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“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. … And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.”  Matthew 6:5, 7

Prayer is conversation with God. Prayer ought to be a time where we humbly and sincerely draw close to God seeking to have a nearer and dearer connection with him. Prayer ought to be an activity that binds us closer and more securely to our Heavenly Father and by virtue of that connection transforms us still more according to his character. 

Too much there’s a shallowness to our praying. We treat prayer as an act of righteousness demonstrating our holiness when it is in reality our most direct connection to the holiness of God which we must rely on if we’re to ever have any righteousness produced in our lives. 

The scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day loved to stand in public places displaying their acts of righteousness. Often they didn’t have prayers of their own so they’d recite long prayers others had written. Still others would would weep and wail inarticulately as they swayed to and fro in they public praying for long periods of time all as they displayed themselves and their self produced holiness. 

Vain repetition was frequently a part of their praying because since their praying wasn’t produced by a humble, sincere heart reaching out for the divine they had nothing of substance to bring to God. 

Notice that repetition is not condemned in our focus text. It’s vain repetition we’re warned against. What is vain repetition?  Vain repetition is repetition that has no meaning and because of this makes what’s associated with it also meaningless. Empty praying makes all praying appear empty which in turn makes it appear that it’s not worth our time to come to God with our burdens and our joys because he’s not there to listen anyway. What’s to be avoided is meaningless praying and not all repetition in prayer is meaningless. 

Public praying or praying in community is also vital and no less personal than private praying. We all have praises and concerns that are shared by the larger community. In public praying we bring those prayers to God together. The one speaking the prayer, often seen as the one praying, is in actuality not the only one praying. He or she is leading the congregation as they together present their prayer to God. 

Jesus warns us that if we pray to be seen as holy then the admiration of men is all the reward we’ll receive. Praying like so many other things only gives us a return according to what we’ve invested in it. Where we’ve merely invested in our public image that’s all the reward we’ll get, but where we’ve invested in drawing close to God we’ll reap the reward of that closeness.

“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 6:1

Why do we do what we do?  In particular, why do we do what we do for other people?  Is it because we care about others or do we have some other motivation?

One person can tell whether or not another person actually cares about people by the way they act. Sometimes it may not be by the experience of a single encounter with the person but after multiple events their actions begin to paint a picture of what’s actually going on in their hearts and what’s really driving them to do what they do. 

Our focus text today admonishes us to “take heed” or be careful that we don’t just do our acts of service so that we can be seen. Our acts of lovingkindness shouldn’t be token acts given to improve our public image, like a token minority, disabled, or female employee. If our driving reason is merely to get attention for ourselves and create a public impression then that’s all the reward we’ll ever have. 

Friends, some people do public service just because they want to live in a cleaner, nicer, more peaceful neighborhood. They don’t really care about those around them that need their help, they’re just trying to make a more realistic version of Disneyland. 

Jesus came not because there was a part of his perfect universe that was making him look bad as a divine creator but because he loves all his creation and when part of it is lost and hurting he wants to do what he can to help. 

It’s easy to do the right thing because we know it’s the right thing and if that’s where you have to start then certainly start there, but that’s not the motive that demonstrates true righteousness. Righteousness flows from a heart that is filled with the love that flows continuously from the heart of God. When this flood washes through our lives we’re not only made clean our lives are healed as well. Our selfishness becomes other centered, we become genuinely caring and our service for others is driven by that deep need to help the hungry and hurting around us. 

So what do we do if we find ourselves doing our acts of kindness not because we’re kind but because we’re pursuing a self righteous life?

First, don’t stop doing the right thing. People need our help even if our kindness doesn’t really come from the heart. Also, I believe that the best school for teaching us to love like Jesus is the one where we’re everyday caring for the needy around us. While we serve others we need to pray that the Holy Spirit will give us the heart of Christ. We need to reach out to Jesus and from his infinite supply of love become possessors of a love that will first transform us and then change world around us. 

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  Matthew 5:44–45

We were in India and for nearly two weeks we’d been preaching the gospel and sharing Jesus’ love with the people in the villages where we were called to raise up churches. 

One day as we were visiting in the homes of one village where the people were particularly poor we came to a home where a baby had been born just a few days before. Local custom forbade any man, not of the immediate family, from being able to enter the home for the next several days so two women from our group entered to pray for the home and the baby. 

When the ladies came out they were both very upset by what they had seen. This family was the poorest we had encountered. There was no food visible anywhere in the house and the baby was covered by only rags for blankets. 

We’d been told that we couldn’t try and meet the physical needs of the people because they were too great and even attempting to would hamper our ability to share Jesus but the plight of this village and this family in particular prompted us to break these instruction. 

So money was collected from the evangelistic team and food was purchased but when it came to the distribution none of the Bible workers that had served this village or the local Christians were willing to give food to the starving family with the new baby. 

When we asked, “Why?” they told us that the people were evil, they worshipped idols, and they were always insulting and even cursing the Christians that lived around them and the Bible workers that served them. They didn’t deserve the food and workers didn’t want to give it to them. 

