Dashed Misperceptions

Read Matthew 10:34-42

Our lives are filled with a lot of comforts and conveniences. Since the arrival of the industrial age, these comforts and conveniences have been on an exponential increase. With the coming of the technological age, the pace and impact of inventions have increased even more dramatically. Yet, we are always seeking more comfort and convenience. Our patience has lessened and our expectations have increased dramatically. Simply put, we want our lives to be easy. We desire the demands of life to decrease. We want it all without having to do much to obtain it. Our perception may be considered to be misaligned.

Jesus had to deal with misperceptions and expectations. His words in this passage may be a bitter pill for us to swallow just as they were for his disciples. The perception was that the Messiah would arrive and the people’s lives would be easier. The Messiah was to bring peace for the Jewish people. Their burden would be reduced. Jesus dashes those concepts in these words. He indicates that there will be conflict because people would argue and fight about Jesus and his teaching. People will fight over who Jesus is and what the Messiah is about. He goes on to say that he must become number one in the life of his followers, the most important relationship. Jesus states that his followers will suffer and sacrifice as they follow him. The burdens will increase. Those who welcome and provide for him and his followers will find they have received a reward. The reward will not be temporary but eternal. Jesus’s words were difficult to hear and even rejected by many.

We are not different from those first century believers. The misperception that following Jesus will make life easier still exists. The concept that all conflict and effort will disappear at the acceptance of the Lord is still taught. Jesus flatly says this is not true. The opposite is more likely. While this is not what we comfort-seekers desire to hear, this is necessary so we can move forward from this reality check. If we are to follow Jesus, we must place this understanding at the lead of our lives. We must be willing to speak the truth even when it may bring division. We must take on the burdens of following Jesus’s teachings and examples even if it causes us suffering and discomfort. Our sacrificing of an “easy” life is necessary to attain a meaningful life. In following and serving, we will discover a permanent reward instead of earth’s temporary reward of comfort and ease.

Not Ashamed

Read Matthew 10:32-33

Jesus’s words here are difficult to hear. However, they make sense if we are honest. While it may be challenging to acknowledge Jesus and the relationship we have with him outside of our church buildings, it is only a challenge if we are ashamed or afraid. Being respectful of others does not have to mean denying our relationship with the Lord.

These verses reminded me of a song from my post. Listen to the words of this song, Consider how you acknowledge Jesus. Are there times and ways in which you act ashamed?

In Service

Read Matthew 25:34-46

In a few months we will be entering the Christmas season. The Christmas season means a return of wonderful movies and animated shows. Two of my favorite, must-see movies are A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life. In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge learns the importance of caring for others and taking care of the needs of others as one of his lessons. George Bailey discovers in It’s a Wonderful Life how much his decisions and actions have had a positive impact as he met the needs of others. Both movies provide an important message regarding how we are to demonstrate love and compassion for one another.

The reading for today comes in the midst of Jesus telling a parable about caring for others. Jesus presents a scene which can occur upon the return of the Son of Man. There is a division which happens. This division is between those who cared for others in their lives and those who chose not to reach out in compassion and love. The point made in this story is that even if we are not aware, the choices we make in regards to the needs of others have an eternal impact. Since God is love, and Jesus is the embodiment and example of this love, those who desire to follow Jesus must demonstrate this love in their lives. Jesus indicates here that failure to do so means a person cannot truly be in Christ.

The truth of Jesus’s parable was demonstrated in the Christmas movies mentioned at the start. Our choices about how we respond to the needs of others around us have impacts of which we may never be aware. These impacts change the lives of those in need but also change our very own life. The lasting nature of these choices make their importance even greater. Both Jesus and Paul tell us that only if love resides in and through us can we truly know the fullness of our God.

There are needs constantly around us. We must be open to seeing the needs of others. Then we must act on meeting those identified needs. This is not something relegated to a select few. No, this is the responsibility of each person who claims Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Choose the Narrow

Read Matthew 7:13-14

Recently I took a long can trip across four states. There were times when I was driving on a narrow, two-lane road, and other times I was driving on an interstate highway with four lanes in each direction. I always preferred the wider road because I was able to maneuver through the traffic more easily. The narrow roads were difficult to navigate when encountering drivers who chose to go at a slower speed. Given a choice, I will always opt for the wider, multiple lane route.

Jesus speaks of narrow and wider paths in his teaching recorded in Matthew. The Lord says that we should always choose the narrow gate and road. This path may be more of a challenge to find and navigate but it will lead to life. The broader option, which more people end up taking, leads to destruction.

Unlike the choice which I make driving an automobile, in life we are told the ideal is the narrow. The narrow may lead to us having to slow down when we are attempting to race forward. We will need to be more alert for the edges and the hazards in our way. Yet our life will be enriched with greater views as we journey on the narrow path and through the narrow gates. Two-lane roads often provide scenic experiences and because we travel at a slower speed, we are able to see more of the details around us. The same can be said in regard to the road of life.

Which road will you choose?

