Quick Tips on Bible Study

The Bible, sixty six books of Old and New Testament, is God’s inspired word through human words in history. The unity of Scripture, across thousands of years and many authors, is a testament to the inspiration it contains. It is revelation within particular circumstances and events of human history. It records the who, the what, and the why of creation. It records the story of salvation, as we are saved by actual events and not ideas. The Bible records God’s interaction with man. The Bible points us towards the living Word, Jesus. He is the pinnacle. It gives us the essentials of our faith. It pronounces the Kingdom of God and what life in it is, as in the past, the present, and in the future.

The Bible is an essential cornerstone of the Christian faith and life. Followers of Jesus Christ should spend time in Scripture to read, study, meditate. The aim of Bible study is the plain meaning of the text. Though some modes of interpretation take us beyond that, this is the aim and most often the end. This interpretation is guided by the Holy Spirit as he continues to guide us in all truth (John 16:13). No one just reads the Bible and does what it says (ie the sacrificial system of Old Testament), there is always interpretation involved. The aim of interpretation is not to come up with a unique interpretation. The Faith has been handed down to us, we do not make things up as we go along. The Bible is not full of hidden meanings and codes. It is written, in its forms and genres, to convey specific things to specific people. Not everyone is a theologian or one who communicates as a teacher of the Word, but, everyone is to be a person who is in Scripture to allow the revelation of it to change their life.

Reading the Bible is not to be a chore. It’s not check-box of a spiritual to-do list. The stories of the Bible are to be immersed into. Again, we re not saved by ideas but by actual events. The Bible tells that story, as it is the big picture story it reveals. It is not to be rushed through. It is not to be simply searched for a handful of moral principles.  The revelation it reveals and the story it shares is to be lived in, salvation and the life thereof.

How to’s of Studying the Bible:

  1. Always pray for the Holy Spirit to bring illumination to Scripture as you read, study, and mediate on it. 
  2. Do not rush through the Bible, read in small chunks (and re-read).
  3. Topical study is ok for certain uses, but the basis of Bible study is to read in context of the bigger picture (think chapters and books).
  4. Be a stickler. Do not make Scripture say what it is not saying.
  5. The Bible has certain genres (narrative, poetry, wisdom, epistles, apocalyptic, etc) and has a context of culture and intent of author. Interpretation starts with these things. While not overthinking this, do a little extra study of these.
  6. Take notes, ask questions.
  7. Use tools available. Reference these tools. Good resources are like bumpers in a bowling lane- they help keep you on course and out of the gutter for the meaning of Scripture. Ask someone you trust for some advise on good tools.
  8. Form a habit of taking time to read the Bible. A block of time each day will help ensure busyness does not keep you from time in Scripture.
  9. Where to start? Begin in Genesis chapter 1 and Matthew chapter 1. A chapter each day in the Old Testament and New Testament is a simple plan. You will adjust as you go.

A Scripture Reading Guide for Easter

A Scripture Reading Guide for Easter: 40 Days of Remembrance

We celebrate communion, the partaking of the bread and the cup, in remembrance of the bodily death of Jesus on the cross. The God with us, God in human flesh, ultimately came to be our substitute in death, death on a Roman cross. This death in our place, taking our punishment, as the wages of sin is death. Jesus absorbed our sins on the cross. Jesus is the perfect sacrifice which takes away the sin of the world. But the story does not end there. Death claimed the one it could not keep. Death claimed the one it had no right to claim. There is resurrection. The work of Jesus, all he taught and all he did, was affirmed by God is his resurrection. It is the first fruit, our example for those who follow him, of what is to come. 

In this daily reading, each day is a passage of scripture that points us to Jesus, the cross, and his resurrection.  Beginning the second week of March, each Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are the arrest, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection stories of the Gospels. These Sundays are the Resurrection Story as we celebrate the Risen Savior each Sunday. The Passion Week is broken down into the events of that week. 

May we stand in the fullness, now and in what is come, of what Christ has done for us. For in him we say, “Where, oh death, is your victory? Where, oh death, is your sting?”  We proclaim that Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. For “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”

Wednesday March 4   1 Corinthians 15:1-4
March 5   John 3:14-21
March 6   John 1:29-34
March 7   1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Sunday March 8   Colossians 1:15-20

March 9   Romans 5:6-19
March 10   Hebrews 9:11-28
March 11   1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
March 12   Mark 14:1-15:20
March 13   Mark 15:21-41
March 14   Mark 15:42-47
Sunday March 15   Mark 16:1-20

March 16   Romans 3:21-26
March 17   Ephesians 1:3-10
March18   1 Peter 2:22-25
March19   Luke 22:1-23:25
March 20   Luke 23:26-49
March 21   Luke 23:50-56
Sunday March 22   Luke 24:1-35

March 23   Acts 2:22-36
March 24   Romans 4:25
March 25   John 11:25
March 26   John 18:1-19:16
March 27   John 19:17-37
March 28   John 19:38-42
Sunday March 29   John 20:1-31

March 30 1   Corinthians 15:12-58
March 31   Zechariah 12:10-13:1
April 1   Isaiah 53
April 2   Psalm 22
April 3   Philippians 2:5-11
April 4   Zechariah 9:9-12

Events of the Passion Week:
Palm Sunday April 5   Matthew 21:1-11 The Triumphal Entry 
Monday April 6   Matthew 21:12-22
Tuesday April 7   Matthew 21:23-26:5
Wednesday April 8   Matthew 26:6-16
Thursday April 9   Matthew 26:17-75
Good Friday April 10   Matthew 27:1-61
Holy Saturday April 11   Matthew 27:62-66
Easter April 12   Matthew 28:1-20 The Resurrection

Anthem:
Revelation 5:1-14
Revelation 12:1-11
Revelation 21:1-7

Favorite Pictures 2019

I like to take pictures when I’m outdoors. I’m certainly no professional photographer, but the following pictures are ten of my favorite pictures from 2019. These are not necessarily the best pictures, but pictures that have some meaning. All these were taken with my old, junky phone (so i’m told). No filters, I’m not cool enough for that. Anyhow, these capture some moments from 2019.

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Ok, so this is actually the end of 2018, our family trip to Florida at Christmas. Sunset over the gulf.

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Summer

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A path through the mountains. The Grand Tetons.

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Bradley Lake off from Taggert Lake Trail. The Grand Tetons.

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My hiking partner. The Grand Tetons.

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The Lower Falls. Yellowstone National Park.

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Sunrise over bean fields. Ohio.

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Fall

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My daughter’s first deer.

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The quiet place in the woods.

Each day, find the good. Find it in the little things that maybe no one else notices. Something that brings a smile, laughter, peace, assurance. It may be a “thing”, it may be a someone. These are put around us by God, to remind us of His goodness, to remind us of Himself. And if I may say so, also find some adventure.

“He found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams. He began to say to himself: “Perhaps I shall cross the River myself one day”.
The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien

The Wondrous Story

A 25 Day Advent Reading Guide

The Wondrous Story is about a baby born. Seemingly, on the surface, a baby born as other babies are born. But beneath, above, and around this story is anything but normal. What child is this? God has broken into the world. Advent. God has come to reclaim his creation. He has come to reconcile all things unto himself. It starts with a baby, born in inauspicious circumstances. That baby is the Son of God. It is this story that changes everything. It is the story that all the other stories lead up to and all stories after hinge upon. Our salvation, the great reclamation project of creation, does not come through an idea or some way of thinking or a formula, but by the acts of the Creator God passed along to us in this story. A story that should capture us, a story that is to experience. God has woven himself into his creation in order to save his creation. The baby born. God has come. Christ Jesus, son of God. Immanuel, he is with us. Isaiah 64:1, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you!” The prophet’s cry has been answered. God did rend the heavens. The mountains did tremble before him. A baby was born.

December 1
John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:15-20, Colossians 2:9-10

Christ Jesus is the firstborn over all creation, he is the image of the invisible God, he is the fullness of God in bodily form. The fullness of God dwells in him. In Jesus, and through him, all things were created. He is the head of the church, those who believe, and the beginning of the resurrection. He is over all in authority. He is King and Lord. His blood shed on the cross is the avenue of reconciliation and all things being made new.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”

Joyful, all ye nations, rise, 
Join the triumph of the skies; 
With th’ angelic host proclaim, 
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.” 
Hark! the herald angels sing, 
“Glory to the new-born King!
(from Hark! the Herald Angels Sing)

 

December 2
Isaiah 9:6, Matthew 1:25, Hebrews 2:5-18

Here is a wonderful mystery: In finding Christmas you find a baby. Fully man and fully God. This is the paradox of our faith. God shared our humanity in flesh and blood, fully human in every way. God was born. God lived this life. He was tempted. God also died. He was crucified. He was resurrected, that is our future. It begins with this wonderful mystery of a baby being born and, for some remarkable reason, the whole world rejoices.

O Holy Night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error-pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt it’s worth
The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder brinks a new and glorious morn
(from O Holy Night)

 

December 3
Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:22-23, John 1:14, 18

Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. He is God in flesh. In the partaking of Communion, we use the physical elements of the bread and the cup, very symbolic of the true physical life of Christ. The culmination of the Old Testament, the blessing of God to the world as given though Abraham, God’s intervention for his creation, came as this baby. God as a man. Who would do something like this but our God? God is not distant from us. God did not send his creation away and leave it to itself in its sin. He is determined to be with us. Jesus came to us to save us. He came to save you.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
(from O Come O Come Emmanuel)

 

December 4
John 3:16, Titus 3:4, 1 John 4:9-10, Romans 8:38-39

The incarnation, God with us, is a miracle of love. Why else would God do what he did? In his incredible, unfathomable love, God sent us Jesus as our savior and redeemer. The birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus are the greatest moments of history. History leads to it. History flows from it. The avenue of all of this is the great love of God. Love drives it. Love has recipients. Love makes a way. For God so loved the world…

Go tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go tell it on the mountain
Our Jesus Christ is born
(from Go Tell it on the Mountain)

 

December 5
Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 20:28

The action of the love of God in giving us Jesus is an action of humility and obedience on the part of Jesus. Jesus came in human likeness. He came to be our servant. In appearance as a man, he was obedient to the ultimate purpose of his coming, death on a cross. In his servant life, he is exalted above all things. Every creature will acknowledge that he is Lord over all.

