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Right Not Rite

“Therefore if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24

Image result for forgiveJesus is still talking here about the command not to murder. Remember that the seeds of self-superiority, bitterness and anger can grow into full-blown murder if not repented of and removed from the heart.

But also, when we don’t forgive others the sins or wrongs they have committed against us, God doesn’t forgive our sins [Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:16].

More important than fulfilling religious rituals–like giving offerings, taking communion or even regular church attendance–is that we love God and love our fellow human beings.

So when it doesn’t seem like our prayers are being answered, when we feel far from God, when our worship seems to bounce back at us from brass heavens, when the Holy Spirit convicts us and we remember that we’ve done something to upset someone else, then we need to go make things right with that person before trying to get ourselves right with God again.

Here we see that it is not just the responsibility of the offended to freely give forgiveness, but it is up to us to know when we’ve done something to offend someone. To be self-aware of our words and deeds and how they effect others’. God’s grace isn’t a license to walk around willfully or even inadvertently offending others.

We are responsible for making sure that we live at peace with everyone as far as it depends on us [Romans 12:18]. And we are also responsible not to put stumbling blocks–like thought seeds that can lead to murder–in other people’s lives [Romans 14:13].

When we do our part, no matter how others respond, then God’s blessings will flow freely, unhindered, in our lives. Because God’s kingdom is about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit [Romans 14:16].

Have you offended someone? Can you think of anyone who holds something against you? Have you done everything you can to bring peace and forgiveness to the matter? Have you yourself forgiven the offended person?



Impurity Makes Useless

“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 by men.” Matthew 5:13

Image result for dead sea saltAnalogies abound  as to what it means to be the salt of the earth. Preservative.  Healing. Ice melt. Flavor enhancer.  Et al. But did you know that most of the salt in Israel came from the Dead Sea? This is important because this salt was full of impurities–other elements or minerals that mixed with or attached to the sea salt. And it was the impurities that caused the salt to lose its saltiness or salt-like qualities.

Impurities chemically changed the salt so that it couldn’t preserve food. So that it couldn’t heal wounds. So that it couldn’t melt ice [if that had been a thing in Israel, though it wasn’t]. And so that it couldn’t even make food taste better.

While valuable enough that people actually traded in salt at one time, impurities made the salt absolutely useless. No good for anything!

So it is with our faith. Pure faith in God preserves this world from the decomposition of sinfulness. It heals lives. It melts the ice of unbelieving hearts. It magnifies God in the eyes of the world, intensifying their understanding of His goodness.

But when we allow impurities–the love of self or money, worldly ideas and the like–to creep into our lives, then our faith becomes ineffective. When our faith mixes with and is essentially changed by ungodly influences, it loses the ability to keep others around us from sinful ways. It loses the ability to heal the hurting. It loses the ability to affect hearts for God. It loses the ability to give glory to God in a lost and dying world.

Impurities make our faith of no earthly effect.

How pure is your belief in God? Does the truth of His Word work in and through you to effect righteousness? Or have you allowed worldly impurities to make your faith useless?


Sticks and Stones

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.'” Matthew 5:10-12

Image result for sticks and stonesIt seems a contradiction to be extremely joyful while being persecuted. Yet, despite the trials of life and the adversity of fellow human beings, when we are filled with righteousness and living it, the joy of the Lord is our strength [Nehemiah 8:10]. We know by faith that the righteousness of Christ redeems us from death, reconciling us to God.

But those who deny God, don’t understand this joy in all things, this peace that passes understanding. It perplexes and incenses them, incites them to mistrust, and even hate, those who live by faith in Christ.

Even in this we can be extremely joyful, understanding that this life is temporary. And that by trying to save and promote ourselves in this temporary life, we lose out on eternal life [Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24].

It’s not just a cliche saying about sticks and stones. When we are persecuted, sticks and stones may truly break our bones. But we don’t have to let the insults and lies and persecution hurt us spiritually. We can find rest in Christ. We can accept the peace He gives. We can fix our eyes on the Lord our salvation. And we can take extreme joy in knowing that we join a great cloud of witnesses who have come before us–who lived and died by faith [Hebrews 12:1].

Are you facing difficult times because of your faith in God? Do others insult you or give you a hard time because you live by God’s Word? Take heart, Jesus has overcome this world [John 16:33]. Cast all your cares on Him and find rest [1 Peter 5:7].


Spiraling Up

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:8-9

Image result for Bible heartPurity of heart. Not exactly easy to accomplish, considering that sin makes, every inclination of the human heart…only evil all the time [Genesis 6:5b]. Precisely why King David acknowledged the need to, hide [God’s] word in [his] heart so that [he] might not sin against [God] [Psalm 119:11] and why God prayed for the steadfastness of our hearts [Deuteronomy 5:29].

You see, the word of God is living and active; sharper than any double-edged sword…it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart [Hebrews 4:12] which only God can see [1 Samuel 16:7]. But all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23]. So it is only by God’s grace, through our faith in Him that we can be made righteous through Christ [2 Corinthians 5:21]. We can be being made pure in heart.

Seeking God in His Word, seeking His purity in our heart, will truly bless us. No greater joy will we know than knowing our Lord.

One fruit of the pure heart is peacemaking. As Christians, we should be so filled with peace that we can speak peace into those around us–even without using our words! And when others know us as as peacable, then they will also know us as God’s own children. What an amazing testimony!