Karen, one of the women that had visited the home, and I knew we couldn’t leave this family out. We had to show them Jesus’ love. I couldn’t go, men weren’t allowed in the home, so Karen picked up the bag of food we had for them and began to walk to the house. The Bible worker that had been trying to explain why we weren’t going to give to them followed her quietly protesting in broken English. 

Within minutes they were outside the small house and Karen called in. The woman came out and would only looked at the ground. She knew that food was being given out by the Christians and that her family didn’t deserve any. Gently Karen put the the food in front of her and told her it was for her and her family. 

When that young mother looked up there were tears in her eyes.

That day everyone saw Jesus’ love a little clearer. The wicked family saw that even their curses and insults couldn’t keep it away and the Christians saw the power that’s present when we do as Jesus said and love our enemies and those that spitefully use us. 

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  Matthew 5:44–45

What does it mean to be a loving person?  What’s required for someone to truly be a loving person?

Our focus text sets the bar high in regards to the answer to these questions. 

A legalistic approach would allow us to only be required to be patient, kind, generous and nurturing to those who were already part of that circle of people we would call our family and friends. Those a bit further out might be deserving of our respect and civility but little more and those that were out even further we might be justified in giving only our indifference. And then there’s that class of people that we might consider our enemies. The legalistic heart would consider that these would justifiably deserve our hatred. 

Jesus’ heart doesn’t approach relationships like the sinful heart of man would approach it, and the legalistic heart is still a sinful heart because it’s relying on the unconverted spirit and will of the person to produce responses and actions to earn salvation. 

Jesus’ instruction is that we ought to love our enemies, bless those that curse us, do good to those that hate us and pray for those that treat us badly and persecute us. When this kind of response to mistreatment is present in our lives Jesus goes on to say that we have within us evidence that we’re truly becoming sons and daughters of God. 

Many are amazed, puzzled and appalled by the wanton and blatant unkindness and disrespect so often exhibited in the world today. People’s reactions to small mistakes on the road, the venomous replies some people give to posts on social media, even some interactions we’ve  experienced in church all reveal that as a people we have a lot to learn and a long way to go before we can say we’ve learned to love as Christ loves us. 

It’s easy when we begin to identify ourselves as Christians to start seeing ourselves as something better than all the sinners living around us but Jesus makes it clear that if we only give our love to those we’re fond of and those we already hold in high esteem we’re no better than those we consider the most blatant sinners; that’s what a tax collector was to a Jewish person. 

Jesus freely gave his love to each and every underserving person he met. Day after day he lavished his love on the disciple Judas, knowing that he was a prideful, unrepentant, unconverted thief and would one day betray him. That’s the kind of love Jesus wants to put in our hearts. That’s the kind of love we must receive from him if we’re going to become true children of God. 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”  Matthew 5:38–39

The meaning of what a person says isn’t determined by only their words. The context in which the words are spoken, or written, has a bearing in determining the meaning and import of what is said. There are many times, however, when we take instruction we’re given out of the context it was intended to address and then apply it in another context and the result is very different. 

Take the statement, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” referred to in our focus text. Three times in the writings of Moses this instruction is given, once in Exodus, once in Leviticus, and once in Deuteronomy. In Jesus’ day this instruction had been interpreted to describe an individual’s rightful response to any mistreatment or injustice he’d received from another. Basically, they believed that a person was allowed to respond or retaliate in the same way he’d been treated. 

Imagine the kind of homes, workplaces, and communities we’d have if everyone applied this interpretation to the rule every time we felt we were mistreated. We’d all feel like we were living in a war zone. “My sister lied about me, I’ll lie about her. My colleague stole something from my desk, I’ll steal something from his. My neighbor was drunk and ran over my garbage can so I’ll….  You get the picture. 

God’s intention was never that individual people, or even families, were ever to use the guide line, “an eye for an eye,” as a standard for their response to the actions of others. These instructions were given to judges, and community elders that would function as judges, to instruct them in how to determine what degree of punishment was appropriate for any given crime. A more modern version of this instruction is the adage, “let the punishment fit the crime.”  However, I want to emphasize these instructions were given to judges and magistrates for use when they sat in judgment not for use by people in everyday living. 

How did Jesus say we’re to respond to mistreatment?  Don’t resist and evil person. Be patient, generous, and kind. Friends, if everyone were less concerned about protecting themselves and their rights and more interested in caring for others this world would be a much gentler and more peaceful place.

I know we live in a rough world, and having some defensive posture is sometimes just good sense, but we need to be careful that our defensiveness doesn’t become a means of maintaining or even escalating the hurt that goes on in the world. More often than not a little patience, kindness, and generosity will go a long way to making our corner of the world a better place. 

“But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”  Matthew 5:34–37

It wasn’t that many generations ago when all that was required to seal a commitment was for a person to say they would do something. That was enough, sometimes hands would be shaken over the agreement, but it really wasn’t required; your word had been given and your word bound you to see that what you’d said you’d do was done. 

I’ve heard stories of people who almost considered it a personal insult if they were required to sign a contract setting the terms of their agreement. It felt, in a way, that their word wasn’t good enough, they couldn’t be trusted to keep their promise, if their wasn’t a legal document that could be used to coerce them if their was a failure to meet the terms. 

