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Treasures in Heaven December 23, 2017

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 6:19-24.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that His disciples should not love earthly possessions. Instead, He exhorts them to love others. He illustrates this point with the following analogy: just as the physical body is driven by the eyes, the spiritual body is driven by ambition. Thus, His disciples are confronted by this question: will they serve God, or will they serve wealth?

Thoughts: This passage caused me to ponder the following questions concerning earthly possessions:

  • Should a believer continually donate to worthy causes?
  • Should a believer’s will stipulate that their assets be liquidated and the proceeds donated to worthy causes?
  • What is a proper standard of living for a believer?
  • Along these lines, should a believer own a vehicle?
  • On a similar note, should a believer own real estate?

These are challenging questions, and I do not claim to have a satisfactory answer to any of them. While we know that we should not love earthly possessions, we struggle to understand this command in a modern context.

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Fasting December 14, 2017

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 6:16-18.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus notes that the Pharisees fast in order to be seen by men; thus, they only receive the applause of men.

In contrast, Jesus exhorts His disciples to shun the applause of men when they fast.

Thoughts: I rarely practice this spiritual discipline; in fact, I can only recall fasting on one occasion – in response to a small group challenge regarding fasting. That experience showed me that fasting should be accompanied by prayer, as fasting in and of itself does not necessarily draw one closer to God. That being said, I struggle with the notion of fully submitting to God in my prayers during fasting. I am tempted to employ fasting as a means of manipulating God and compelling Him to act as a genie. Thus, if I am to fast, I need the assistance of the Holy Spirit to approach this discipline with the proper motives. That would allow me to grow in my relationship with Him and my comprehension of His will.

Prayer December 10, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 6:5-15.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus notes that the:

  • Pharisees pray in order to be seen by men; thus, they only receive the applause of men
  • Gentiles pray mindlessly.

In contrast, Jesus exhorts His disciples to:

  • shun the applause of men in their prayers
  • know the Person to whom they are praying.

He then instructs them to pray that:

  • the attributes of God would be glorified
  • the kingdom of God would be established at His Second Coming
  • all mankind would perfectly submit to the laws of God
  • God would supply their daily necessities
  • God would be merciful to them
  • God would enable them to be merciful to others
  • God would not allow them to run into sin
  • God would preserve them from the power of evil.

He concludes by restating the importance of mercy – as a repentant heart naturally expresses itself via acts of mercy.

Thoughts: In verse 10, we see that we should earnestly desire the Second Coming of Christ. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

This is the time when sin, sorrow and Satan will be driven out of the world. It is…a time that is to be desired more than anything. It therefore fills a foremost place in the Lord’s Prayer.

I can say that when I am in a good mood, I rarely pause and ponder the kingdom of God. It is only when God jolts me out of my complacency – e.g. when I am reminded of the evil and suffering that plague this world – that I pray that He would swiftly establish His kingdom in this world. Indeed, accounts of evil and suffering constantly remind us – as believers – that this world is imperfect and that we should long for the complete realization of the kingdom of God. One thought is that we can display this longing to unbelievers by persisting in our acts of service.

In verse 12, we see that we should ask God to forgive us – as we have forgiven those who have offended us. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Its object is to remind us that we must not expect our prayers for forgiveness to be heard if we pray with malice and spite in our hearts towards others. To pray in such a frame of mind is mere formality and hypocrisy…Our prayers are nothing without love. We must not expect to be forgiven if we cannot forgive.

This section of the Sermon on the Mount continues to challenge me, as it exposes the obstacles that plague my walk with God. Lately I have pondered God’s ability to forgive us in light of our propensity to sin. One thought is that His ability to forgive stems from His understanding of His identity. When He forgives us, His glory is not diminished – even if we fail to accept His forgiveness and/or continue to offend Him. Perhaps my inability to forgive others reflects my lack of understanding of my identity in Him. If so, then I need to grow in that understanding – on a daily basis – in order to extend forgiveness to others.

Giving to the Needy December 8, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 6:1-4.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus begins by warning His disciples that if they emulate the Pharisees by performing religious acts in order to be seen by men, then they will only be seen by men – not God Himself..

For example, the Pharisees give to the poor in order to be seen by men; thus, they only receive the applause of men. In contrast, Jesus exhorts His disciples to shun the applause of men in giving to the poor.

Thoughts: After mulling over this passage, I determined that believers at the churches that I have attended have not emulated the Pharisees in this regard. In fact, I cannot recall the last time that I heard another believer discussing their charitable donations. I have witnessed believers seeking attention in other ways – e.g. while leading a worship team – but this particular issue does not seem to be an issue in the modern church. If any readers would like to disabuse me of this notion, though, feel free to leave a comment.

Love for Enemies December 5, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:43-48.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus begins by presenting the Pharisees’ interpretation of Leviticus 19:18. He then contradicts that interpretation, asserting that believers should seek the best interests of their enemies. This stems from the fact that God seeks the best interests of all people; thus, believers should emulate Him through their words and deeds. He concludes by asking several questions that are designed to spur believers to display selfless love to their enemies.

Thoughts: This is a difficult passage, as I know that I harbor a grudge against several people. I do not merely view them as acquaintances – I strongly dislike them, as I believe that they have offended me. Thus, this passage confronts me with the following questions: do I have the strength to obey it by seeking their best interests? Instead of merely treating them politely if I happen to interact with them, can I actually care about them? Frankly speaking, I believe that I lack the strength at this point to overcome my negative perception of them by displaying selfless love to them. Thus, I need the Holy Spirit to transform me in this regard – enabling me to live as a genuine follower of Christ.

An Eye for an Eye December 2, 2017

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:38-42.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus begins by presenting the principle of exact retribution – as stated in Exodus 21:22-25 and Deuteronomy 19:15-21. He then interprets that principle, asserting that believers should not retaliate against those who wrong them. He provides four practical applications of this principle; these examples illustrate the importance of forbearance, even to the point of allowing the offender to double the injustice that they have committed.

Thoughts: This passage spurred me to ponder why we naturally resist those who attempt to wrong us. One thought is that evolution favored this response, in that:

  • early humans who failed to defend themselves against aggressive neighbors effectively surrendered territory – and food – to them
  • early humans who did defend themselves against aggressive neighbors were able to protect their territory – and food – from them.

If this (admittedly speculative) theory has a kernel of truth, then it would help explain the difficulties that we experience in attempting to obey Jesus’ command in this passage. Rejecting a response that could be hardwired into our DNA would be difficult – if not impossible. Thus, we need assistance from the Holy Spirit when we sense that God has called us to display forbearance in a particular situation.