The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord
And of His Christ, and of His Christ
And He shall reign forever and ever
And He shall reign forever and ever
King of Kings, and Lord of Lords
King of Kings, and Lord of Lords
(from the Hallelujah Chorus)

 

December 6
Isaiah 9:2, John 1:5-13, John 8:12, John 12:35-36, 46

The world is lost in the darkness of its fall. The world in blinded by the enemy. But God in flesh is the light come into the dark and lost world. Jesus shines brightly. His light is a light that presents a new way, a way back to the Father and a new way of living. It is a light that those who believe will begin to live in, ourselves shining forth in this dark world.

Light of the world, Savior is born
Our King Emmanuel
Jesus is Lord, we will rejoice
He has come to save us
O Come let us adore Him,
O Come let us adore Him,
O Come let us adore Him Christ the Lord
(from Emmanuel)

 

December 7
Genesis 12:1-3, Luke 2:10-11

Jesus is the good news that causes great joy for all people. Jesus himself is the good news as he is the proclamation of the Gospel. For whoever would believe in him has found the joy of salvation and life everlasting. It is for all the people. This joy wells up in the revelation of forgiveness and freedom from sin and the new life given. This is the promised fulfillment to Abram that the whole world, all the people on the earth, would be blessed through him. Jesus should always continually be the good news of great joy to us.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
let every heart prepare him room,
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove ;
The glories of His righteousness,
(from Joy to the World)

 

December 8
Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:3-6, Luke 2:4-7

On the surface, the birth of Jesus was ordinary. We know that it was not, for the Son of God had come into the world. But the circumstances of his birth are telling. Jesus was not born into those of financial or political standing. No preference here, no easier path given. In way of social class, Joseph and Mary were ordinary folks. This speaks to the mission of Jesus. The good news of great joy is for all people, for whoever would believe. Jesus often worked in ministry on the fringes of society, as the Gospel gathers outward in. His birth signifies this. He was born in a town that was not prestigious, born in a place where animals may have been kept. No pomp and circumstance. This savior is for everyone, for all the people.

Away in a manger,
No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Laid down His sweet head
The stars in the bright sky
Looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay
(from Away in a Manger)

 

December 9
Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:18-19, 23, Luke 1:34-35

Our faith starts with a confession. We believe and we confess, often more than we can explain. We do not insist on comprehending everything. How can a virgin be with child? The Holy Spirit will overshadow her. We accept this. The birth of Jesus is wrapped in the miraculous. Prophesies foretell hundreds of years before. A virgin giving birth. Angels rejoice. Certainly the life of Jesus, his resurrection, all entwined with the miraculous. Do you believe? If so, you believe in the miraculous. The miracle of God in flesh. The miracle of the good news of salvation. We believe.   

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
‘Round yon virgin Mother and Child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace
Silent night, holy night
Son of God, oh, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth
(from Silent Night)

 

December 10
Isaiah 9:1-7

The coming of the Messiah was foretold by the prophets. Isaiah was the great prophet calling people to a new hope. This passage can be simplified to one word: Hope. To see these words come alive in a lost and dark world takes prophetic imagination. Can this really be? Can this be a true way to live? Is this really possible? The prophet foretells of an alternative way for a world bent on destruction. Jesus will be all the things the prophet names and describes. He is those things here and now. Can you see it? Does it strike your heart? We are to strive to live it in the midst of this dark world.

How bright appears the morning star,
With mercy beaming from afar!
The host of Heav’n rejoices!
O righteous Branch! O Jesse’s Rod!
Thou Son of man, and Son of God!
We too will lift our voices
Jesus! Jesus! Holy, holy! yet most lowly!
Draw Thou near us:
Great Emmanuel! stoop and hear us!
Rejoice, ye heav’ns, thou earth, reply!
With praise, ye sinners, fill the sky!
For this His incarnation!
Incarnate God, put forth Thy power,
Ride on, ride on, great Conqueror,
Till all know Thy salvation.
Amen, amen! Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise be given
Evermore, by earth and Heaven.
(from How Bright Appears the Morning Star)

 

December 11
Matthew 1:21, Luke 2:11, 21, John 1:29, Philippians 2:9-11

His name will be Jesus. He will save the people from their sins. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, the lamb of God. He is the fulfillment of all things of old. It is in his name we are saved, it is in his name we pray, it is in his name we are healed. At his name everything will bow down, all tongues will confess that he is Lord.

What child is this
Who lay to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping
This, this is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing
Haste, haste to bring him laud
The Babe, the Son of Mary
(from What Child is This?)

 

December 12
Isaiah 9:6

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. The child that was born, the one who was given to us, is all of these things. Meditate on what each of these mean. He is to be wonderful to each of us. He is to be our counselor, leading us in all aspects of life in wisdom. The might of his power is to be evident in us, seeing his will prevail. We are to find assurance that he is our father, leading us into everlasting life. His peace is to be in us, grounding us as we navigate this life right now. Allow him to be all that he is, in you and for you.

The people that in darkness walked
Have seen a wondrous light,
A light that beamed afar,
The bright and morning star,
And those that dwelt in death’s dark vale
Have felt their joy increase,
Their constant theme shall be,
“All hail the Prince of Peace.”
Wonderful, Counselor!
The everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace,
Wonderful, Counselor!
The everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.
As men rejoice when they divide
The spoils which they have gained,
So shall it ever be,
When Christ shall set them free.
For He shall break the shoulder’s staff,
The rod of the oppressed,
And every battle won,
As victors we shall rest.
(from The People that in Darkness Walked)

 

December 13
Luke 1:26-38

Mary holds a special place to us. The mother of Jesus. She received the word from God through the angelic messenger. She was highly favored. In spite of her troubling and her fear, in spite of the ramifications of pregnancy outside of marriage, Mary trusted in God and received the direction for her life that God gave her. She trusted that this miraculous event could happen. She trusted in who the child was foretold to be. We must trust God this much with our lives.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect lamb?
That sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am
(from Mary Did You Know?)

 

December 14
Luke 1:46-55

Mary sang. A new song sprung up from her inmost being. Trust in God will do this. Trust in God will ultimately bring assurance and peace, even if his word can be troubling and unsettling. This paradox is the life of faith. We live by faith, stepping at times into the unknown, trusting all the while that the God who leads us is the God of all things. The trust you have in God should consistently bring forth a new song from your inmost being.

My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
(from Mary’s song, Luke 1)

 

December 15
Matthew 1:18-24

We really do not know too much about Joseph. We know his lineage. We know of his betrothal to Mary and that they did marry. We know he was with Jesus as a child. But beyond that, not much else. But as Mary received the word of God, so did Joseph. Mary was found to be pregnant before the angel visited Jospeh. In this, he was a good man, and did not intend to publicly disgrace her.  After the angelic visit, Joseph did what the Lord commanded. The life of faith is a life of obedience. Obedience to God, his will, and his ways. Obedience should mark our lives as we strive to follow Jesus.

O come all ye faithful
Joyful and triumphant
O come ye o come ye
To Bethlehem
Come and behold Him
Born the King of angels
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
Christ the Lord
(from O Come All Ye Faithful)

 

December 16
Luke 1:5-23, 39-45, 67-80

The story of Elizabeth, Zechariah and, John the Baptist are entwined with the story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. An angelic visitation, old age and barren, now conceived; a birth, and a song of praise. A prophet born who would prepare the way of the Lord. Once again, the miraculous so prevalent. Once again, God is up to things. He always is. The light makes its way and it always involves others. The light in us, paving a way for the Light in the world.     

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
 and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
(from Zechariah’s song, Luke 1)

 

December 17
John 1:4-11, Luke 2:7, Matthew 8:20, John 15:18-21

The light has come into the world, but the world did not recognize him and has not received him. At his birth, there was no room for him in the inn. Even in his ministry, he had no sure place to lay his head. Both of these are highly symbolic of his rejection by his creation, the light that was not recognized. Both are prophetic of his crucifixion. The world did hate him. The wonderful story is bound up in persecution. For those of us who, in revelation, recognize him and see him as light, the same will be for us. As servants, we are no greater than our master. 

And our eyes at last shall see him
Through his own redeeming love;
For that child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in heav’n above,
And he leads his children on
To the place where he is gone.
(from Once in Royal David’s City)

 

December 18
Luke 2:13-14

The angelic hosts are directly a part of this grand story. Angels speaking to Mary and Joseph and shepherds. Here we find a heavenly host of angels rejoicing in the birth of Jesus. The birth of our Savior set off a celebration of the heavens that reverberated through the cosmos to the far reaches of God’s magnificent creation. We are to be in consistent rejoicing for the good news of Jesus. Glory to God in the highest! Peace for you, for his favor rests on you!  

Now let us sing the Angel’s song
That rang so sweet and clear,
When heav’nly light and music fell
On earthly eye and ear;
To Him we sing, our Saviour King,
Who always deigns to hear:
“Glory to God, and peace on earth.”
He came to bring a glorious gift,
Good will to men; – and why?
Because He loved us, Jesus came
For us to live and die;
Then sweet and long, the Angels’ song,
Again we raise on high.
”Glory to God, and peace on earth.”
(from Now Let Us Sing The Angel’s Song)

 

December 19
Luke 2:8-20

The first to hear of the birth of Jesus were shepherds. Most likely of a lower class, the angel gave them the word of Jesus, and the host witnessed to them in revelation. Again, Jesus works from the outside in, the lowly are included and often first. The last shall be first. The good news of great joy for all the people was proclaimed to them. Do not be afraid! They sought and found the baby. The revelation brought action. It caused witness to what was seen. It caused glorifying and praising God. Isn’t this the life of one who hears and seeks? 

From God our Heavenly Father
A blessed Angel came;
And unto certain Shepherds
Brought tidings of the same:
How that in Bethlehem was born
The Son of God by Name.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy
“Fear not then,” said the Angel,
“Let nothing you affright,
This day is born a Saviour
Of a pure Virgin bright,
To free all those who trust in Him
From Satan’s power and might.”
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy
(from God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen)

 

December 20
Matthew 2:1-12

These wise men saw a sign in the stars. Incredibly, this is forbidden in the Law. But God works unconventionally at times. God worked into the lives of these wise men through the ways of their lives. This is another way of seeing how God came to save his creation. Unconventionally. Who would have thought that God would come as a person, in flesh? But as the shepherds responded, so did the wise men. They sought and found the toddler Jesus. They brought him gifts and worshipped. He is the ultimate gift to us. Our gift to him is our worship and the treasure of our lives: Our whole heart.