It’s clear from Jesus’ words in our focus text that for children of God it’s expected that we would continue to be a people that keep our word. 

It was common in Judea in the first century for people to make any number of elaborate assurances and pledges to convince people that they could be trusted to keep their agreements. Oaths would be made claiming the temple as a witness, or the throne of God, or the earth, or heaven, or Jerusalem. Some would even pledge the hair on their head. “All this,” Jesus says, “is from the evil one.”  

Think about, why do we feel we need to call witnesses of things that are precious or that we see as enduring? Because even we aren’t sure that we’ll keep our word if we give it so we elaborate on our promises to convince other people that we’re trust worthy when we know we’re unreliable. 

“But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’” 

If you know you’re able keep your word and you know that you can be trusted to follow through then say, “Yes.”  But if your not sure that your capable, if you know that you’re unreliable, don’t say, “Yes,” and then later make a liar out of yourself. It’s better to say, “No,” and then let them find someone else to rely on. 

This passage comes home to me. I always intend to do what I say, and most of the time I do, but there are times when I find that I’m unable to follow through, this leaves people in the lurch. It would be far better for me to follow through on the expectations I encourage others to have in me or to not have set expectations at all. 

I know things sometimes happen that are out of our control that affect our ability to keep our word but it ought to be a very rare exception to our normal way of working for us to fail to keep our word. And we ought never need to make elaborate promises to convince others that we can be trusted. 

“Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.”  Matthew 5:31–32

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are bound together in such a bond of unity that who they are and what they do are one. Their goals, aims, ideals and desires are united. Their’s is a mutually submitted relationship illustrating that ideal unity with which God has called his people to be bound together. 

In no relationship is that unity better learned and in turn demonstrated than in the bond of mutually submitted husbands and wives. 

God’s desire is that he be known and understood by us. For this reason when we were created he made us man and woman, husband and wife. In the process of that creation he took pains to make sure Adam realized his need for Eve before she was even created ensuring that the tasked oriented first man didn’t take his “helpmeet” for granted. In the marriage union God has given us a profound way of learning the depth of the reality of the bond of divine intimacy and companionship and in this we can better understand the ties that bind the Godhead together. 

Satan in his warfare with God would obliterate the blessing of marriage by so corrupting and altering it that rather than being a model for godly unity it becomes an institution ruled by selfishness, strife, abuse and betrayal. At times it seems that he has almost wholly succeeded in his aim. 

Even the legalistic minded Pharisees of Jesus day had lost sight of God’s grand purpose for marriage. They allowed that for the most trivial of reasons a husband could divorce his wife after which she was then free to marry another. 

Jesus’ desire was to restore marriage as far as possible to its original purpose and potential and he made it very clear that this fast and loose approach to marriage was not in harmony with heaven. Marriage was to be permanent, and only adultery was grounds for its dissolution. 

Friends, building unity between two people requires a lifetime commitment to faithfully investing in another person. It’s not always easy. Disagreements will come, sometimes it seems they come all the time, in these we learn to compromise when it’s possible and at other times we learn to selflessly submit to the needs or wants of our beloved. 

Marriage has the potential of teaching us, like nothing else can, the extent and character of God’s ideal for unity and love, but we’ll never learn if we’re always looking for a way out.

Lord give us patience and endurance during the times of disagreement, and multiply and lengthen the periods of harmony. Above all, in our marriages help us to know and understand you better. 

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  Matthew 5:27–28

Researchers in the field of music, specifically the effect of music on the brain, have documented that when listening to music virtually all areas of the brain are activated, even the portions dedicated to motor activity. These findings tell us that while simply listening to music the brain actually engages in pretended participation in the playing of the music. When the pretended activity is the performance of music, particularly frontal lobe enhancing music like hymns and classical music, the effect is positive, but when the pretended activity is destructive and sinful the effect our thoughts have on ourselves is just as destructive as if we’d actually done the act. 

The apostle Paul realized this and that’s why he counseled us in the book of Philippians chapter four and verse eight to think on those things that are true, noble, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy. When these ideals become our standard for evaluating what we choose to meditate on our thoughts become the training ground that prepares us to live a godly and noble life. 

Jesus indicates the same reality in regards to our thoughts and imaginations in our focus text. Many of us combine the sense of sight with the power of imagination to vicariously engage in sin. This can become a highly destructive habit, one that some have found themselves helpless to break free from on their own. 

Friends, looking at another person to lust after them is a sinful trap that will disrupt and possibly harm and even destroy relationships we have with family and friends. We must learn to lean on Jesus for the protection and strength he can give to guard us from our damaging thoughts.

Advertising, much of television and internet media programming is designed to lead us into vicariously participating in actions we ought to never even momentarily think about. And it’s not just sexual sin, though this is a very common and powerful one. Sometimes the sin we virtually engage in is violence, deceit, stealing, profane and corrupt behavior, and disrespect. All of these imaginings don’t encourage or prepare us to have the mind of Christ. They, in fact, develop within us habits and responses that lead in exactly the opposite direction. 

