triumphed! They were blessed in the suffering!

We need to be willing to follow Him, no matter the cost.

We need to take a different perspective than the ‘right-here, right-now’ way most of our world thinks. If we are following Jesus Christ, we live from and for eternity!

There will be a cost to pay. He knows it’s hard.

He blesses us in the struggle!

 

An New Kind of Faith–Matthew 5:1-10

It’s one of the most famous passages of Scripture: The Sermon on the Mount. 

It has been parsed, studied, expounded upon…and with good reason: These are powerful words!

Yet, I sometimes wonder if, in all our ‘studying’ we miss the bigger picture.

Jesus, beginning His public ministry, goes to a place where He can be heard by the crowd and begins to teach. He’s teaching about a new kind of faith…a relational faith in God. Some in the OT had experienced it–David, Abraham…but for most people in that day–the Jews in particular–much of their hope from God was all about observing ‘The Law‘, which had been handed down from Moses.

Jesus was inviting them to view God differently, and to understand that God knew them and cared for them. He was inviting them to think differently about their faith–not only as a ‘code of conduct’, but also as an invitation to relationship.

(Matthew 5:3-10)

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,                                    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.                                                                                  God blesses those who mourn,                                                                                                for they will be comforted.                                                                                               God blesses those who are humble,                                                                                           for they will inherit the whole earth.

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
    for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
    for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace,
    for they will be called the children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” 

He’s saying, ‘God knows you. He knows your heart. He knows your ache for Him, your desire to be close to Him and please Him…and He will be known by you!’

I would imagine each and every one of the people in the crowd could see themselves in one or more of those ‘beatitudes’. (Yet, none of them–if honest–could see themselves in all of them.)

Jesus is introducing them to the invitation to intimacy that David had experienced. He’s saying that ‘God sees you’.  God knows your heart.

We are similar to Jesus first hearers.

Many of us have a ‘hunger and thirst’ for righteousness. Many of us realize our need for Him and are humbled by it. Some of us mourn. Others seek peace and justice.

All of us have that ache inside to know Him…even if we don’t understand it.

Jesus is saying to ‘the people…the crowd’ that God sees and He will be found by us  if we look.

Jesus was inviting them to a New Kind of Faith.

He’s inviting us too!

Matthew 4:1-11: The Test

Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, we read that “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted” (John 4:1). We have to understand, however, that for all us us, GOD does not ‘lead us into temptation’, but rather, He ‘delivers us from evil’ (ala Matthew 6:13). For Jesus, though, there was something unique going on–He had to face the enemy and defeat him first.

We can learn a lot about the enemy’s strategies by how he approaches Jesus…and, we can learn a lot about how to combat him by how Jesus responds.

1) He temps Jesus when He’s at His ‘weakest’. 

Jesus, as a human, had limitations. 40 days and nights of fasting in the wilderness will tend to make a person worn out and vulnerable–and that’s when the enemy attacks!

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil.  For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.

During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.”

But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say,

‘People do not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ 

2) The enemy attacks at our weakest spot.

Not only did the enemy attack at a moment of vulnerability, but he also attacked at the area of need–food and sustenance! Jesus had a very real need for physical food, and that’s what the enemy tried to use to drive a wedge between the Father and the Son.

Jesus refuted it with the Word of God.

3) The enemy then challenged Jesus’ faith and His trust in the Father.

Essentially, he ‘triple-dog-dared’ Jesus to throw himself down and test the Father to see if He would intervene and save Jesus from physical harm. It would have been a cheap trick and an attempt to have God the Father perform a ‘magic trick’ in order to intervene.

“…Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say,

‘He will order his angels to protect you.
And they will hold you up with their hands
    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’ 

Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’ 

Jesus refuted the enemy with the CORRECT use of the Word of God–a use which honored the Father. 

4) The enemy attacked Jesus through His goals and ego, in addition to His allegiance to the Father.

“Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.”

“Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say,

‘You must worship the Lord your God
    and serve only him.’ 

Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus.” 

The enemy may have used Jesus’ sense of ‘mission’ against him! In other words, Jesus could have thought, ‘Why not–he’ll give me the kingdoms of this world and I’ll use them for good…’. But that was not the Father’s plan. That was not why He came. Besides, the enemy had NO real authority to give any kingdoms of this earth to Jesus–only the Father could do that!

Jesus refuted the enemy’s temptations by reaffirming His allegiance to the Father and His plan…and showed us in so doing, how we can fight the enemy!

In this way, the enemy showed us his strategy…and Jesus showed us the way to VICTORY!