We three kings of orient are, 
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain, 
Following yonder star.
Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain,
Gold I bring to crown him again
King for ever, ceasing never 
Over us all to reign.
(from We Three Kings)

 

December 21
Matthew 2:13-18

Evil lurks in this wondrous story. The enemy does not give up easily. For where the light shines, darkness tries to overtake it. Such is our life and the world around us. This is our contention. Where birth of a baby who would save the world had come, so there the evil of the mass murder of babies countered it. This is a sober reminder of the tension we live in. It is a sober reminder of the seriousness of our sin. This is a world of great weeping and mourning. This is why Jesus has come. 

O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.
For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.
(from It Came Upon a Midnight Clear)

 

December 22
Luke 2:21-40

Simeon and Anna, wise and devout. Waiting and expecting. Sure of the Lord and his coming work. Years before Peter proclaimed Jesus the Christ, Simeon and Anna saw it and knew it. They saw their salvation, light for the Gentiles and glory of the Jews, redemption for Jerusalem. They placed Jesus, at his consecration and the offering of sacrifice, into his mission. May you always see Jesus as your salvation and redemption. May he always be your way, your truth, and your life.  

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
That hath made Heaven and earth of nought
And with his blood mankind has bought.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!
(from The First Noel)

 

December 23
Romans 6:23, Ephesians 1:3-10, Ephesians 2:8-9

Jesus is given to us by our loving God.  He is our gift. His sacrifice was a gift. The gift we are given through him is eternal life. This is our reward for our faithfulness. He is faithful to us, we respond in faithfulness. This is the greatest gift that can be given. We have received it freely. We cannot earn it. We simply respond to it. It is the gift of God.

How silently, how silently
the wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of His heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming,
but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive Him still
the dear Christ enters in.
(from O Little Town of Bethlehem)

 

December 24
Matthew chapters 1 & 2, John 1:1-18

The Wondrous Story, bringing it together.

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains
Come to Bethlehem and see
Him whose birth the angels sing,
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.
Gloria, in excelsis Deo
Gloria, in excelsis Deo
(from Angels We Have Heard on High)

 

December 25
Luke chapter 1, Luke 2:1-40 

The Wondrous Story, bringing it together.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men
And the bells are ringing (peace on earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (peace on earth)
In my heart I hear them (peace on earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men
(from I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day)

 

A Look froward to Easter
Isaiah 61:1-3

Christmas leads to Easter. Manger to a cross to an empty tomb. God broke into our world, Jesus came to save us. For that to happen in full fulfillment, Jesus died. Sacrifice. But death could not hold him. Victorious in resurrection, the baby born is the resurrected Savior. We will leave our Christmas celebration and head toward our Easter celebration. The Church calendar reminds, keeps us in the rhythms of belief and faith.

In the old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine
A wondrous beauty I see;
For twas’ on that old cross Jesus suffered and died
To pardon and sanctify me.
(from The Old Rugged Cross)

Praying the Psalms

For centuries, the Psalms have been the basis of prayer. Prayer rooted in Scripture is prayer rooted in the will of God. The Psalms are well worn paths of prayer, drawing believers together in intercession, petition, and exaltation of our God. The Psalms contain a multitude of human experiences. In prayer, we learn from the Psalms, we are guided by them. The following are twenty-four Psalms that can accompany our time of prayer. We daily bring God into our lives in prayer, allowing Him to shape us, mold us, lead us, and put us within what 
He is doing. May the Psalms help us in that.

Psalm 1
Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers,
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 13
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me.

Psalm 16
Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I said to the Lord , “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”
As for the saints who are in the land, they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight.
The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods. I will not pour out their libations of blood or take up their names on my lips.
Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord , who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 20
May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings. Selah
May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.
We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests.
Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.
O Lord , save the king! Answer us when we call!

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 24
The earth is the Lord ‘s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.
Who may ascend the hill of the Lord ?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.
He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob. Selah
Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty- he is the King of glory. Selah

Psalm 27
The Lord is my light and my salvation- whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life- of whom shall I be afraid?
When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.
One thing I ask of the Lord , this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.
Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord .
Hear my voice when I call, O Lord ; be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord , I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Savior.
Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.
Teach me your way, O Lord ; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.
Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence.
I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord ; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord .

Psalm 51
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Surely you desire truth in the inner parts ; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.
Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then there will be righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings to delight you; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Psalm 62
My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
How long will you assault a man? Would all of you throw him down- this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
They fully intend to topple him from his lofty place; they take delight in lies. With their mouths they bless, but in their hearts they curse. Selah
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God ; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Selah
Lowborn men are but a breath, the highborn are but a lie; if weighed on a balance, they are nothing; together they are only a breath.
Do not trust in extortion or take pride in stolen goods; though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them.
One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong,
and that you, O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done.

Psalm 63
O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.
My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
They who seek my life will be destroyed; they will go down to the depths of the earth.
They will be given over to the sword and become food for jackals.
But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God’s name will praise him, while the mouths of liars will be silenced.

Psalm 103
Praise the Lord , O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord , O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-
who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord ‘s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children-
with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.
The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.
Praise the Lord , you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word.
Praise the Lord , all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will.
Praise the Lord , all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the Lord , O my soul.

Psalm 104
Praise the Lord , O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent
and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants.
He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.
You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.
But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight;
they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them.
You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth.
He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains.
They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches.
He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work.
He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate- bringing forth food from the earth:
wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.
The trees of the Lord are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
There the birds make their nests; the stork has its home in the pine trees.
The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the coneys.
The moon marks off the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down.
You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God.
The sun rises, and they steal away; they return and lie down in their dens.
Then man goes out to his work, to his labor until evening.
How many are your works, O Lord ! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number- living things both large and small.
There the ships go to and fro, and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.
These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time.
When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.
When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.
When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.
May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works-
he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord .
But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. Praise the Lord , O my soul. Praise the Lord.

Psalm 112
Praise the Lord . Blessed is the man who fears the Lord , who finds great delight in his commands.
His children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.
Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice.
Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever.
He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord .
His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.
He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor, his righteousness endures forever; his horn will be lifted high in honor.
The wicked man will see and be vexed, he will gnash his teeth and waste away; the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.

Psalm 113
Praise the Lord . Praise, O servants of the Lord , praise the name of the Lord .
Let the name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised.
The Lord is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes, with the princes of their people.
He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the Lord.

Psalm 115
Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.
Why do the nations say, “Where is their God?”
Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.
But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men.
They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see;
they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell;
they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.
O house of Israel, trust in the Lord – he is their help and shield.
O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord – he is their help and shield.
You who fear him, trust in the Lord – he is their help and shield.
The Lord remembers us and will bless us: He will bless the house of Israel, he will bless the house of Aaron,
he will bless those who fear the Lord – small and great alike.
May the Lord make you increase, both you and your children.
May you be blessed by the Lord , the Maker of heaven and earth.
The highest heavens belong to the Lord , but the earth he has given to man.
It is not the dead who praise the Lord , those who go down to silence;
it is we who extol the Lord , both now and forevermore. Praise the Lord .

Psalm 116
I love the Lord , for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.
The cords of death entangled me, the
anguish of the grave came upon me; I
was overcome by trouble and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord :
The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me.
Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.
For you, O Lord , have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
I believed; therefore I said, “I am greatly afflicted.”
And in my dismay I said, “All men are liars.”
How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord .
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
O Lord , truly I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant ; you have freed me from my chains.
I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the Lord .
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord – in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord .

Psalm 128
Blessed are all who fear the Lord , who walk in his ways.
You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table.
Thus is the man blessed who fears the Lord .
May the Lord bless you from Zion all the days of your life; may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem, and may you live to see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel.

Psalm 130
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord ;
O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
If you, O Lord , kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.
I wait for the Lord , my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
O Israel, put your hope in the Lord , for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.

Psalm 136
Give thanks to the Lord , for he is good.
Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever.
to him who alone does great wonders, His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens, His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters, His love endures forever.
who made the great lights- His love endures forever.
the sun to govern the day, His love endures forever.
the moon and stars to govern the night; His love endures forever.
to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt His love endures forever.
and brought Israel out from among them His love endures forever.
with a mighty hand and outstretched arm; His love endures forever.
to him who divided the Red Sea asunder His love endures forever.
and brought Israel through the midst of it, His love endures forever.
but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea; His love endures forever.
to him who led his people through the desert, His love endures forever.
who struck down great kings, His love endures forever.
and killed mighty kings- His love endures forever.
Sihon king of the Amorites His love endures forever.
and Og king of Bashan- His love endures forever.
and gave their land as an inheritance, His love endures forever.
an inheritance to his servant Israel; His love endures forever.
to the One who remembered us in our low estate His love endures forever.
and freed us from our enemies, His love endures forever.
and who gives food to every creature.
Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.

Psalm 139
O Lord , you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord .
You hem me in-behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.
If only you would slay the wicked, O God! Away from me, you bloodthirsty men!
They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord , and abhor those who rise up against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 142
I cry aloud to the Lord ; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.
I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble.
When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way. In the path where I walk men have hidden a snare for me.
Look to my right and see; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life.
I cry to you, O Lord ; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”
Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me.
Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me.

Psalm 145
I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts.
They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They will tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.
The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.
All you have made will praise you, O Lord ; your saints will extol you.
They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might,
so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.
The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made.
The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.
The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.
My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord . Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.

Psalm 148
Praise the Lord . Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights above.
Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars.
Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies.
Let them praise the name of the Lord , for he commanded and they were created.
He set them in place for ever and ever; he gave a decree that will never pass away.
Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars,
wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds,
kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth,
young men and maidens, old men and children.
Let them praise the name of the Lord , for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.
He has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his saints, of Israel, the people close to his heart. Praise the Lord .

Psalm 150
Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his
mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute,
praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord . Praise the Lord.