How serious do we need to be about removing these avenues of vicarious sin from our lives?  The very next verses in the Sermon of the Mount say that if our hands or our eyes offend us we need to pluck them out or cut them off. It would be better to be blind or maimed in this life than to be lost because we held back from doing everything necessary to curb our thoughts and actions. 

Perhaps amputation is further than we need to go but maybe removing our TVs and cutting internet capabilities is a good idea for some. 

It’s all about bringing our thoughts into captivity to Christ. Whatever is required needs to be done because we are what we think. 

“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:20

Be very careful of setting yourself up as a standard that others should compare themselves to and as an example of what it means to be holy and righteous. Very often at the exact moment you’re setting yourself forward as a person to be admired and emulated there are things about you that would disqualify you from being anyone’s role model. The apostle Paul’s warning in first Corinthians, chapter ten and verse twelve comes to mind, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”

The scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus’ day believed that the professional, financial and social success they enjoyed were evidence that they had pleased God, were righteous and were therefore enjoying his favor. Friends, money, popularity, and advancement don’t stand as evidence of our favored standing before God any more than trials and setbacks reveal our disfavor. It’s obedience to God’s commandments and directions that reveal our spiritual standing. Have we submitted to him and is our submission evidenced in what we do and what we say. 

It came as a surprise to those listening to Jesus that day to hear the words, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” The rank and file had believed that their leaders and teachers were the standard they needed to set their eyes on and strive to equal. Jesus’ words revealed that that brand of righteousness is self righteousness and that kind of righteous is nothing more than “filthy rags.”

The focus of the next two and a half chapters, nearly one tenth of the book of Matthew, record Jesus contrasting his teaching and that of the scribes and Pharisees. His words reveal the shallowness of their pretended righteousness and the lofty expectations of God. 

As we consider Jesus’ teaching it’s easy to think that he’s set an impossible goal for us to reach. And he has if we attempt to reach it according to our own strength and ability. We’re no different from the Jewish leaders in that regard, our sinful natures prevent us from lifting ourselves up even one millimeter. We need Jesus’ help and he’s promised it to us. In John chapter fifteen Jesus tells us that without him we can do nothing but with him abiding in us we can do anything he asks us to. 

Let’s stop trying to become right on our own. Let’s reach out to Jesus and receive from him the riches, the healing, the righteousness we need. He’s waiting to give them to us. Let’s stop procrastinating and take what he offers today. 

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”  Matthew 5:17–18

The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day were legalists and they like legalists of all ages were focused on doing the least that they had to do to convince themselves that they were being obedient to God’s law. The reason for this focus on doing only the least was because they were, in their own strength and ability alone, looking to their obedience to merit their salvation. In these efforts they had learned by hard experience that sinful man is incapable of achieving the large claims of the law of God, but instead of reaching out to God for the divine strength he was offering they diminished the claims of his law of love. In this lessening of God’s law, they in fact perverted that law, and in many cases wholly obscured the love that he had intended that it would safeguard. 

Our loving Savior, when he came to live, minister, and teach revealed once again the fullness of the love of God which is the very heart of his law. Jesus’ teaching pushed aside the instruction of the scribes and Pharisees, revealed it to be worthless and in some cases showed that it was destructive to God’s purposes. So marked was the difference between the teaching of Jesus and the established Rabbi’s of his day that there were some that were beginning to say that he was setting aside the law of God. To these critics Jesus’ answer was, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”

Christ’s purpose was not to remove even one particle of the eternal law of love. All creation is designed to function according to this law. In its keeping is peace, harmony and life, and departing from it only results in discord, pain and, ultimately death. For this reason our Redeemer’s teaching was focused on restoring the law to its true place so that it blessings could be experienced by all. Jesus’ desire was that his law would be fulfilled in every heart. It’s only as it’s fulfilled in us that we can truly experience the fullness of the salvation he has bought for us. 

Satan’s desire is that men would remain trapped in the pain and misery of sin. Many people, sincerely seeking a relationship with God, have been taught that they don’t need worry about keeping the law. “Just do the best you can,” they’re told, “Jesus’ grace and mercy will make up for the rest.”

Friends, Jesus’ life and death have purchased freedom from both the guilt and the power of sin in our lives. This means that he’s given us forgiveness and with that he’s given his Holy Spirit so that we can have the strength to overcome sin and discover the fullness of the love of God. This is a love that not only comes to us but one that flows through us and touches the lives of others as we love them in obedience to God’s direction. This love even touches the heart of God as we, in obedience to his commandments, join our lives with his in loving service and worship. 

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”  Matthew 5:13–14

When I was about six years old our family was taking part in a church work bee one Sunday. Everyone, even the children had begun the day with some task they could help with but very soon the children had dispensed with working and had gone to playing. My playing eventually took me into the church kitchen where I discover a bag of sugar. I knew I liked sugar, it was sweet and sweet was good and I wanted some of that sugar. So I took a handful of that sugar and stuffed it into my mouth only to discover that I’d made a mistake. It wasn’t sugar, it was salt. In that instant I learned a few very important lessons and one is that salt is best experienced in small amounts not handfuls. 

