Shining Light

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

Lighthouses are truly amazing structures. They stand as sentinels along almost all sea coasts and on many islands around the world. Archaeologists believe that some of the first lighthouses were built in Egypt over 2000 years ago. They became a very important navigational tool for sailors. The lighthouse shines its light to warn of dangerous areas which can lead ships to sink. They also can provide a way of determining location. The lighthouse gives direction and safety to those on the open water who are coming toward shore.

In the midst of what has become known as Jesus’s Simon on the Mount, we find Jesus talking about salt and light. Today we focus on the light portion of the discussion. Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world. We cannot be hidden. Instead, we are to shine before others. Our ways of living are to lead others to glorify the Father. Our light is to provide safety and guidance for others. We are to live in a manner which guides others to the Father where they will find ultimate safety.

What Jesus says to the listeners and us can be intimidating. There are times and situations in our lives which we do not want others to see. During these moments, instead of brightly shining on a hill, we want to be hiding under the bowl. The concept that our words, actions and attitudes are to point others to God causes one to take inventory of those items. Often, in doing so, a person realizes that changes in the way one lives may be necessary.

Hear again the words of Jesus: “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Avoiding the Pitfall

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Matthew 23:1-12 (NIV)

One of the pitfalls which many celebrities can experience is when they became arrogant or aloof with their notoriety. They come to expect certain types of treatment when they go to restaurants, parties or stores. When they contribute to a charity or do an act of service, they assume they will be noticed and acknowledged in some public manner. Celebrities are not the only ones who can succumb to this pitfall. Ordinary people risk adopting similar attitudes and behaviors if they are given power or status for whatever reason.

In a conversation with his disciples, Jesus calls out this potential pitfall. Jesus warns against following the example of the Pharisees who exalt themselves. They make a public showing of their actions. Instead Jesus tells the disciples to humble themselves and be servants. They are not to take titles or place anyone, including themselves, in the place of the Father or the Messiah. The pitfall of arrogance is to be avoided through conscious humility.

We would do well to listen to Jesus’s warning and instruction. Jesus is not indicating that we show or promote disrespect but instead he is advocating we keep a healthy perspective when it comes to recognition and acknowledgment. We are to avoid assuming that we deserve anything outside the decency and honor any person deserves. Anything more than that should be because others have chosen to offer it and not that we have an expectation for more. Our service to and for others should be done because we are following Christ’s example, not to receive accolades. We should always reserve the places of highest honor in our lives for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Praying Correctly

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 6:7-15 (NIV)

Understanding and participating in prayer can be a daunting experience for people. There usually is a great concern about “getting it right.” Prayer is much simpler than many people tend to make it. Prayer is a conversation, a conversation between a human person and a loving spirit we name God. When we engage in prayer we are verbalizing what is on our hearts and mind. Prayer should be spoken using words we would use if talking to our closest friend. There is no one way to pray, there is YOUR way to pray.

In the Gospel of Matthew, a scene is recorded where Jesus gives his disciples an idea of what they could talk with God about. Jesus uses language which was common during his lifetime. He also keeps it short and sweet. First he tells God how he views God and his hopes in relation to God and God’s kingdom. Then he speaks to God about his needs to be fed (physically and spiritually) and to be forgiven. Jesus concludes by asking for assistance from God to avoid life’s pitfalls. All of this prayer is said in a corporate manner so that the disciples understand this can be used by them in an individual sense and in a group sense. A simple conversation with God, using the language of the day and not saying words just to say them.

This prayer should alleviate any concerns which you may have about praying. This prayer shows us that there are no difficult rules to follow when praying. Just talk to God who loves you beyond human understanding. Share with God.

Finding the Lost

10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. [11] 

12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.

Matthew 18:10-14 (NIV)

Lately on an online neighborhood communication group to which I belong, there appears to be a large number of posts about lost dogs. Being a dog lover, every time I am alerted to a new post about a lost dog, I read the post carefully to see location and description in case I am able to assist. I know that if either of my dogs wandered away, I would do everything in my power to find them. Seeing a new post causes me to have empathy for the family who is missing their beloved dog. The frantic feeling which I would have in such a situation is surely what the family is experiencing. All of this is due to the great love which I have for each of my dogs, and dogs in general.