So seeking to purify our hearts through God’s Word will bring us great joy and renew God’s peacemaking image in us, which will, again, bring us more joy. It’s an up-spiral. A positive progression instead of the world’s downward spiraling depression.

Start a new cycle. Reverse the sin feedback loop.

Which way do your emotions spiral? Earthward? Or heavenward?


Juste Appétit

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:6-7

Image result for plate cup light

Have you ever been hungry? What about thirsty? Food never tastes better and drinks never satisfy quite so well as when we truly desire to eat and drink.

One of my daughters has never had a very good appetite. She has always eaten small nibbles and left even desserts and other treats untouched because she just isn’t hungry. After her first dance class, though, she was starved–for the first time ever! I was so excited I asked her what she was hungry for, because I was glad to have her eating food of her own accord. She looked at me, eyes sad, and said, I want to be hungry at Grandma’s house. 

Of course, Grandma would give her many more of the sweets and treats she’d rather fill up on. But the sentiment is one that we as Christians should identify with. We should want to be hungry in God’s house. We should thirst for the things of God. We should crave righteousness–being morally right and justified in God’s eyes. If we do, we can be guaranteed that our appetites will be satisfied. God desires to fill us to overflowing with the good things that He has prepared for us–the righteousness of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Mercy is one of these attributes that should pique our spiritual hunger and thirst. God is merciful and created us in His image. When we freely lavish His mercy on others it means that we are showing compassion and forgiveness to those whom it is within our power to punish or harm.

When we have the mind of Christ, showing mercy makes us extremely joyful. But it is a double-edged joy, because others will extend compassion and forgiveness to us as well. Not to mention, when we forgive others, God forgives us [Matthew 6:14-15].

Do you want to be hungry in God’s house? Do you crave His Word and truth in your life? Do you dispense His mercy as freely as He as bestowed it on you?


Recognizing Sin

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth” Matthew 5:4-5

Eye, Sick, Blue, Red, PainJesus isn’t being tragically poetic here. He’s not being emo or self-deprecating.

So then what does He mean that those who are sad enough to grieve will find comfort? Or that those who are quiet and gentle will be the ones who gain the whole world?

When our hearts are in accord with God our Father, then the only thing that should cause us grief is sin and its effects all around us. Granted, that encompasses a lot of what truly does make people sad. But how many people are aware that we have disease and death because of sin? That we have robbers and rapists and murderers because of sin? That government corruption and the inability to be satisfied with food, clothing, houses, money, etc is because of sin? That even just not getting along with other people is because of sin?

When we recognize what sin is and does in us. When we understand that we are sinners and mourn for our fallen state and our fallen world. Then we can be truly blessed.

Because that is the point at which we come to Christ. We repent–or rethink–our own sinfulness. We stop trying to justify it and start seeking His righteousness in our lives.

When we recognize that true authority is not about being verbose or forceful. That we can’t assert control or command respect by imposing ourselves on others. Then we can be truly joyful.

Because that is the point at which we, again, come to Christ. We repent of our self-as-usurping-sovereign ways. We stop coveting the throne of self-importance and start seeking Christ as Lord of our lives.

To find joy, we must first mourn our sins and take comfort in the redemption of Christ. To find joy, we must first humble our control-hungry hearts and trust in our shared inheritance with Christ [Romans 8:17].

Are you searching for genuine blessings? There is no formula or incantation, nothing you can do in your own power, just a contrite and humble heart before God.


A Series of Contradictions

“Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:1-3

Image result for juxtaposeJesus was not looking for the notoriety of the crowds. On the contrary, he knew that small group instruction was more effective. So before he speaks here, he goes up on a mountain–which create a natural amplification for his voice–and teaches his personal disciples. His attention was focused on them, though his words were not kept from the nearby crowds.

It is important to note here that the gospel writers didn’t use quotation marks in their original texts. Nor does any claim that they are quoting Jesus verbatim–or word for word. Rather, they are like a student recalling a class lecture that has preserved all of the integrity of the message substance.

Jesus opens the well known Sermon on the Mount with a series of nine somewhat contradictory admonitions known as the BeatitudesBeatitude simply means extremely blessed or joyful. And clearly, just as today, many were longing for blessings and joyfulness in their lives.

So how do we live a life of blessing according to the Son of God?

We start with recognizing the poverty of our spirit. We are all sinners [Romans 3:23]. Therefore, we all need–not just any savior but–Jesus Christ, God’s Son, to redeem us from our sins.

The devout Jewish leaders had become so filled with their own self-righteousness that they were blind to the truth of their eternal station. Later, Jesus called them whitewashed tombs–all spiffed up on the outside but dead souls on the inside [Matthew 23:27]. They kept the Law of Moses to the letter but they missed the point. They didn’t recognize the transcendence of the Almighty God or the fact that none of their deeds–no matter how earthly law abiding–attained to the glory of God.

But for those who weren’t so spiritually self-absorbed, they would find it much easier to come to the truth of their sin and repent. These so-called poor in spirit will find the gates of heaven open wide because they have accepted the riches of God’s grace on their behalf instead of trying to do the impossible work–to earn their own way in.

Do you desire a life of blessings and genuine joy? Live in contradiction with the world’s wisdom. Let the Holy Spirit examine your spirit and show you where you are wanting–because only God is perfect. Recognize the poverty of your own spirit man. And be made eternally rich.