In Matthew chapter five Jesus is recorded telling the people that they are the salt of the earth and in the next sentence he makes a similar point using a different metaphor when he says that they are the light of the world. 

Notice that Jesus didn’t say that they were merely salt and light. No, they were the salt of the earth and they were the light of the world. The message here is that those possessing the experience of the saving grace of God in their lives now have the responsibility of sharing that experience with the world. Those whose lives are everyday being touched and molded by the life and power of Jesus are to expose the world to that influence they experience in their lives. 

Regarding salt that has no savor to share Jesus says that it’s good for nothing except to be cast aside and trod underfoot. Unshared light doesn’t get the same condemnation but Jesus does say that no one would ever light a lamp and then hide its light. Oh no, lamps are placed on pedestals where they can share their light with everyone in the house. 

Both light and salt are essential for life and health. Sodium is necessary for proper body function and too little salt has been linked to heart attack and death. Light is also vital for health and not just for the production of vitamin D. Experiencing bright light for about an hour early in the day triggers hormone cycles necessary for both wakefulness during the day and sound sleep at night. Our physical and mental health are dependent on our experiencing bright light. 

The world needs an experience with Jesus. For most people that experience begins with the relationships they have with people that already have a connection with him. We must not hide the relationship we have with Jesus. Never be embarrassed or ashamed by the connection you have with God. At the same time never be arrogant or overpowering with your witness either. Like Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon it ought to be known that the power in your life and your success and faithfulness are a product of the relationship you have with God. The lives of many, even kings and princes, were touched by these men. You can touch other lives for God as well. 

That’s what it means to be salt and light in this world. Our lives must make a difference to those that know us and even those that just meet us. 

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:10

Think about the times you’ve been in conflict with someone else. Consider the circumstances and the rest of the situation and see if you can identify the primary reason for the conflict. In most cases I believe that the reason comes down to competing differences. We all have overlapping needs but different ideas about how those needs ought to be met; we have different values and this too affects the way we want to address our needs. 

When it comes to the spiritual parts of life there is a natural incompatibility between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of this world. The values of these two kingdoms are very different from one another with a number standing in direct opposition to the other. These differences create an abundance of opportunities for prejudice, misunderstanding, competition and conflict. 

Often I here people in Christian circles talking about some clash they experienced at work or school between their conscientious spiritual principles and those of the secular world and they refer to these confrontations as persecution. In most cases I don’t believe that the situations fit what I would consider to be persecution. There was no intentional provoking of the Christian; the people involved in the other side of the conflict were merely pursuing a competing agenda. Such conflicts are normal and ought to be expected as long as we’re in this sin filled world. 

In the final beatitude Jesus tells us that we also ought to expect actual persecution. He tells us that his followers are actually blessed when those in opposition to the cause of God direct their attention and focus their attacks on them because they love and follow him. 

Many people think that something has gone horribly wrong when these trials come into their lives. And they’re right, but the problem isn’t a new one. It’s the same problem that’s existed for as long as there’s been sin, what they’re experiencing is just the latest manifestation of that conflict between God and Satan, sin and righteousness. 

Jesus says you’re blessed when you encounter these persecutions because they tell you that yours is the kingdom of heaven. Notice that he says that this is a present, not a future, condition. The conflict and persecutions regarding your relationship with God come because you have a relationship with God. The kingdom of this world directs its attacks toward you because you’re now a part of the kingdom of God. Jesus goes on to say that you ought to rejoice because the world has always directed its attacks against his warriors, the prophets, and now your a part of that number. 

It’s not easy, or pleasant, to go through trials and tribulations, but if you expect them you can be prepared, and if you’re prepared you’re ready to hold onto your faith and be an overcomer. 

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”  Matthew 5:9

I’m not sure many of us can really understand what peace is. Most of us simply don’t have any valid experiential reference point that can serve as a standard by which we can recognize what true peace really is. 

The peace Jesus is talking about can’t be what we would ordinarily expect it to be. John chapter fourteen verse twenty-seven records Jesus telling his disciples just hours before he would be arrested in the garden that he was leaving his peace with them, and he adds that this peace isn’t like the peace the world gives. 

We’re familiar with the world’s version of peace but Jesus has something more precious, more pure to give. 

Everyday he lived each moment submitted to the will and the purpose of the Father. Everyday he spoke and acted knowing that the words he said and the works he performed fulfilled an eternal purpose. He was helping people find the acceptance, forgiveness, transformation and hope that heaven was offering. He was helping the lost and desolate to find their way back to their Heavenly Father and to achieve victory over the mountain of trials and sins that had been smothering all the meaning and joy out of their lives. In Jesus, in the message he preached, in the healing he freely gave, in his unconditional acceptance and love they found a source of uninterrupted peace. 

Jesus didn’t just abide in the peace he had. He shared that peace with any who would receive it. In this he was a peacemaker. 