Jesus speaks of such a love, not for a dog but a sheep. In fact, Jesus is using a sheep as a symbol for a human being. Jesus states that just as a shepherd would leave a flock of ninety-nine to find a sheep who has wandered off, God would search for the one person who has wandered away from God. The shepherd searches for economic reasons and an attachment which may have formed. God’s search is purely a result of the great love which God has for every single individual. Trusting that the many will be safe within their fellowship, the Lord goes to endless length to find the wandering one.

I am so grateful that Jesus told this story. This brings me great comfort and assurance of the depths of God’s love for me. While I have spent much of my life in the fellowship of the many, I have also had times when I have wandered away. There have been times in which I have lost my way in life. There have also been times when I have left the path of my faith journey while wandering aimlessly. Only by the Lord finding me have I been able to return.

How about you? Can you recall when you have been part of the 99? When have you been the wandering sheep?

When I see an update on any of the posts concerning the lost dog, if the update confirms the reunion, I rejoice. I can only imagine the relief which the family must be feeling. The feeling of great joy must fill the home once again. Jesus says that when the lost one is found, there is much happiness. I am sure the Lord celebrates greatly each time one of us who wanders is safely returned.

Servant Leader

17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

21 “What is it you want?” he asked.

She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

“We can,” they answered.

23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”

24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:17-28 (NIV)

Many years ago, Robert Greenleaf wrote a book on the subject of servant leadership. In his book, Greenleaf indicated that service should be an identifying characteristic of leadership. Over the next thirty years, corporations, schools, government bodies and nonprofits began to examine and implement some of the concepts which Greenleaf presented. The idea of allowing company employees to volunteer during some of their work time grew out of the servant leadership theories. Higher education began to include a section on student applications where students were expected to share how they had served others through volunteering. This section was included in the decision process for admitting students into the institution. Servant leadership became a common buzz phrase.

Looking at the passage for today, we can quickly see that Greenleaf was not the first person to introduce servant leadership. Jesus demanded it of his disciples. The passage begins with Jesus telling the twelve what is about to happen when all of them enter Jerusalem. Clearly Jesus will be taking on the role of a servant in the greatest way possible. Throughout the three years of ministry, there had been endless examples of Jesus serving others. Now that service will result in his death and resurrection. In the midst of this comes the request for two of the twelve to receive the highest seats of honor beside Jesus. Jesus has a conversation with the two, in which he questions how far they are willing to go in service. This then sets up a leadership dispute. Here is  an opportunity for Jesus to explain a reversal in God’s kingdom. He tells the twelve that with God the leader must become a servant and the last will become first. For Jesus, service brings honor and the right to lead.

We tend to struggle with God’s reversal of what we have determined is the right order of things. Even in the United States where our ancestors have thrown off the robe of royalty, we still believe that leaders are to be given certain honors and privileges, especially when we are in leadership. However, Jesus would disagree at some level. Leadership is seen in service. Honor is given based upon how the person has assisted others. Servant leadership is the only type of leadership found as important in God’s order of the world.

Impossible to Possible

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[a] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

Matthew 19:23-30 (NIV)

This time of year I think about the women and men who serve in our military, especially those who are on ships or stationed overseas without their families. The holiday time has always been important family time to me. I honestly could not imagine being without at least some of my family during the holidays. Those who sacrifice family time to serve our nation are due my honor and gratitude.

Jesus speaks of sacrifice in our reading from Scripture today. Specifically, he speaks of giving up aspects of life to follow him. At the beginning of the passage, Jesus is referring to the wealthy man who chose not to give up his wealth to follow Jesus. He tells the disciples that this would be impossible unless a person relied on God to make it possible. The disciples point out that they have sacrificed everything to follow Jesus. Jesus replies that anything which someone sacrificed to follow will be received back in great abundance and eternal life. Then Jesus points to a great reversal in life’s position between those considered first and those considered last.