 

(Verses taken from the NIV)

A short commentary: The Sermon on the Mount (pt 3: Matthew chapter 7)

The following is part three of three on Matthew chapters five through seven. It is a short commentary and still a bit of a work in progress. All three parts will be posted over the next few weeks. (All Scripture NIV)

Chapter 7
1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“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.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

The heart is the issue when judging others. Jesus states firmly, “Do not judge.” This is hard to follow in our fallen human nature. It is easy to judge others, to put yourself above and look down upon. When you judge, you play God. It is God’s job to be judge. When you do judge, you yourself will be judged. How you judge, it will come back the same way to you. Sowing judgment will reap judgment. The better path is mercy. Be merciful, you will reap mercy. In judging others we are left blind to our own issues, to the planks in our own eyes. It is easy to judge others who have a different kind of speck in their eye as opposed the kind of plank in your own eye. Can you be perfect in your judgment as God is (47)? Can you judge without your own conscience getting in the way (49)? Jesus uses the strong word ‘hypocrite’ to describe those who judge others while leaving their own issues unattended. We must first deal with the planks in our eyes, then we may see clearly to help another. The issue here is, at what point do we know that the plank is really removed from our eye to see clearly enough to help another? This is why we must err on the side of mercy, if we err on any side. To help one another is scriptural. Paul writes that we are not the judge of those outside the church but raises the question of judging those inside (48). He also writes that we should stop passing judgment on our brothers and sisters (50). What to make of this? The difference is how we admonish those in the church. It is the issue of the motivation of the heart. Does our judgment stem from any sort of pride? Is it rooted in what one thinks versus what is scripturally clear? Are we puffing ourself up, putting ourself over another in some sort of ‘spiritual pride’? Are we helping another in a way that uplifts them? Speaking truth in love, and helping, is not the same as sitting in judgment over. Paul writes, as recorded in Romans 14, that we must make every effort to do what leads to mutual edification (51). In this way we will admonish properly. Jesus goes from here to sacred and pearls, dogs and pigs. The sacred and the pearls can be seen as truth and wisdom. Even in the midst of our own messiness, we can discern truth and wisdom and live by it. For the dogs and pigs, those who do not follow Jesus and are opposed to his way, trying to give truth and wisdom to them may result in their mocking what you give and yourself also. Does that mean we should not let our light shine to the lost with our words? No. It means that we are not to try to force or reason someone into what must come by faith and revelation.

47. Romans 2:1-4
48. Romans 14 
49. 1 Corinthians 5:12
50. Romans 14:10,13
51. Romans 14:19

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Asking and seeking and knocking. These are all faith actions. The righteous live by faith (52). It is a faith that accesses the grace that brings our salvation and justification, it is then a way of life. These actions of faith are persistent and sincere. They are part of the work of bringing the kingdom and the will of God on earth as it is in heaven. The purpose of the asking and seeking and knocking must be formed by what has been earlier taught in the sermon. It is not for self gain and bigger barns full of stuff. It is for the kingdom life within you and around you. This is to be in the blessings of God, to be within and a part of what God is doing. It is to live vibrantly and abundantly in the kingdom life. When you live in the faith of asking and seeking and knocking, you will receive and you will find and the door will be opened. God responds to our faith when our motivations are right. He is a good God. You will not ask for bread or a fish and get something opposite. As much as we, in our imperfections, give good things to our own children, and always long to do more, how much more will our gift-giving Father in heaven, much more perfect than we are, give good gifts to the ones who ask. Then, as Jesus always does, he turns something that is a benefit to us outward to others. This checks the motives of our hearts. If you desire that God responds to your asking and seeking and knocking, if you desire that when you ask for bread, you receive bread and not a stone, then be that same way to others. However you want to be treated, treat others that way. Whatever you want others to do for you, do those things for others. Life is not others centering around you, but you centering around others then seeing that kind of reaping in your own life. As Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, to be like him in our regard to others, is the sum of the Law and the Prophets. As God is the good God, and Jesus is the Good Shepherd, we are to be good to others in the same way. As Jesus responds as to what the greatest commandment is, to love God and, the one like it, to love neighbors, what the Law and the Prophets hang on(53). The whole Sermon takes us towards those commands.  

52. Romans 1:17
53. Matthew 22:34-40

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Jesus finishes the Sermon with four warnings. The first warning is this: There are two gates in which people can go through. Two choices. One is narrow and small, one is wide. The narrow gate is Jesus himself (54). For he is the way, the truth, and the life and no one can be reconciled back to the Father except by him (55). The wide gate seems to open to the way of a good life, a life that pleases a person. The good it seems to offer is a masquerade. It is really a life that is lost and leads to destruction. It is a life without God and without living on his way. Many, too many, enter through that gate and walk on that road. But if we enter through Jesus, salvation and subsequent citizenship in the kingdom, we are opened to the narrow road. This narrow road is the best way even when the wide road may seem more appealing. This narrow road may at times be hard, but the way of true life. To be in God’s blessing does not always mean it is easy. Living on the narrow road is to live according to the teaching of Jesus, the teaching of the Sermon, to live as His disciple. The gate, salvation, puts you there. But you must now walk the road. The invitation of the narrow gate and the narrow road is open to all. Only a few find it. Most will enter the wide gate and walk the broad road. Do you believe the narrow gate and the narrow road is the best way? The difference will be life and destruction.    

54. John 10:7-10
55. John 14:6

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

The second warning is to be alert to false prophets. Wherever there is truth, there will be a falseness that masquerades as right-ness. Prophets proclaim the message of the kingdom, exposing the heart of God with revelation. Their message and words awaken hope and draw back to God and to Scripture, to the way of the kingdom. The words of the prophet will ultimately point to Jesus, His way and His teaching, as He is their fulfillment. Anything other than this is not of God and is false. The false prophet may be in sheep’s clothing, hiding their true nature. That nature is of the ferocious wolf, who left amid the sheep will bring destruction. That destruction starts with being led astray. To stay on the narrow road needs the discernment to not be led astray by false voices. How can we know? By the fruit of their lives. Are their words in keeping with Scripture? Do they point back to Jesus and His way? Is their lifestyle of what is worthy of the calling of a prophet? A good tree produces good fruit. A bad tree produces bad fruit. A tree cannot hide the kind of fruit it produces. A tree is always ultimately exposed by the fruit it produces. One who does not bear good fruit will be judged, cut down and thrown into the fire. 

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ 

The third warning is to those who claim to do things in the name of the Lord, even if those things are signs and wonders, but are truly not known by Him. Signs and wonders are signposts of the kingdom, pointing towards Jesus and what is to come. But even the things that are assumed to be of the kingdom can seemingly be wrought by those who are not of the kingdom. This is closely tied to the previous warnings of the false prophet. A prophet who seems to be of God, those who do things supposedly in the name of the Lord: Do not just follow anyone. What is their fruit? Are they doing the will of the Father? All things hang on, are summed up in, loving God and loving neighbor. All things of the kingdom flow from this. This is the will of God. Is this the evidence of their life? On the day of reconciling, many will stand before God and tell of what they have done. But is what they have done in the will of God? Does it come from Him? Even at the end of the Sermon, Jesus is still after the heart. In the same way prideful giving to the poor and prayer and fasting have no reward with God, outward signs can be void of Him also. Outward signs are no good if the heart is not center in His will. If it is not, He will not know you and you will be put away as an evil doer.   

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

The fourth warning is of the wise and the foolish builders. Everyone builds a house. A house of life, how one lives the life that he has. The wise man builds his house on the words of Jesus. The  Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding (56). Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, has given wisdom. The wise man hears it and puts into practice in how he build his life. The words of Jesus, directly in context here, are the words recorded in Matthew chapters five through seven. If life becomes like a storm, flooding, winds that beat a house, the ones who build their house on these words will have house that stands. It stands in a way that may not be seen by those who do not have eyes to see. It stands with its foundation on the rock, Jesus himself (57). Great is the reward who house is built upon that rock. But the foolish hear these words and think there is a better way. The reject the narrow gate and the narrow road and enter the wide gate and walk on the wide road. They build the house of their life on the sand. Ever shifting, soft, unstable. When the storms of life come, flooding and blowing wind, their house falls and great is the destruction of that crash. The fool says in their heart there is no God (58). Foolish hearts know God but do not glorify him (59). Wisdom is proved right by her deeds (60). 

56. Proverbs 2:6
57. 1 Peter 2:4-8
58. Psalm 14:1
59. Romans 1:21
60. Matthew 11:19

28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

The one who had authority has set the foundation for life in the kingdom. The life in the kingdom is countercultural to the ways of a fallen world. They are not conventional. The call to come out and be separate (61) is often accomplished by living by way of walking the narrow road. As the Law and the Prophets were to mark out a people of and for God, Jesus, as the fulfillment, marks out a people of and for God. He is the gate. His teaching set Jesus apart from the religious leaders of the day, whitewashed on the outside but full of bones on the inside, those who did acts that were seemingly righteous but had no reward in God (62). For those who continued to follow Jesus after the Sermon, the words that He said, the parables that He told, the miracles that He did, His death on the cross, were all rooted on some way to this Sermon. May we all heed these words and build our house on the rock. 

61. 2 Corinthians 6:17
62. Matthew 23:27-28 

A short commentary: The Sermon on the Mount (pt 2: Matthew chapter 6)

The following is part two of three on Matthew chapters five through seven. It is a short commentary and still a bit of a work in progress. All three parts will be posted over the next few weeks. (All Scripture NIV)

Chapter 6
1“Be careful not to do your ‘acts righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

The acts of righteousness are postures and actions of the life of believers because they follow Jesus. They are acts of faith. They do not make one a believer, but are the outflowing of belief. In the Sermon, Jesus highlights three of them, though certainly not an all inclusive list. He sees these three, giving to ones in need, prayer, and fasting, as ones that pride had crept into. Again, as in the parable, taking pride in what you do leaves you unjustified before God (32). The humblebrag gets you nowhere. In all of these, Jesus contrasts doing things to be seen by others versus what you do in secret. We do not live our life for the applause of men and back slaps of others. If this is what we want, to shine our own star, then the only reward you will receive is the applause and back slaps of men. To be seen by others is another way as to want to been known as “spiritual”. Puffed up and better than others. To look down on the ones who do not do these things as you do. This has no eternal reward. We are not to use the acts of the kingdom for personal gain. You are left mired in your pride. Jesus takes what the righteous do and purposefully defuses pride. The acts of righteousness should flow from a humble and meek heart. Jesus is still getting down to the heart of each matter. It is not just murder, but the anger that begets murder. It is not just adultery but the lust that begets adultery. With the “righteous act”, where does the act proceed from? It is what is done in secret, when no one notices and no one knows but God, that God rewards these acts of righteousness. When God sees your acts, done in humility, He is able to act upon your acts. What is the reward? God’s response. God’s action. Treasure in heaven, as Jesus goes on to teach about soon in the Sermon. These acts of righteousness are assumed. “When you” is how Jesus begins each of these. Those who are followers of Jesus will produce action from their life. Again, these are not done to gain God’s approval, but to be action points of ushering in the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. 