It’s our privilege to also be peacemakers. As we’ve freely found acceptance we’re called to proclaim that acceptance to a world full of rejection. As we’ve found forgiveness we’re called to proclaim forgiveness to a world living in fear of condemnation. As our lives have been changed by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit we’re called to bear witness to that hope for change to a world locked in cycles of destruction and futility. As we have found hope, not just for today but for eternity, we’re called to proclaim that hope to a world fill with fear. 

Jesus is calling you today to be a peacemaker.  As a son or daughter of God he’s calling you to multiply his presence and his peace in this world. 

Christ has overcome the world so we don’t need to fear the troubles we encounter here. Christ has overcome the world so we don’t need to remain trapped in the sin and meaninglessness we’re so often caught in. Christ is coming soon to take us to himself so we don’t have to be anxious about the future of this planet. 

Because of Jesus we have peace. Because we have Jesus we have peace to give. 

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  Matthew 5:8

When we first come to Christ there’s a vague awareness that there’s something missing within our hearts but primarily our attention is focused on the things we’ve done and said, the steps we need to take to make them right, and the efforts we need to exert to learn to do what’s right. God knowing that we’re limited in our ability to understand his purpose has gently led us through this time of personal conviction, confession and reformation with the goal of getting us to the place where we’ll realize that our needs, our problems, and his desire for us extend much deeper than our surface actions. He desires that we become pure in heart. 

God through the prophet Jeremiah described the condition of our hearts when we begin our spiritual journey with Christ with these words, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)  The expression “desperately wicked” is in many translations rendered incurable, or beyond cure. The message God is trying to impress upon us is that unless we come to him now, give him unfettered access to our hearts, and allow him to make a complete transformation of our hearts we’ll never be able to see his face when he comes.

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

It’s the pure in heart that see God. Merely moral actions aren’t enough. Having a strictly obeyed set of religious principles and rules is insufficient on its own. God’s desire and salvations requirement is that we have a heart that wants the same thing as God’s heart wants. We love what God loves and we hate what God hates; we’re attracted to what God’s attracted to and were repulsed by what repulses God. 

Is that to say that actions aren’t important? Yes and no. What we do is important because it reveals what’s in our hearts but in the end it’s the heart that dictates the actions and that’s why it’s the condition of the heart that truly determines our spiritual condition. 

In the verse from Jeremiah we learned that the heart is incurable. David realized this and in Psalm fifty-one requests that God create in him a clean heart. The clean heart he asked for he realized had to be a new creation. God spoke of this through the prophet Ezekiel with these words, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26) The apostle Paul when he wrote about the converted person described him as a new creature. 

Only the pure in heart will see God, and God has made a way for everyone to have the pure heart of Jesus beating in their breast. It’s our for the asking. Ask Jesus to come into your heart. Ask the Holy Spirit to remove the sin polluted organ that corrupts everything you do and say and to make his heart the well spring from which all your life is lived. Ask Jesus to come and make you new today. 

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”  Matthew 5:7

I’ll start today’s post with a question. 

What do others, our spouses, our children, our friends, our co-workers and even strangers make for us more often than anything else?

Some of you may guess the answer right away and others may take a bit longer, but the answer is mistakes. We’re given mistakes from others more often than any other contribution, and if we’re honest with ourselves we’ll admit that we contribute our share of mistakes as well. We break things, we say things that hurt people, we forget appointments and promises, we get things wrong, we’re wasteful of time and resources, and we can be impatient. And almost all of these fallibilities are unintentional. We really wanted to do things better. We really did try to do things right. 

Is it any wonder that as Jesus leads us deeper into our experience with him on the path of salvation that the first part of that transformation that impacts others is the grace of a merciful heart? His mercy has covered us, our mistakes, and even our rebellion, everyday of our lives and now as we draw closer to him we realize, more than ever before, that in this world of bumps and bobbles the thing others need most from us is a generous supply of mercy. And with Jesus’ example leading the way we set into each day with more of this healing gift. 

But we need to not rush to quickly through this fifth beatitude. If we do we’ll miss the subtle caution or warning tucked within its nine words. 

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

Did you see it?  It’s easy to miss. 

Hidden in there is a reminder that it’s the merciful that will obtain merciful. If we’re not merciful ultimately mercy will be withheld. 

God, in his infinite love and mercy for us, continues to extend his mercy in the hope that we will learn from him, turn to him, and be transform to become more like him, but his forbearance won’t last forever. There will come a day when he’ll know that we’ll never change, we’ll never choose to love him, and he’ll stop trying to change us and then move forward in restoring his sin ravaged creation.

Mercy, is never deserved or earned. It’s a gift God’s given because we need it, and he asks us to share this gift with others because they need it from us. 

You’ll never run out of mercy. What God’s given you is enough to last forever and it seems to grow and multiply the more it’s shared. 

O God make me more like you. Make your mercy shine out of my life.  Help me to treat others with your strength, tenderness, understanding and compassion today. 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”  Matthew 5:6

A few months ago I attended a weekend series of presentations by Dr. Neil Nedley and several other presenters primarily dealing with mental health issues and lifestyle factors contributing to the promotion of a healthy mind. Several times over the course of the weekend I heard Dr. Nedley say, and others repeat, the same nugget of wisdom, “You can never get enough of what you don’t need.”