Reading this passage and thinking about our military personnel and others who have jobs which keep them from their families, creates a challenge and provides insight for me. The challenge presen ted comes in the form of me considering what limits I may have in sacrificing to follow Jesus. The insight is found in the promise that with God all things are possible. I understand here that if I were called to make a sacrifice which I could not do on my own, God would provide me the strength, wisdom, and ability to carry through. There are many times people are called upon to make sacrifices for a variety of reasons. Some are able to do so with what appears to be ease. I wonder if this may be due to their reliance on God. May all of us strengthen our reliance on God.

Missed Opportunities

13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[a] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Matthew 19:13-22 (NIV)

There are times in life when an opportunity comes our way but for one reason or another, we do not seize this opportunity. Later, we may realize what we truly missed. Other times we fail to ever have such a realization. Have you ever had such an experience in your life? I know that I have personally allowed opportunities to pass by me.

The writer of Matthew tells of two times an opportunity presented itself during Jesus’s ministry. The first involved children. The children came to Jesus in hopes that he would lay his hands on them and pray for them. The children saw an opportunity and determined to seize it. The disciples were the opposite. Instead of seeing an opportunity to minister to the children and learn from their unbridled faith, they saw the children as a nuisance and tried to send them away. Jesus intervenes, telling the disciples to let the children come to him. He sees an opportunity to teach the disciples about the nature of the kingdom of heaven. He also capitalizes on ministering to the children by laying his hands on them and showing them how important and loved they are in God’s eyes.

The second opportunity shared here does not have such a positive ending. A wealthy man approaches  Jesus to ask him how to ensure he has eternal life. Jesus lists some major commandments to follow which the man claims to be doing already. The man is not convinced that following these commandments is not enough so he seeks from Jesus what else he can do. Jesus instructs the man to sell his possessions, give to the poor and follow Jesus. The man walks away sad because he determines he cannot do this. A missed opportunity has occurred.

These stories cause one to take inventory of missed opportunities in one’s life. When have there been times in which instead of ministering to and/or learning from others, I have seen them as a nuisance and not worthy of my time? When have opportunities to sacrifice or give seem like too high of a price to pay to follow Jesus so I walk away? While no action of mine can take away or guarantee my eternal life, Jesus has already taken care of this for me, the missed opportunities can impact how I understand and live my faith.

How about you? Are you watching for and embracing opportunities to serve and grow in your faith? Be cautious to not see others as a waste of your time because they may be the very ones who can model for you what God is all about. Think carefully concerning what is too high of a price to pay for following Jesus. May the Lord open our eyes to all the opportunities which are placed in our path. May we be like the children and seize every opportunity with Jesus that we are offered.

Fairness

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[a]

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[b] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[c] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Matthew 18:21-35 (NIV)

Many people in life want to be sure that life is fair. This seems like a principle everyone should be able to support. Some work hard to combat what they identify as unfair aspects in life. There are even individuals who not only seek fairness for themselves but also seek fairness for others in situations totally unrelated to their own lives. Sadly, even with all the efforts made to ensure fairness for all, life is still filled with unfairness. Part of the struggle is that what one person identifies as fair does not always match another person’s definition. Add to this that situations outside of human control can make for an unfair dynamic.

This dilemma of unfairness appears in a story which Jesus tells in response to a question about forgiveness. Jesus is approached by Peter who wants to know how many times he should forgive another person. Peter wants to know what a fair expectation might be. Jesus gives a surprisingly high number of times and then tells a story. In the story, a man is forgiven a debt in full. After the debt is forgiven, he encounters another man who owes him a debt. Instead of forgiving the second man’s debt, he has him jailed. Bystanders witness both situations and determine the first man is being unfair so they report him to the one who had forgiven the original debt. This angers the forgiver so he reverses his decision and gives the man the same punishment he gave another. Jesus tells the listeners that so it will be with the Father.

