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The Wise and Foolish Builders January 20, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 7:24-29.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus exhorts His disciples to build their lives on Him. To reinforce this point, He presents a parable contrasting two men:

  • one builds his house on rock – and it survives a storm
  • the other builds his house on sand – but it does not survive a storm.

This parable marks the conclusion of His sermon. His audience is astonished at the authority that He has displayed in His teaching.

Thoughts: Ryle reflects on the Sermon on the Mount:

So ends the Sermon on the Mount. Such a sermon never was preached before; such a sermon perhaps has never been preached since. Let us see that it has a lasting influence on our own souls. It is addressed to us as well as to those who first hear it; we are the ones who will have to give account of its heart-searching lessons. It is no light matter what we think of them.

Now that I have completed my mini-stroll through the Sermon on the Mount, I can say that I am thankful for that experience. In particular, I know that Christ has challenged me to:

  • be more sincere when making promises
  • truly love my enemies
  • battle against my censorious, fault-finding attitude.

These challenges have revealed the weaknesses in my walk with God – and remind me that I am not fully sanctified. I pray that the Holy Spirit would enable me to make meaningful progress on these issues as I dwell in my frail, sinful body. If I can be successful in this regard, then God will be more fully glorified in my life and others – especially those whom I dislike – will be blessed through my words and deeds.

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A Tree and Its Fruit January 19, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 7:15-23.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus warns His disciples to be wary of their religious leaders, since they are deceptively dangerous – like a ravenous wolf dressed in a sheepskin. Indeed, they promote sinfulness in their teachings, revealing their sinfulness – like a thornbush that naturally produces thorns.

He then asserts that those who merely offer a verbal profession of faith in Him have not been saved; if they had been saved, their deeds would have revealed their genuine faith in Him.

Thoughts: This passage caused me to ponder the following question: how can we tell if we are bearing good fruit? Our attempts to answer this question are hampered by the following realities:

  • only God can answer that question with complete certainty
  • the standard that He applies in assessing the quality of our fruit may not constitute a quantifiable metric.

For example, consider a long-term missionary living among a tribe of unbelievers who passes away without converting even one member of that tribe. Has this missionary necessarily borne less fruit than an evangelist whose sermons cause many to dedicate their lives to Christ? This – admittedly extreme – example leads me to believe that in terms of bearing fruit, a believer must begin by assessing their personal relationship with God. If we sense that we are becoming more like Christ – as revealed by our thoughts, words and deeds – then that could be a sign that we are bearing good fruit. We must also be attuned to any clues that God provides in that regard; for example, He may use other believers to evaluate our fruit.

The Narrow and Wide Gates January 13, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 7:13-14.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that His disciples must allow themselves to be mastered by either 1) God (and prosper) or 2) sin (and perish). Since a denial of self is concomitant with mastery by God, the whole world tends toward mastery by sin.

Thoughts: This passage spurred me to ponder the following question: how can we know, at any moment, if we are walking on the “broad” road or the “narrow” road? While I cannot provide a definitive answer to this question, one thought is that if we become complacent in our walk with God, then we could wander from the “narrow” road; in particular, we could believe that we do not need His presence on a daily basis. Another thought is that experiencing discomfort in our walk with God does not imply that we will remain on the “narrow” road; in particular, one can respond to suffering by blaming Him for it. In light of these challenges, perhaps we need to ponder these questions:

  • How can we guard against spiritual complacency?
  • Will God lead us into trials as we guard against spiritual complacency?
  • If we suffer in the midst of these trials, can we still rejoice in Him?

Indeed, rejoicing in the midst of trials constitutes an important step along the “narrow” road.

Ask, Seek, Knock January 13, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 7:7-12.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus exhorts His disciples to persist in asking God to meet their spiritual needs – enabling them to bear the fruits of the Spirit. The following analogy encapsulates His point: just as parents delight in meeting the physical needs of their children, so God delights in meeting the spiritual needs of His children. Moreover, as God continues to love them by meeting their spiritual needs, they will be empowered to respond by loving others.

Thoughts: This passage forces us to consider what we need as believers – since our needs often conflict with our desires. An additional complication stems from the fact that our desires may not be inherently sinful – yet our sanctification may not hinge on their fulfillment. In that case, we struggle with questions such as:

  • Is this desire consistent with God’s plan for my life?
  • Am I actually failing to glorify God by contemplating this desire?
  • What do I need in order to be sanctified?

These questions often lack simple answers – unless God chooses to clearly reveal His will to us. In light of this difficulty, how can we glorify God in the midst of our struggles? One thought is that at the end of each day, we can give thanks to Him for His grace to us. While we will always have unfulfilled desires in this life, we can always count our blessings – especially His gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Judging Others January 8, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 7:1-6.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that His disciples should not judge others harshly by exaggerating their faults, since those who judge others harshly:

  • will be judged harshly
  • minimize the seriousness of their own faults.

Instead, He exhorts them to address their own faults before attempting to address the faults of others. He concludes with the following caveat: if others reject their attempts to address their faults, then they should leave them alone.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus warns His disciples against judging others harshly. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

What our Lord means to condemn is a censorious and fault-finding spirit. A readiness to blame others for trifling offenses or matters of indifference, a habit of passing rash and hasty judgments, a disposition to magnify the errors and infirmities of our neighbors and make the worst of them – this is what our Lord forbids.

Unfortunately, I struggle with this particular sin, as I tend to identify weaknesses in others – even those of close friends. My hunch is that this sin is fueled by my competitiveness, since I constantly seek to demonstrate my superiority to others. Consequently, when I interact with another person, I fall into the trap of asking myself the following questions:

  • Where do they fall short of perfection?
  • How am I superior to them in that regard?

Of course, my hypocrisy is magnified by my failure to consider the ways in which I fall short of perfection. Given that this is a deep-rooted sin, I know that only the Holy Spirit can help me to struggle against it. I sense that He calls me to grasp the true identity of my neighbors: they are made in His image. Thus, they are worthy of dignity and respect; if I fail to grasp this point, then I offend them – and, by extension, God Himself.

Do Not Worry January 5, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 6:25-34.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that His disciples should not be anxious about anything, since:

  • God cares for birds and flowers – yet humans are worth more than birds and flowers
  • anxiety is unproductive.

Instead, He exhorts them to be zealous for righteousness.

Thoughts: This passage caused me to ponder the following point: Christians have perished from starvation and exposure. In light of this point, how should we comprehend this passage? A quick Google search revealed this article that makes a cogent – albeit painful – argument. It confronts us with questions such as:

  • Can we accept God’s sovereignty over our lives?
  • Can we accept the possibility that at some point, God may choose to withdraw His gracious provisions of food and clothing so that His name may be most fully glorified in our passing?
  • At this moment, how can we glorify God?

I struggle with these questions; perhaps my struggle reveals the difficulty that I face in fully surrendering my life to Him. I need more strength from the Holy Spirit to maintain my trust in Him even if He chooses to withdraw these provisions that sustain my physical life.

Treasures in Heaven December 23, 2017

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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.

Fasting December 14, 2017

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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.