In Secret

Read Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

When I was in college, a donor gave a large sum of money to the institution which I was attending. With this money, the college would be able to build a partially underground building to house the school of business, a new dining hall with snack bar, a new technology center with mainframe computers, a new bookstore, a new information center, a new auditorium, new classrooms, new student organization offices and a new mail center. In addition to the new building, there would be money available to improve some of the existing facilities. The catch with the donation was that the donor wished to remain anonymous (this catch would be removed about five years later when the donor was revealed to be Harold Walter Siebens). There was much speculation about the source of the donation of such a large gift. The donor was adamant that he wished to do something good without hype and focus upon him. The focus should be on the students, faculty and education was the desire. An act of doing something beneficial not for the glory but because it was right seemed to be the donor’s thought.

Jesus is teaching the crowd in the passage which we read from Matthew. Three of his teachings focus on faith acts done in secret. Giving, praying and fasting are the actions which Jesus focuses upon here. He uses contrasts to communicate what behaviors the Father desires to be associated with what was seen as righteous or acts demonstrating faith. In all three examples the public exhibition of carrying out each action is presented as the undesirable method of completion. The contrast, and preferred method, is these acts are done in private with only the Father being aware of their completion.

Just as Mr. Siebens desired initially to act in secret, Jesus tells us that when we are acting as part of our faith, we should do so anonymously. The reason for this is due to the importance of the focus. If we make a fanfare or a great show or a visual demonstration of our actions, then the focus is on us as an individual. Giving to others, praying to God and practicing the spiritual discipline of fasting are all intended to place the focus on God. Jesus is teaching here that it should not be all about us but should be about the God in whom we believe. This proper focus is what truly makes these actions acts of faith.

Influencers

Read Matthew 5:13-16

Influencing others carries a high level of responsibility. With the advent of social media, there is a new profession which has emerged. This new profession is a social media influencer. These individuals have built an audience on a variety of social media channels and platforms. They have built a reputation of being an expert with trusted knowledge through their regular posts on a specific topic. By establishing credibility they can influence how people view a topic which can include everything from spending decisions to the vote a person casts in an election. Social media platforms and media in general will pay these influencers to post and speak on their platforms. If traffic increases on the sites and/or networks because of the influencers appearance, the company can increase charges for advertisement.

Jesus speaks of influence in the verses which we read today. He uses the imagery of salt and light as he instructs his disciples to be influencers of their day. They are told they must make a difference. He warns that if they stop making a difference in the world, they will lose their ability to serve God in a meaningful way. The influence which they are to make through their lives is to prompt people to come to the Lord in praise.

We are called to be influencers. Like the social media influencers of our day, we are to prompt people into action not by our knowledge and expertise but by the way we live our lives. Jesus tells us that as people witness our actions and choices, they should be prompted to move towards the Lord who we profess to follow and believe in. It is not about what we say as much as it is about how we live. We are to flavor people’s lives in positive ways and be a guiding light towards the Lord.

Temptation

Read Matthew 4:1-11

All types of temptations confront us in life. When a person is on a diet, there seems to be endless opportunities to eat foods which are packed with unhealthy calories. If you are trying to conserve or save money, advertisements on social media surface attempting to entice you to buy something you want badly. When in college, the availability of credit cards tempted me to spend money which I did not have. Temptation comes in a variety of forms from a variety of sources. How a person responds to temptation has a strong impact on one’s ability to overcome the temptation.

In today’s passage from Matthew’s version of the gospel, we witness Jesus going to the arid area near the Jordan River. Prior to this passage we hear of Jesus being baptized by John. This is the starting point of Jesus’s earthly ministry. The transition from growing up while working with Joseph and his mobile ministry of healing and teaching is marked with these two stories. While in this barren area without resources of food and water, Jesus is tempted by the tempter, or devil. The three mentioned temptations are taking care of the physical needs of food and water, testing if the Father’s protection is real, and obtaining controlling power by worshiping someone other than God. Jesus’s response is always to rely on his understanding and following of God’s directions. This response allowed Jesus to overcome the temptation.

Each of us encounter the same types of temptations as presented here. There are times when we are tempted to place our perceived needs ahead of everything else. We are tempted to take matters into our own hands to satisfy our need instead of trusting in God to provide.

The temptation to want to challenge God to see if the promises are real can surface occasionally. We may make reckless choices and say to ourselves, “if God truly loves me, I will be kept safe.” The expectation that God will get us out of perilous situations is best illustrated with the moral story of the man who drowned in a flood because he kept refusing the help God was sending.

A hunger for power and authority along with all the earthly benefits associated with them can easily creep into our everyday life. We place people and objects in the center of our lives to obtain that power, authority and benefits. These items take the place of God who deserves to always be in the center of our lives.

Jesus again provides a way to respond when these, and other temptations, confront us. Relying on the directions of the Lord is the way to overcome temptation. We can obtain this direction by understanding and applying Scripture. The fellow believers and faith leaders which God places in our lives can assist in providing God’s direction for us. Being in communication with the Lord through the Spirit also opens this direction to us. Temptation will always come our way but if we seek God’s direction as our response when it does, we will overcome it.