Amazing how the understanding of what is fair can produce such different results. The first man owed a debt. What would be fair in this situation is that the debt be paid using any means available. The person due payment does not require what is fair but instead forgives the debt completely. Then an identical situation presents itself but this time it is the first  debtor who is owed the debt. Here is where the definition of fairness can be a challenge. As in the first account, it is fair to expect the debt to be paid using whatever means available. However, it can also be argued that what is fair in the second situation is altered because of the action of the man who forgave the original debt. The fair thing to do now is for the debt to also be forgiven in the second situation or at minimum more time to be allowed.

We owe a tremendous debt to God. It would be absolutely fair for God to demand payment. Scripture tells us that the wage of sin is death. Yet God does not demand payment but instead offers full and complete forgiveness. In order for us to be fair towards others when they sin against us, we must offer them full and complete forgiveness the same number of times God does for us.

As A Child

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

Matthew 18:1-9 (NIV)

Have you ever noticed how a baby or young child can bring a group of adults to a complete stop? Quickly the child becomes the focus of everyone around. Maybe it is their sense of innocence which causes one to want to stop and watch them. It might be our need to recapture our own youth in their actions and how they respond to the world around them. The craving for the simple demonstrated through them may draw our attention. Whatever the reason, a child can lead us to pause in the midst of a busy life. An individual may even be caught smiling or releasing a chuckle.

Jesus was fond of using a child to communicate the type of behavior and viewpoint which is expected of his disciples. Jesus is asked who can be considered the greatest in heaven. Jesus does not directly answer the question but instead he places a child before them and says that unless a person adopts the ways of a child, the person will not even get to heaven. Before someone can strive to be the greatest, the individual must first be a part of heaven by having the eyes and attitudes of what in that society was considered the lowest, a child. Jesus follows this idea with a warning not to be a stumbling block to others and/or one’s self.

In many ways, what Jesus says here can be difficult for us to accept. We are taught from an early age how important it is to be the greatest in whatever we attempt in life. Part of this greatness comes from maturing. Another part comes from amassing knowledge. For some, accumulating wealth, status and prestige are also essential parts of success. Jesus turns this upside down. He lifts up innocence, humbleness, curiosity, acceptance and joy as found in the example of a child as the important pieces. Are these not qualities of a young child at play? When these qualities are present, there is an openness. This openness allows for the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven to unfold before us. The stumbling blocks are when we try to diminish these qualities.

Your challenge, a challenge we all have before us, is as we mature and gain knowledge, we must never let go of the parts of our childhood which keep us open to the mystery of heaven.

Pieces of the Picture

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”

11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

Matthew 17:1-13 (NIV)

Jigsaw puzzles have always been an enjoyable pastime in my family. My father used to spend hours putting puzzles together on our dining room table. He passed his love of working on puzzles on to me. Recently, my oldest son has also begun putting puzzles together. There is something satisfying about the process of working on jigsaw puzzles. Taking the time to look at each of the pieces in order to see how the piece might fit with the others helps to slow life down a bit. When you put the final pieces into the whole, you gain a sense of accomplishment. Each time I work on a puzzle, I am amazed how the final picture turns out after combining hundreds or thousands of pieces.

In the passage which we read today, we see the putting together of pieces to give a picture of Jesus. Jesus decides to reveal the picture to three of his closest disciples. When Peter, James, and John join Jesus on the mountain, they see the light of glory encompassing Jesus. This provides a piece of the picture. Jesus is more than a teacher, healer, and compassionate person, there is something divine here. Then they see Moses and Elijah standing beside Jesus. Why Moses and Elijah? They are two pieces of the picture of Jesus. Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the prophets. Both the Law and the prophets point us, and the Jews, to the Messiah. Next the disciples hear a voice which indicates, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” The voice, attributed to the Father, provides another piece of the picture. The voice affirms Jesus as God’s Son. Combining these pieces and understanding how they fit together gives us a picture of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.

Like putting together a jigsaw puzzle takes time and patience, constructing our picture of Jesus is the same. Scripture provides us with pieces which we must examine and determine how they fit together. When we are able to witness the picture coming together, excitement quickly fills us. We can also share the picture with others and encourage them to put together the pieces for themselves.