When you give to the needy…we are always to remember the least of these and put action to the remembrance of them. The Law set forth that those in need, the poor, the foreigner, the widow, are top be taken care of (33). In a reading of the prophets, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, God chastises and judges for not doing so, even to the way of oppressing those in need and not just the lack of taking care of them (34). The good deeds that are evidence of living as a light are in part deeds to be a help to those in need. When these good deeds are done, such as giving to the needy, we are not to do it in such a way to bring attention to ourselves, announcing it with trumpets, brash and open. As we have seen before in the Sermon, Jesus uses an extreme example to bring his point across: “do not let you left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Be sure that you are not brining any attention to yourself that even one part of your body is not aware of what another part of your body is doing. We often think the need to advertise our good deeds helps to bring a good light on our efforts and so then the Gospel, possibly adding to the Church in such a way. Jesus teaches us that the way of reward for giving to the poor is to be in secret where only He is glorified by it. Does this conflict with letting “your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven?”. No. This comes back to the state and motivation of the heart. For even if your good deeds, in proper motivation, are seen and escape the secret, God is glorified and man is not.    

32. Luke 18:9-14
33. Examples: Leviticus 19:10,  Leviticus 23:22, Leviticus 25:35
34. Examples: Isaiah 3:14-15, Jeremiah 5:28, Ezekiel 16:49 

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 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 men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

When you pray…our communion with God through prayer should be a foundation of our life with Him. Setting apart time to go into our room and close the door in a focused, uninterrupted time of prayer is essential. Not taking time here to go through what prayer is itself, Jesus again takes aim at the state and motivation of the heart in prayer. You do not pray better than the state of your heart. If you are prideful, your prayer is prideful and done in a prideful way. When your prayer is in secret, from a place of humility before God, not in front of others or in a loud way in order that others hear, God rewards it. The reward is His action and response to it. God hears and responds to the prayers of the humble heart. Does this mean we are not to pray corporately together? No, but the basis of our life of prayer is to be with God and God alone. Along with this, Jesus shows us that the length of our prayers are not the key to a response from God. Many words, babbling on like those who do not know Him, do not cause God to hear you. God knows our needs before we even ask. Prayer is our action of faith to God about those needs. This prayer invites God in to our lives and allows Him to do as He wills.  In keeping with what rabbis do, Jesus teaches those listening how to pray. Is it the only prayer? No. It is a prayer rooted in Scripture that is a basis for our prayers today. Prayer is always to be rooted in Scripture. 

Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name…God who is the Father of all things, who resides in the place of authority, His name is holy and is to be revered and stood in awe of. Prayer is not a trivial action but invokes the one God of all things.

your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…the continuing work of all things being made right and new again is captured in this part of the prayer. God’s kingdom, His will, to be advanced throughout the earth as it is in authority in heaven. It invokes our participation, in our own lives and through our lives.

Give us today our daily bread…it is the basic asking of provision from God who is our provider. To not be in lack, and where we are in abundance, to share that abundance with others.

And forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors…The forgiveness of sins is the righting of our lives in God. He forgives freely. After our initial justification, we must stay in a place of repentance as we continue to live our lives in Him. But as we have been forgiven, we must also forgive others. We are forgiven in the same way we forgive others. We are to be agents of the kingdom as forgiveness is a foundation it is built upon. 

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one…lead us not to place of temptation as Jesus himself was lead to the wilderness and tempted there. Deliver us from evil and of the evil one, satan. Strengthen us, provide a way out, show us in wisdom what to do. Help us overcome.

Jesus then highlights a part of the prayer he had just taught, returning again to forgiveness. Forgiveness is another result of a heart that is being made right. We are to forgive others as the Lord has forgiven us (35). Jesus was asked how many times one should forgive another. He responded with a parable (36). As in the parable, if you withhold what has been graciously awarded to you, if you do not have mercy on another as the Lord has mercy on you, you will be judged. 

35. Colossians 3:13   
36. Matthew 18:21-35

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

When you fast…fasting is another act of righteousness, a consistent part of the life of one who follows Jesus. It is another action of communion with God. We see abstaining from food as a communal practice in the Day of Atonement (37), plus many other examples in both the Testaments. Fasts were appointed, personal fasts were beyond that. The practice and reasons of fasting will be not be explained here, but Jesus, once again, focuses on the heart. As the disciples did not fast while Jesus was with them, the fasts would begin after his ascension rooted in the anticipation of his return (38). The hypocrite, the one who acts one way but is truly another, will be sure to let others know they are fasting. They purposely look haggard and unkept. They let others know how hungry they are or how long they are fasting. Their reward is others thinking they are ‘spiritual’ when really they are not. To do this for others to notice is to look for their applause and the prideful positioning of oneself above others. This is not to say that public fasts should not be declared and participated in, but the practice of fasting beyond that is to be in secret. When it is in secret, outgrowing from a humble heart, God will respond to the fast, draw near, and act accordingly. The fast of a humble heart has no outward appearance to draw attention.

37. Leviticus 23:32
38. Mark 2:18-19  

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Accumulation is not to be the goal of life. Anything that can be be destroyed naturally or stolen is not ultimately worth anything of value. The body will be redeemed with resurrection, the earth made new, but possessions will not be among them. Jesus, when remarking about having things, says that life does not consist of the abundance of possessions (39). He says you must be rich towards God and not accumulate, building more space to put ‘things’. Your life will be called into account for such a way of living (40). Are possessions wrong? In a word, no. But the over-emphasis of possessions, the chasing of possessions, and reliance on possessions are the issue of the heart. Jesus is pushing back against greed. Jesus is pushing back against keeping your abundance versus giving to those in need. If your treasure is possessions and accumulation, that is the place your heart resides. From where your heart resides comes the actions of your life. The storing of treasure in heaven, that never fades away, falls apart, or can be taken from you happens from the living of the Christian life, the kingdom life, on earth as it is in heaven. That treasure is the riches of the glory of God in our eternal relationship and dwelling with him in the coming new heaven and new earth. All things will be made new and we will reside in the fullness of that.  If your treasure is there, you will live like it here. You will be participating, as Jesus taught to pray, to bring the kingdom of heaven and the will of God here on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus uses the example of the eye being the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy and unclouded, if you see things as you should see them, if you see things through the lens of the kingdom, you will be full of light. That light overcomes the darkness. But if the light you have is actual darkness, how great will that darkness be in you. That darkness will overshadow everything you do as the goal of what you do is to gain. Paul later writes that godliness is not for financial gain (41). We cannot keep greed and simply name God as the means to appease it. The intermixing of the Gospel and accumulation is a great danger. In the Parable of the Sower, one way to look at the thorns of life that choke the seed and growth of the word is the deceitfulness of wealth (42). Jesus is explicit in saying it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (43). Riches and their pursuit can cloud the heart with darkness. Within that, you cannot serve two masters. These ‘masters’ vie for allegiance. One will become subservient to the other. The service of one will overtake the service of the other, loving one and hating the other, devoted to one despising the other because these two masters are at odds with one another. You cannot serve both God and money, God and material possession. Serving money and possessions will be the root of all kinds of evil on one’s life, opening the path of wandering from the faith (44).    

39. Luke 12:15
40. Luke 12:16-21
41. 1 Timothy 6:5 
42. Matthew 13:22
43. Matthew 19:23
44. 1 Timothy 6:10

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

At this point, Jesus transitions from putting the issue of what a life should build towards, and if it is not accumulation of possession, to not worrying about being provided for. Do not worry about the things of life that worry those who do not know God and know Him as provider. Do not worry about food, drink, or clothes. As Jesus taught us to pray, give us our daily bread, He will answer that prayer and be our provider. God provides for His creation. The birds are provided for. Aren’t we, the crown of his creation, more valuable to Him than the birds of the air? If the flowers of the field and the grass that grows are clothed in the wonder and beauty that is God’s creation, which is even much greater than anything the riches of Solomon could muster up, will He not clothe you and keep you warm? To be of little faith is to be distracted from who God is and what His word has said. God is our provider. He will be who He is and do what He will do. There is not need of worry and anxiousness that causes one to fully chase after the things of provision and accumulation. The ones who do not know God as provider chase these things. They are worried too much about having and it becomes the focus of their lives. God our Father knows we need these things and He will provide. This is the provision of the multiplied loaves and fish (45). We must work with our hands and do all things unto the Lord (46). God honors that. Instead of seeking these kind of things first, Jesus challenges those listening to seek first the kingdom of God (the reign and rule of God) and his righteousness (the making right of all things). This is a hunger and a thirst for righteousness. This is pursuing of building treasure in heaven. If you do so, you will be provided for as He will add to you the things that you need. Do not worry about anything that is coming. Today may have worry of its own. Much of our worry is about provision. Seek God, His kingdom, and His righteousness first, and He will work in a way that will alleviate the worry of today.