Sharing Good News

Read Matthew 28:1-10

Think about a time in your life when you had exciting news to share. Maybe you had something to tell your spouse, your parents, or your best friends. Remember how it felt to try and keep this news contained until you had the opportunity to share it? The time it took to get ahold of or come to the person who you wished to receive the news may have seemed way too long. Your excitement drives you to hurry without delay. In your thoughts you hope that the recipient will be as overjoyed upon hearing the good news as you were upon learning it.

The passage lifted up today is a familiar one from Matthew’s account of the first Easter morning. In Matthew’s telling of events, two women who each were named Mary come to Jesus’s tomb. When they arrived there was a violent movement of the earth and the stone at the door of the tomb was moved away. The image of someone is visible. The women are told the good news that Jesus is not in the tomb because he is resurrected as he said he would be. They are invited to verify this news with their own eyes. Then the Marys are told to go tell this news to the disciples and to direct the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee. Jesus appears and verifies the news. Matthew tells us that “the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy…”

The enthusiasm, joy and urgency of the women as Matthew tells the story is much like how we have felt when we have had great news to share. Do we feel these same feelings when we think of Jesus’s resurrection today? For many believers, the good news that Jesus is risen has become just an everyday element of their faith. Since this happened centuries before us and our learning of it may have been many years ago when we first became involved in the church, we have lost the enthusiasm, joy and urgency. A sense of it may return if we attend a worship service on Easter morning but it is likely to fade again a few hours later after the songs end and we return home.

The word “gospel” means good news. This good news of the Christian faith is in part the reality that Jesus is not dead in a tomb but risen and alive today. Each one of us has had someone who has declared the gospel with us. We are given opportunities to share this good news with others. May we recapture the enthusiasm, joy and urgency we had when it first became real to us if we have lost it. May we be like the two Marys who “hurried away from the tomb, afraid and filled with joy” as they ran to tell others that Jesus is no longer dead. Share the gospel with energy and urgency because you are so excited that you cannot contain it!

Treasures

Read Matthew 6:19-24

After the stock market crash beginning in October of 1929 and the ensuing collapse of many banks, the United States population changed its whole perception of money and savings. Adding to this was the onset of the dust storms wiping out the crops of the midwestern plains due to severe drought conditions. Unemployment rose at a devastating rate. Those who survived all these economic disasters began to store whatever they could obtain in their homes as an attempt to safeguard against future losses. The birth of a hoarders mindset developed out of these experiences. A person’s earthly treasures, as meager at they might be, were hidden away and guarded at all costs.

The writer of Matthew’s gospel shared a series of lessons Jesus taught. We find this series in chapter six of the gospel and have come to refer to them as the beatitudes. One of these lessons speaks of treasures and how we handle them. Jesus teaches us to store our treasures in heaven. He says that where our treasures are, that is where our hearts will be. What we let into ourselves creates either light or darkness in our lives. Jesus warns that we cannot have two masters in our lives. 

The mention of what we let into our lives may seem out of place at first but actually fits when given a further inspection. Jesus is speaking about what is most important in our lives, what we treasure. These are the items to which we give priority. As part of his warning, Jesus says that the influences we allow in our lives can work to enlighten us regarding our priorities or can blind us to the right priorities. This lesson is about what are our priorities, especially our top priority.

Looking at what we protect and strive for in life makes it clear what we prioritize. These are the treasures of our lives. Things of this earth have a limited lifespan whether it be materialistic, people, or even relationships. Those aspects of our spiritual life are eternal, as is our relationship with God. Jesus is teaching us that our priority should be on God and the spiritual matters of life because these are the aspects that last forever.

Focus On You

Read John 21:20-23

People who live in a small community have easy access to the personal aspects of one another’s lives. Having grown up in a small, rural, Midwestern town of less than a thousand people, I knew that my parents would know anything I was a part of or the opposite end of town before I could even reach home. This unfiltered sharing of personal activities is a double edged sword. On one hand, it lends itself to a sense of safety and immediate crisis response. On the other hand, it can lead to the possibility of personal information being shared too freely among individuals who are not involved in a situation. A town of busy bodies can arise with people attempting to interject themselves where they should not.

Our passage today appears at the end of the Gospel according to John. Jesus is talking to Peter about feeding the sheep. Peter sees a disciple who was next to Jesus at the Last Supper. Peter asks Jesus what will happen to this disciple. Jesus responds by saying Peter should not worry about the other disciple’s future, if Jesus wants him to live until Jesus returns that is what will happen. Peter is told to focus on following Jesus.

Jesus is telling Peter something which can benefit us at times. There is a clear difference between being concerned about a person’s well-being and attempting to interject ourselves into a situation which does not concern us. Jesus makes it clear that our first priority is to follow him. Before we concern ourselves with the spiritual health and welfare of others, we care to focus on our own spiritual health. We can play a support role for others as they follow Jesus but it is not our place to play a judgment role in how they are following Jesus. Jesus said it well when he said, 

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

Jesus’s point here in today’s passage is to focus on following him and let him focus on how another is following.