The truth of this proverb is evident in the epidemic levels of dysfunction going on in the world. 

Some people are filling their homes to overflowing. Their lives are completely dominated by the things they own until you’re compelled to ask the question, “Do they own their stuff or does their stuff own them?”

Others try to self-medicate with alcohol, narcotics, or some other drug in the hope that they might at the very least escape to a place where they can feel better, but that state only lasts a little while and afterwards they feel worse off than they were before so they end up turning to more of their drug of choice so they can escape again. 

It seems that almost everybody is tired and overextended these days which no doubt has contributed to the success the caffeinated beverage industry. The majority of Americans have made this their addiction of choice and now you hardly have to drive more than a mile to find a coffee or soda so that you can give yourself a boost. 

But you can’t ever get enough of what you don’t need. No amount of stuff, entertainment, mind altering substances, stimulants or anything else will ever bring the satisfaction the human heart craves. 

But in our focus text Jesus promises that there is a source of unfailing satisfaction. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

For the spiritual traveler on the road of salvation the righteousness that Jesus has to offer is truly satisfying. Christ’s righteousness will never clutter your life or leave you feeling imprisoned. The presence of the Holy Spirit will always lift you to new heights and will never leave you feeling lower than you were before you met him. What your Heavenly Father will ask you to do will give your life greater satisfaction and a purer sense of purpose; you’ll never regret the time you spend with him doing what he’s called you to do. 

It’s true that you will want more of his righteousness. More of his love. More of his grace. More of his acceptance. More of the freedom and fulfillment you have when you love and work with him. It’s not that you weren’t satisfied. No the righteousness of God always satisfies, but it also  makes you grow and now you have a greater capacity to use the blessings God has to offer. So you turn to him again because only he can satisfy. 

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”  Matthew 5:5

Let me be a little kinder; Let me be a little blinder,

To the faults of those about me; Let me praise a little more.

Let me be when I am weary, Just a little bit more cheery;

Think a little more of others, And a little less of me.

Above are just a few lines from a youth song I remember being song when I was a boy. It was titled Less Of Me and it sings like a prayer for God to make us less focused on ourselves and more focused on the needs and the considerations of others. 

Today’s focus text stands as a sobering warning for those who would set out to follow in the footsteps of Christ. You will in this journey face many who would oppose your forward progress. What you have chosen stands in direct contradiction to their long established goals and expectations, and they will resist and fight against any change the Holy Spirit will bring into your life. But the greatest, the most cunning, the most difficult for you to resist and overcome of all these enemies is yourself. 

We’ve all heard people say, “I’m my own worst enemy.” In the spiritual life this is doubly true. 

The apostle John warns us in his first epistle that Satan, when he tempts us, will tempt us with what we already desire. 

I’ve observed that most of the time when a person commits or recommits their life to God that for a few days, perhaps even a few weeks, Satan will appear to leave them alone. He’ll let them grow and begin to become confident in their new found faith, and then he’ll begin to subtly undermine their reliance on God. Bible study time shifts from being a time for deepening their connection to our Heavenly Father and mostly about learning truth. Prayer time stops being about having a personal, intimate conversation with God and becomes mostly about presenting their list of needs and requests. Mixed in with this diluting of their connection to God is a spirit of rejoicing in the knowledge and strength they’ve gained. All this is carefully calculated to blind the seeker to their own vulnerability, to make them over confident in their own ability to stand in their place as a Christian, and to set them up for a fall.

This is why Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

When we first came to Christ it was with the knowledge that we are nothing without him. He is the giver of our value, he is the author of our success, he is the originator of our praise, and he is the source of our strength. It’s only as we in meekness continue to remember these realities everyday that we will be able to continue to be blessed and to grow in the grace of Christ. 

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  Matthew 5:4

I could see the hurt in her eyes and I knew that I had been the one to inflict the pain that had pierced her heart. I heard her sniffles and muffled sobs as she cried out her brokenness and I knew that I had been the one to cause her wounds. I was the author of every tear that ran down her face. 

How I wished that I could take back those minutes and those words that I had spoken. It’s scary how quickly and how deeply we can hurt our friends and family members. It’s frightening how few words are required to drive an arrow home. And it’s sobering to know that those words will echo and reecho making it take far longer to heal those wounds, if healing is even possible. By God’s grace healing is possible. 

Every day, sometimes in big ways and often in little ways, our actions harm someone. The sins we do always cause harm to ourselves, they always cause pain to the heart of God, and they usually hurt someone else close to us. 

Our focus text reveals to us that one of the first fruits born by our admitting our poverty and accepting the riches of the kingdom of heaven is a sense of grief and an active mourning for our sin. And I’m not talking about a casual or shallow acknowledgement of our wrongdoings. The sadness, grief, and regret we feel for the harm and hurt we’ve caused is profound and sincere. In our hearts there’s a genuine yearning to make things right and to seek forgiveness, and we make every effort to secure both of those objectives. 