45. Matthew 14:15-21, Matthew 15:32-38
46. 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Colossians 3:23 

A short commentary: The Sermon on the Mount (pt 1: Matthew chapter 5)

The following is part one of three on Matthew chapters five through seven. It is a short commentary and still a bit of a work in progress. All three parts will be posted over the next few weeks. (All Scripture NIV)

Matthew chapters five through seven record what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. It is the longest continuous teaching of Jesus recorded in Scripture. Jesus says at the end of chapter 7, “Therefore anyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like the wise man who built his house on the rock.” The direct context of that statement is the words of the Sermon on the Mount. These words of Jesus are not simply stand alone teachings to make a better person, but flowing out of the coming new birth, are ground points to live a life within the kingdom and, in turn, be its expression in the world. In other words, it could be said that this is what the kingdom of God looks like while we await all things to be made new. A few years ago I was drawn to what is known as the Beatitudes, the proclamations of blessings that open the Sermon on the Mount as recorded at the beginning of chapter 5. “Blessed are…”. I found that the majority of the things Jesus said we are blessed for are not ever really associated with what are thought of as blessing. Through this, and being drawn past the Beatitudes to the whole passage of the Sermon, I spent the next year and half reading Matthew chapters five through seven nearly every day in different translations. Even now, as a practice of habit and meditation, I begin each week with reading the Sermon on the Mount. It can be rather easy to believe in Jesus. It may be quite much harder to believe, and do, the things that he says and build your house on the rock.

Chapter 5 
1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying:

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

Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called sons of God.
10 
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

To be blessed is to be within, a part of, what God is doing. What He is doing is making all things new. It is to vibrantly live what is the kingdom life. That kingdom life is counter to the ways of a fallen world. To be blessed is to be within, and to the natural way of living, an outward expression. It is the living and working out newness within a world that needs to be made new. It is what God is up to right now and you are a part of it. That is to be blessed. The Beatitudes are not explanations, they are not a bunch of formulas, but are announcements and calls to a way of life. These are rooted in the counterintuitive wisdom of God. These blessings are a strong mixture of what is of the now and what is of the later. The tension of a kingdom now and a kingdom yet to come, the tension of all things being made new and that all things will be made new. It is the favor of God. You are blessed if…

You are blessed if you are poor in spirit…if you are bankrupt spiritually and, in some way, or maybe many ways, you know it. Maybe you find find that you are not good a being spiritual, it doesn’t come easy. You feel ordinary, maybe substandard. Good news, the Kingdom of Heaven, what God is doing and what He will do, is for you. This is a proclamation that the kingdom has come for those who are like you, those who are left out and marginalized by those who consider themselves religious. It is a call to those, like the parable tells, who will stand far off, not even look up to heaven, but beat their breast and place themself into the forgiveness of God (1). It is the echo of Isaiah 61. It is a call, for the physician comes to those who need healed (2). The kingdom of heaven is yours. This Beatitude is the inaugural proclamation from which the rest of this sermon flows.

You are blessed if you mourn…if you see the world around you and it grieves you as it is lost, dying, deceived, decaying. You grieve because the state of this world has touched you personally. You don’t run from it, deny it. You are not comfortably numb. You are aware of the evil that harms this world, and it bothers you, it eats at you. Your mourning is a protest that this is not right. Good news, you will be comforted. God will comfort you now, he will meet you there, and will bring a deep comfort to you in what He is doing. Your mourning will allow the great capacity for joy at the making of all things new.

You are blessed if you are meek…you don’t play the game as the world does. You do not try to gain the world by greed, violence, using others, putting yourself first. You are not out for yourself to get yours. You are humble. You are not prideful in what you feel is your spiritual position, for as the parable also tells, you will not be justified before God in your pride (3). You are not calling down fire from heaven to burn up you enemies, for that is of the wrong spirit (4). You do not have to take, for you will inherit. In meekness, you may find yourself at a disadvantage. Good news, though you may not gain the world now, you will inherit it later.

You are blessed if you hunger and thirst for righteousness…you deeply desire things to be made right. Personally, the world around you. You mourn that it is not right. You have hope that Jesus is working to make things right. You participate in it. You are a harvester among the harvest that is plentiful (5). You feed the hungry, satisfy the thirsty, invite in the stranger, take care of the sick, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner (6). You stand, strongly, for things that promote life, for what is anti-christ is anti-life. Good news, you will be filled with satisfaction that the kingdom is working itself ‘through the dough.’

You are blessed if you are merciful…you show kind treatment to one who could be treated harshly, you help the one who finds themself in a bad situation. You give mercy as you have received it, as you need it. You forgive as you have been forgiven (7). You are wary to judge, you are aware of the plank in your own eye (8). This is a fallen, angry, accusing world that lacks the human decency of mercy. You are never more like Satan, the accuser, when you accuse. You are never more like God than when you extend mercy. You will reap what you sow. Merciful? Good news, you will receive mercy for you.

You are blessed if you are pure in heart…you work to rid yourself of hypocrisy, pride, judgmentalism. You are sure to keep working out your salvation (9). Your heart remains unmixed, your motives are under review. You put yourself before God and ask him to search you, test you, and show you if there is any offensive way in you and to lead you in the way everlasting (10). Good news, you will continue in knowing God, discerning Him, seeing Him even when others do not. You will then, also, be able to see what He is doing and to participate in it. 

You are blessed if you are a peacemaker…you work to produce peace in what you do. Peace is a marked word of the new creation after the resurrection of Jesus (11). You promote reconciliation with God, peace is made there. How you live your life, you are not an agitator, stirring up offense and division. You offer peace, because you have it, and to those who receive from you are blessed by it. As a peacemaker, you are a son of God, because the Son of God is the Prince of Peace (12) .    

You are blessed if you are persecuted…wherever the Kingdom of God breaks forth, there is always persecution. Those who have gone before you have been persecuted. You will be persecuted. Jesus was persecuted and you are not greater than your master (13). From slandered reputation to martyrdom, you are persecuted because of “right-ness” in a sinful world. You are persecuted for Jesus, for believing and following. Good news. The kingdom of Heaven is yours. Great is your reward there. Endure, in fact, rejoice and be glad, because in your persecution, if you look up, you will see the Son of Man standing at the right hand of the Father in all his glory (14).

1. Luke 18:13
2. Matthew 9:12
3. Luke 18:9-14
4. Luke 9:51-56
5. Matthew 9:37
6. Matthew 25:31-46
7. Colossians 3:13
8. Matthew 7:1-5
9. Philippians 2:12
10. Psalm 139:23-24
11. John 20:19
12. Isaiah 9:6 
13. John 15:18-21
14. Acts 7:55-56

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city 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 men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Salt is a preserver. Those who belong to Christ Jesus are the preservation of the kingdom of God in this world, keeping a foothold in conjunction with the work of God that is happening around us. If we lose that preservation, if we are swayed into losing what marks us out as citizens of this kingdom that proclaims and lives the kingdom, we have lost our saltiness and are no good for the preservation of the kingdom. We are then no longer part of the subversiveness of the kingdom. 

Light versus darkness is a reoccurring theme of the Christian Faith. The people in darkness have seen a great light (15). That light is Jesus. We, in turn, are to be a light to those in the darkness, the kind of light that shines ever brightly in a dark and lost world. It is like a shining city, whitewashed and reflecting the sun by day and by it’s fires lit by night. In a dark world, the follower of Jesus shines bright in a reflection of the brightness of Christ himself. This is a light that should not be hidden, and if not, then cannot be hidden. It is to be put on its stand. When it is not hidden, it shines for all to see. The worldwide body of Christ, His Church, bring a collaboration of light that shines bright throughout the whole world. As we are in the light, we are to live as children of the light (16).

The deeds, the acts of everyday life, that come forth from the Christian life are those that bring praise and glory to God. His way is even permeating how we treat one another and what we do for one another. These deeds do not replace the proclamation of the Gospel, but are hand in hand with what the Gospel will do to a person’s life. These good deeds are part of being salt and light. They are part of your light shining. They are in keeping with the command to love your neighbor as yourself (17). We love our neighbor because we have been saved ourselves. These deeds are no-strings-attached outworking of that love. They are the outworking of the Fruit of the Spirit (18) and the Gifts of the Spirit (19). The sharing of the Gospel. The prayer for the sick. The care of the widow and orphan. It is the looking after of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick, the naked, the prisoner. The outworking of patience and kindness and gentleness, and the Beatitiudes. It is the giving of mercy and forgiveness. All of these things are the good deeds that mark the follower of Christ. These deeds will cause a glorification of God, eyes and hearts turned towards him.

15. Isaiah 9:2
16. Ephesians 5:8
17. Matthew 22:37-40
18. Galatians 5:22-23
19. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

The Law and the Prophets marked out a people belonging to God. Called forth by him, then shaped and formed by him. The Law was set to establish a properly worshipping and just society, brought out to be separate, marking sacred and secular, the clean and unclean. The Prophets were reminders of the Law, particularly where the people fell in idolatry away from God and injustice toward their neighbor. Jesus, in what he did and what he said, did not abolish the Law and the message of the Prophets, but is the great fulfillment of them. They point towards him. The Law and the Prophets hold firm until all things are accomplished, when all things are made new. In the Transfiguration, Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the Prophets) along with Peter, James and John (the Church), are told by God the Father to listen to Jesus- he is the fulfillment and the one to bring it to completion (20). Jesus brings to completion what the Law could not do on its own and what the Prophets, as sign posts, could not do for the people. These are not set aside. We continue to hold to, and teach, what the Law and the Prophets teach us as they find their fulfillment in Christ. In this, Jesus gets to the heart of the Law and the Prophets. The righteousness of the follower of Christ must surpass those who think they find their salvation in adherence to rules that the Law sets forth, rather than to find their salvation in the one who is the fulfillment of the Law that was set forth and what it means to follow him.

20.  Matthew 17:1-6

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Jesus here begins what leads to six examples of getting to the heart of the Law and the Prophets. The phrase “You heard it was said…but I say…” is used by Jesus to re-orient the listeners away from the letter of the law to the heart of it. To the listener this discourse will be shocking. Only God himself can in any way change the Law. Here, Jesus, though not really changing it, is challenging the understanding and application of the Law. 

You shall not murder, one of the ten commandments (21). Jesus strips murder down to anger. Jesus puts anger that leads to murder and anger that leads to name calling and labeling in the same boat. “Raca” and “fool” are strong derogatory terms. Judgment to the one who name calls out of anger. In your anger, be in self control and do not sin (22). Taken a step further, to practical terms, your tongue is to be a source of life, not of death (23). Your words are to build up, not tear down. You must not kill someone with your words. 