But you know, sometimes restoration isn’t possible. Sometimes too much time has past and it’s too late to say, “I’m sorry,” and then hear the words, “I forgive you.” 

In those times the promise of our focus text stands up as a mountain of assurance, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

O friend don’t hold yourself back from entering into the truth of your condition and what you’ve done. Don’t be afraid to open the chest of your hidden sin. When you grieve over and confess your sin you’ll only find one response from our Savior; forgiveness, acceptance, and comfort. 

Jesus can heal your heart like nothing else can. Time may let wounds close up and allow us to forget, but Jesus can soothe our hurts, wipe away our tears, heal our scars and infuse comfort and joy into our souls. 

New beginnings are his. Open your sinful heart to him and let his comfort usher in a new beginning this morning. 

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

The miracles Jesus performed comprised the bulk of our Savior’s ministry to the people of Galilee and Judah but in many ways the affect of those actions were transitory, the impact was only immediate and short lived. The same cannot be said about the words of his teaching. What our Savior said when he taught echoes down through the generations and still touches hearts and shapes lives today. 

Matthew chapter five begins what is perhaps the most complete account of one of Jesus’ sermons. He begins with a poem of his own making. At first it appears to be a series of proverbial statements but closer consideration reveals that it’s actually a summary each person’s experience as God work’s his salvation in their life. 

The first part of that statement, “Blessed are the poor in spirit … ,”tells us that spiritually we’re bankrupt, we have nothing to offer God, nothing within ourselves to rely on, or trust in, to merit or purchase acceptance before God. The statement also tells us that we’re blessed if we realize this fact. 

Far too often and for far too long we work to prove our worth to ourselves and to God. The truth is that whatever innate value we may have is totally eclipsed by the mountain of debt our sin has accumulated for us. Spiritually we’re so bankrupt we’ll never be able to even come close to digging ourselves out of the hole we’re in. 

So how are we blessed? 

Realizing this truth about ourselves has the potential of setting us up to stop trying to earn our way into God’s good graces and to simply accept the grace his love for us is already freely offering.  As soon as we do this, wretched, poor, blind and naked though we may be, the kingdom of heaven is now ours to claim. Sonship to the God of the universe is not something we have to earn it’s a standing that’s ours to accept. Citizenship in the Kingdom of God isn’t ours to qualify for it’s ours to embrace. 

Rest assured you’ll never be the same if you acknowledge your poverty, stop trying to become worthy of God’s favor and accept all that he’s offering, but the change cannot come before the acceptance it can only come after. We must become citizens of heaven and see that as our true home before we’ll ever let ourselves abandon the treasures of this world and our place in it.

That’s why the journey to grace begins with our accepting the fact that we’ve got nothin.  

Are you ready to acknowledge your poverty? Are you ready to let go of those worthless pebbles you’ve been clutching so that you can accept the diamonds Jesus is offering?

“And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.”  Matthew 4:23

Nearly fifteen years ago I went to India with a group of forty volunteers to conduct evangelistic efforts. The main focus of our labors was meeting with the people and praying with them during the day and in the evenings presenting an evangelistic sermon, but it was a handful of events that happened peripherally to this work that standout in my memory like a lighthouse beacon on a dark night. 

The first is the night a little girl was brought to the meetings with lungs so congested she must have had bronchial pneumonia. She could hardly get a breath and in her desperation for air her crying could not be calmed. Then Karen, the presenter for that night, stepped over to her and began to pray. What happened next took only about a minute. As Karen prayed I saw that child calm, relax, lay her head on her mother’s shoulder, and then peacefully go to sleep. Seeing that child healed created an excitement that nearly disrupted the meeting. 

The second event was not one I personally witnessed; it happened in connection with one of the other teams meetings. One day a large number of people were committing their lives to Christ in baptism and one of them was a little old lady. Everything was going just as you’d expect until she came up out of the water. As she open her eyes she began to exclaim and call out excitedly. When she had entered the water she had been blind but as she had come up out of it she could see.

Matthew tells us that healing was an important part of Jesus’ ministry. Ellen White commenting on this fact wrote that Jesus spent much more time tending to the physical needs of the people he served than in preaching to them. The book of Acts tells us that healing the sick, casting out demons, even raising the dead were also part of the disciples ministries. Somehow as the centuries have past, at least in the north western part of the planet, we’ve lost our confidence in God’s willingness, even desire, to meet our needs and heal our diseases. 

As I read today’s focus text a thought came into my mind that God wants to continue demonstrating his loving presence by the healing he can bring. Healing ought to be an important part of the ministry of God’s church. Jesus became famous because of the healing he performed and as a result of his fame those same people also were able to hear the Savior speak to them about eternal life. 

I know that it’s not fame we’re looking for, however, we should be known as a people that possess spiritual strength and power. Power to live holy lives. Power to heal. Power to cast out demons. Power, even, to raise the dead. It should also be known that we’re willing to freely share these blessings with anyone. Perhaps then more would be attracted to listen to that infinitely more precious gift Jesus has given us to share. Perhaps then the way would be prepared for more people to hear the gospel of Jesus’ love and prepare to be with him when he returns.