When you are in efforts to be reconciled to God, check yourself, who are you not reconciled to? Who has something against you? We are to forgive those as we are forgiven. Who has unforgiveness towards you? Can you reconcile that situation? Peacemaking is found in this way of living. If something can be done, let it be done. The kingdom can be found where there is peace between those who have been at odds. These kind of things are of primary importance, as when you do these things you will in turn find an unresisting path to being reconciled with God. 

Even in legal issues, settle the issue quickly as possible. The ability to admit mistakes and be reconciled is of the kingdom also.  Who knows, you may be able to avoid a just penalty. Forgiveness often works this way. In the same way you would seek mercy and forgiveness when one has a case against you, give mercy and forgiveness to the one you have a case against. Are lawsuits unscriptural? No, but when it is possible and capable, reconciliation for many matters is the higher way.       

21. Exodus 20:13 
22. Ephesians 4:26
23. Proverbs 18:21

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. 31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

Adultery, sexual relations with one other than your spouse, is forbidden in the Ten Commandments (24). Jesus goes beyond the sexual act to the issue of the heart and mind: lust. Lust is to have sexual desire. As anger leads to murder, lust leads to adultery. As anger  unchecked itself is sin, so lust unchecked itself is sin. One must learn, in self-control and goodness, to not allow lust to be in feelings and in the thoughts and imaginations of the mind towards one who is not your spouse. In an ever increasing world of sexual persuasion, guard against what the mind is fed by what it is exposed to. Guard against improper relationships. Not just no adultery, but no want of adultery. Jesus goes on to an extreme example of gouging out your eye or cutting off your hand if either causes you to stumble in sin. Is he really saying to do this? No, but the example is to bring a strong warning to controlling yourself inwardly and outwardly in a world where sexual perversion is rampant. For, as he says, it is better to be without the part of your body that causes you to sin than for your whole being to be thrown into hell. Judgment for sin is real. Jesus then moves from adultery and lust to divorce. Here may be one of the trickier parts of the Sermon. 

The certificate of divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1) was given for, and this became used very loosely and wrongly in some circles among the Israelites, what became unpleasing to the man, finding something indecent about his wife. A patriarchal dominated society allowed a man to do away with his wife for most anything, putting her at a disadvantage. Outside of the unfaithfulness of adultery, there are more reasons for divorce in proper but it is not the point here, Jesus put the onus on the man that unmerited divorce meant adultery. Two becoming one, that man should not separate, was not to be taken lightly. As in Matthew 19 and Mark 10, Jesus states in the Sermon that adultery is committed in remarriage when prior divorce is unmerited (25). The onus is put on the man, as unmerited divorce was permitted because their hearts became hard, because in these cases it is mostly the man who is having his way. “(He) causes her…” The woman will carry the stigma. In this way Jesus is critiquing the patriarchal system in place. The husband must love his wife as Christ loves the church (26). If this is the case, unmerited divorce will melt away. 

24. Exodus 20:14
25. Matthew 19:3-8, Mark 10:2-12
26. Ephesians 5:25

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

From the topic is divorce, Jesus now turns to the oaths people make, as marriage itself is an oath between two people and to God. In the Old Testament, people are forbade against using the name of the Lord lightly and irreverently, committing to oaths and vows with his name and not keeping them (27). The way of the Kingdom is to be of integrity to your word. Using anything beyond your word to trump up your oath can turn into deceit and manipulation. Letting your “yes be yes” and your “no be no” is to stand on who you are as one who follows Christ. It is a testimony to the faithfulness of who you are. As Christ is faithful to keep his word to us, we are faithful in keeping our word to others. 

27. Exodus 20:7, Leviticus 19:12, Numbers 30:2, Deuteronomy 23:21

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

From our faithfulness of our commitments, now, to how we respond when mistreated. If the Sermon has not been found too difficult to this point, it is in the next of the teachings of the Sermon that many people stumble. To follow Christ is to give up all your rights and take on his way. We must believe his way is the best way even when it it beyond our understanding and the practical ways of a fallen world. We are to love our neighbor. What happens when that neighbor mistreats us? What happens when our neighbor is our enemy? Israel was occupied by Rome. They enemy was right there. Israel had always been bordered by the threat of enemies. The prevailing idea of the Messiah was one of deliverance. The nation of Israel, free and independent. Through that, the name of the Lord would be proclaimed through all the earth. They were in need of a warrior king to set them free. The son of David who was like David. This was the hope. Jesus, the long awaited Messiah, comes to bring freedom but in a different way.  His way. The best way. It is shown in a striking way in how to respond and treat those who mistreat you, those who are your enemies. 

Exodus 21:23-25, “But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” This was the Law given way of reprimanding wrongs (28). Show no pity. It was given to stop escalating retaliation. Give back what was given, end there. Jesus continues to strike at the heart of the kingdom. For the first time in the Sermon, he seems to change the Law. No more eye for an eye, but turning the other cheek. No revenge for insult. Someone goes after you in court, go beyond what is legally required. If you are forced to help someone and carry their load, as was the custom of Roman solider to the Israeli citizen, do not show spite but go further than expected. Freely give and do not expect interest. Hard words to take. Are the followers of Christ to be push overs? Are they to be defenseless? Are they to be easily used and manipulated? To all these, no. The better way of seeing this is to look at it this way: the cycle of evil, the using of others and revenge, must be broken. This is the kingdom. This is how Jesus brings freedom and new life. It can only be broken by someone doing for someone what they do not deserve. Meekness shows here. Mercy shows here. Hunger and thirsting for righteousness shows here. Peacemaking shows here. The way of Jesus, the best way, was to die on a cross, forgiving those who crucified him without vengeful retaliation. He is teaching that here. We must first see the world now through this lens. Turning the other cheek to giving freely. What seem to be disadvantages by the way of the fallen world are the ways of a kingdom that will come in fullness and bring its reward with it. How much do we believe in the life to come to live it to its greatest extent now, even if we must turn the other cheek?  

28. Leviticus 24:17-20, Deuteronomy 19:21

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.   

To love your neighbor was found in the teaching of the Law (29). To hate your enemy was a way of life with the assumption that God hated your enemy too. It was accepted to hate the Samaritan and the Roman as it was accepted to hate the Philistine. But Jesus said to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. This is often pulled out of its context to push a morally perfect life, but in its direct context, to be perfect as the Father is perfect is to love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you. Do this and you are children of your Father in heaven. Peacemakers will be called sons of God. You can pray for those who persecute you when you are reminded that you are blessed when you are persecuted. In direct contrast to what is seemingly taught, for example in the war passages of the Old Testament, God does good to those who are evil (for contrast see the story of the healing of Naaman in 2 Kings 5). The evil have the sun and have the rain. Jesus dies for us while we are yet sinners (30). This is not to say there is no judgment, but mercy always comes first. As a follower of Christ, loving those who love you is only part. Non-believers do the same. The test case of loving your neighbor is loving your enemy. Do this, and here is found the heart of the kingdom. Jesus puts a stamp on how we treat our enemies when asked “who is my neighbor?”, an attempt to justify choosing who to love and who not to love, with the parable of the Good Samaritan (31). It is the enemy of the Israelite, the Samaritan, who is most like God when he helps the one in need, above the religious Israelites who pass by. There is no justifying who can be cut out from your love and the actions thereof. 

29. Leviticus 19:18
30. Romans 5:8  
31. Luke 10:25-37

25 Quick Tips on Leading Volunteers

25 Quick Tips on Leading Volunteers (Vol. 1)

A companion to In the Trenches: A Guide to Leading Volunteers (Outskirts Press, 2010)

Volunteers are your lifeline. The benefits of a good volunteer team are huge. Not only for you, but for your organization, for the accomplishment vision and tasks, and maybe most importantly, for the volunteer themself. In a ministry context,  Paul writes in 1st Corinthians 12 that we are a body made up of many parts. A volunteer team is one way we work together as a body to see the Kingdom of God advanced. People have talent and purpose- essentially a part  in the body.  For those who lead volunteer teams, it is simply important to lead in the best way possible. Many of these tips have to do with the leader themselves. As a leader of others, you must grow, learn, and become the best leader you can be. These quick tips will help. 

Tip #1
Do not use people simply as a means to an end, only seeing them as a way to accomplish tasks, goals, and vision. Leaders had a tendency to do this. See people as individuals. Invest in them. Lead by walking with them and not just directing them. How you see each person on your volunteer team will dictate how you lead.  Do you lead by serving or pointing?

Tip #2
Don’t make volunteering difficult.  Keep responsibilities as simple as possible. Give volunteers a defined end, a defined expectation. Don’t micromanage them in the process. If you are, you haven’t truly delegated or the wrong person is carrying out that responsibility. Do your best to get the right person in the right place from the start. It is your responsibility to do that.

Tip #3
Putting the right person in the right volunteering role, especially a lead role, is important. Here are some quick thoughts on that:

How did you qualify the person? Were you patient in getting to know the person before delegating to them? Do you know the person’s character, temperament, faithfulness, time  restrictions? Are they truly skilled for that role? How do they respond when corrected? What can they do right now versus their potential upside? Are you willing to walk with that person to continually bring potential out?

Too quick of delegation often time results in mismatched roles. Have a smart release of delegation to get the right people in the right place.

Tip #4 
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is remove a person from a volunteer role that is not working out. Working in love and grace, never running roughshod over a person, changes are needed at times. When you have to remove someone, if it is not for moral reasons, be sure to have another role for them at the change. Boost their confidence and remind them that they are important to the team in the new role. Be prayerful about it. Be sure the new role is right for them.

Tip #5
Here’s a reminder:  5 things that you should avoid delegating.

  1. The most important thing.
  2. Your greatest strength.
  3. Personal contact with your leaders.
  4. Confrontation.
  5. Blame.

You may do some delegating in numbers 1 through 3, but never completely let It go.

Tip #6
Often problems with volunteers are not a lack of desire or dedication but a lack of training. When a volunteer falls short make sure the reason was not for a lack of training. It is your job to ensure team members are thoroughly trained.

*Have defined expectations of character and specific responsibilities.

*Have protocol of integration into a team.

*If applicable, have a training manual/videos with team basics and expectations. 

*Meet consistently face to face with updates, new things, and reminders. In reminders, keep everyone on the same page.

*Supplement face-to-face meetings with email/social media contact. Never eliminate face-to-face meetings.

*Schedule meetings in advance and stick to your schedule.

*Never assume some things are “common sense”. Train to detail. Train to redundancy.

Tip #7
It is a privilege to serve and to lead a volunteer team. Never forget that. Lead like you understand that. Honor your volunteers. Celebrate your volunteers. Defer praise to your volunteers. You should never be needy for pats on the back, for attention and recognition. Again, don’t reduce your volunteers as simply a means to an end. Their volunteering is something that they do in dedication, but it is not THE thing in their life. Lead with that understanding. Remember, advancement of the Kingdom of God is yours TOGETHER, not you as the lead actor and the team volunteers as supporting, background actors. In other words, your volunteers are not extras in a movie about you.

Tip #8
All organizations need decision-makers and strong leaders. Good leaders do not see themselves as a king and those around them as vassals. As you lead,  remember that good, strong, secure leadership is servant leadership. The way up is down. If you want to be great, be the servant of all (Jesus said that).

Tip #9
Build your team and mode of operations in a way that things can be accomplished without you. You are obviously important, but should not be so important that the team cannot survive without you for a length of time. Build your team in such a way that, in one sense, you are working yourself out of a job. Do not make things completely revolve around you, make things revolve around the team and the team’s purpose. Along with this, one way you leave a legacy is that if you ever walk away from the team, what it is accomplishing does not crash and burn without you. If that is the case there was a lack of leadership and proper building on your part. Always build things in a way that’s not about you and is bigger than you.

Tip #10
Don’t be distant from your team. Don’t try to lead from a distance and simply point and direct. You do not need to be close friends, and you certainly shouldn’t micromanage, but you are in the role of helping to shepherd your team and you cannot shepherd and effectively servant-lead from a distance.

*Pray for them. What are their needs?

*Take time to listen.

*Help carry their burdens.

*Work in lots of grace.

*Encourage consistently.

*Walk with them through their Journey.

*Admonish when necessary.

*Always have an open door. 

Tip #11
You cannot properly or effectively servant-lead those you do not love.

Tip #12
Team training is important. You obviously want all of your team to be at these training times and meetings. Because of that, give plenty of heads up time for required meetings. No less than one month’s notice along with weekly reminders. If it’s possible, give out a yearly training/meeting schedule. If you are poor planner, it will show up in how you lead your team. Plan a year of meetings in advance, at least two months before the beginning of a new year. Stick to that plan as much as possible. Remember, volunteers have lives outside of the church and are very busy. The more heads-up you give the more they’ll be present. 

Tip #13
Read Matthew chapter 6 in regards to prayer and fasting. Read Proverbs 2:6. As a leader you must be a person of prayer and fasting. You must pray consistently for wisdom in how you lead. Ministry, and leading others, is an overflow of your heart. You must be in presence of God, learn His voice, and lean on Him. You cannot do this without him. Do you live your life each day in such a way that it shows that you need God?

Tip #14
You must lead from a position that God is becoming greater in your life and you are becoming less. Let go of self-importance, the need for status.  Lead from humility and the likeness of God growing in you. The “celebrity-leader” is a disease in the American Church. Right relationship with God teaches us right relationship with others. How you lead will be in direct proportion to what your relationship with God is like.

Tip #15
Lead from the path of righteousness (Psalm 23). Lead by being led.  Integrity will protect you. Check your motives. Make sure you are not after personal gain. The Fruit of the Spirit must be growing in you (Galatians 5:22). Your character is invaluable.

Tip #16
Here are some tips on time management:

*What is most important?

*Prioritize. What needs done now? What can wait and, in turn, is not detrimental?

*What can be delegated and be accomplished to expectation?

*What can you simplify?

*Limit your time in social media and on the internet.

*More often than not, quit when it is quitting time.

*Are the things being done that make us a church?

*Family!!

*Get proper rest. This affects everything.

*Schedule prayer, scripture, personal worship.

Tip #17
When you are frustrated:

*Pray (maybe you should fast also).

*Build yourself up in Scripture.

*Don’t overreact, be careful what you say, limit complaining.

*Find the “good”, major in it, draw from it.

*Remind yourself of why you do what you do.

*Be thankful for your opportunities.

*Refocus on the big picture.

*If necessary, if possible, change what can be changed.

*You do not have to fight every battle, you don’t always have to prove yourself right.

*You are probably having more impact than you realize.

*Smile, laugh.

*Remember, God is with you.

Tip #18
Take time to invest in others, learn to reduplicate yourself -not making another mini-you, but simply raise up people who can lead. It takes time, effort, patience. Ultimately this is not about a specific vision. It goes beyond that. It is about that person and what God has purposed them to do. That may be something not connected to you and your vision. Are you willing to raise up people that end up not directly benefiting you?

Tip #19
Always be thankful for the purposes in your life. Be thankful for the road you’ve been given to walk on. But when that road gets bumpy, persist. If the bumps are your mistakes, correct, grow, apologize. If the road gets bumpy because people around you make mistakes, train, correct, work in lots of grace. Keep moving on.  The perfect will of God does not mean a perfectly smooth road. The will of God means, in part, that you simply have a road to walk on. Keep going, keep moving. If you fall, get up, bloody knees and all. Persistence and perseverance will win the day.

Tip #20
Lead others, in all things and in all ways, as you want to be led. Put yourself in your volunteers shoes when making decisions, making changes, in how you admonish, and in how you interact. Do unto others as you would have others do to you. This is one way the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled (Matthew 7:12).

Tip #21
You cannot lead each of your volunteers in the exact same way. There is a baseline that you work from in requirements and expectations, but volunteers have different personalities, temperaments, different ways of understanding, different skill sets, ect. As you get to know each of your volunteers, seeing them in different situations and seeing how they perceive things, you will learn how to interact, train, admonish, and lead each volunteer. It’s important to be able to do this. As a leader you must be flexible and do what is best for each volunteer.

Tip #22
Be people-oriented not task-oriented. These two things will overlap in some ways, but if you are people oriented your task list and what you are trying to accomplish will most likely shift and change.

Tip #23
Involve volunteers in planning and brainstorming. It may not be your entire team but maybe some select volunteers. Some of your most innovative and creative ideas will come from the volunteers. Also, don’t be defensive if they bring criticism to you. Listen to it and learn from it. 

Tip #24
Here are some ideas for shaking loose the cobwebs and get ready for a new season:

* Declutter, “spring clean”, rearrange, your workspace/office.

*Shake up your meeting time and place for your team/creative team. Maybe add some new members to creative/planning teams.
*What do you want to begin learning? Who do you want to learn from? How do you want to improve? What is your plan to do these things?

*What can be simplified? What can be cut?

*How can you reduce your budget without reducing effectiveness?  Where is there wasteful spending?

*What can you do to have an impact each day?

*How can you better communicate with your team?

*Is there anything you can give a new look to?

Tip #25
Don’t be scared to ask your volunteers this question: How can I be a better leader to you? 

De-humanizing

We are currently in a series at our church on Wednesdays titled “Delivered from this Present Evil World”, based out of Galatians 1:3-5. Christ Jesus gave himself for our sins to deliver us, to rescue us, from this present evil world. Amen. In this, not only have we been forgiven of our sins, we have, as marked by His resurrection, new life, a new way of living. That’s the thing. We have been delivered, we have been rescued, but we are still here. We haven’t been snatched away. We are to live a new way in the midst of this fallen, messed up world. We are to be a part of bringing His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, a light to the world until He comes again, living in this tension of now and not yet until it is all brought to finality. This Kingdom of God that seeks place in this world, not geographically, but in the hearts of those who enter through salvation as it crosses all boundaries of ethnicity and geography. We are to live Christian, this new life, in the midst of this lost world.

Now to the point. Specifically on my mind is the nastiness of how we are conversing with those we disagree with. Demeaning. Name calling. Put downs. Maybe not verbalizing it yourself, but laughing along with, and in a social media age, “liking” it. Feeling you are so right about something it’s ok to call names because, well, they are so wrong. It all has been bubbling below the surface but is now the norm and ok. Even celebrating it and defending it. Maybe not much new, maybe the same old things in different but same ways. But the tension is ratcheting up.

This is all de-humanizing. What is de-humanizing is anti-christ. 

When you de-humanize someone, any action towards them becomes permissible.

It is certainly ok to have strong opinions. It is certainly ok to passionately believe a certain way is the best way and that other ways are dangerous. But how we go about expressing these opinions, or as some would say facts, and how we interact with those we strongly disagree with is a sign of how much we, as individuals, have become Christian. Are we living this new life we have been given by Christ in this present evil world? Which way do we go when what the world thinks is ok is averse to the Christian way of being as defined by Scripture?

In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus addresses anger and de-humanizing name calling. Murder? Subject to judgment. Unchecked anger? Subject to judgment. De-humanizing name calling (categorizing someone in a demeaning way, always with the intention of putting the other below you)? Subject to judgment. Jesus puts all three in the same boat. They all have the same root.

In the same chapter, Jesus also addresses response to a wrong (no longer eye for an eye) and how to treat enemies (no longer hate but love). All of this as part of a new way of living as we have been delivered from this present evil world because He gave himself for our sins.

The Church must rediscover the Fruit of the Spirit of kindness, goodness, and gentleness (among others). Our world deeply needs it. Is this a push back against some sort of “toxic masculinity” or some idea that Christians need to be push overs? Nope. It’s simply being Christian. You can be strong and have strong opinions (and I do have some), and express those opinions, while being kind, good, and gentle. There is a place for strong words. There is a place for standing strong. But sometimes we are more concerned about winning than we are about being Christlike. To be sure, being Christlike at times will seem like you are not winning right now in a world that wins a certain way. Remember, ultimately, it is the meek who will inherit the earth. How much do you really believe in the life to come that you are willing to live Christian now?

This all is much bigger than the specific point here. But, right now, this is a flashpoint. We must be careful, very careful, not to claim our Christianity but go about our business, specifically in the tensions of society, by the ways and rules of a fallen world. It is in the tensions of society where our faith and new life must show itself strong in what we stand for and how we express that. If we claim our faith but live by the rules of this present evil world, we are much like the chief priests, who claimed to be God’s people, but ultimately shouted, “We have no king but Caesar!”.