Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Climate That Made the Reformation

DAY 1 3/1- The Climate that Made the Reformation 
   “When the time had fully come….”  (Galatians 4:4)

In God’s Providence the Reformation came out of a perfect environment of the moral abuse and power of the papacy at the time, division in the church, decay of feudalism (post crusades) and corresponding rise of nationalism, combined with the rise of the universities, the beginning of the printing press and proliferation of scripture.  But above all of this it was and is a movement of God’s Spirit.  The Reformation does not just change western thinking, but has vastly changed the world.  The Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the rise of science, modern medicine, capitalism and democracy would not have flourished in the West without the Reformation.  These are broad and faith statements, that could be filled with caveats and hiccups of steps backwards that came before forward steps.  Some of these are quite unintended steps (especially the Enlightenment).  In this brief devotional overview, it is not my intent to argue but to make the points that help us understand the Reformation and how it deeply affects our lives today, but especially how we may grow spiritually through thinking of the Reformation and learning from the examples of the Reformers.
 [Pictured is Pope Leo X Medici who instigated indulgences to build St Peter’s]

Prayer: Lord, help me to trust that you will raise us up in your timing and your way. Lord, raise your church up again. 

Glory to God Alone- Introduction to the Reformation- Lenten Devotion

A Reformation
On the 500th Anniversary
(A 6 Week Devotional Study)
  Glory to God Alone

DEDICATED To those who Teach me to reform and be ever reformed according to the Word of God:
Kay Yarborough Sloan, Rebekah Sloan Gilliam, Sarah Sloan Batson, John Benson Sloan Jr, Etta Sloan Batson, Josie Bellotte Sloan, Sarah Bellotte Sloan, Earle Dendy Sloan Sr., Marcus Dupre Sloan, Blaine Hill, Tracie Stewart, Jim Glatz, Danny Murphy, Paul Peterson, Barry Jenkins, Richard Burnett, Alice Ridgell.
Solo Dei Gloria                                                                                       

Dr. J. Ben Sloan

1) Background of the Reformation- Climate, Pavers of the Reformation Road
2) Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura)
3) Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
4) Sola Fide (Faith Alone)
5) Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory)
6) Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
7) Priesthood of All Believers
8) Reformers to Know
9) Summary

A word about the five solas.  These are five theological principles found in each other Reformers of the Reformation.  However, the recognition of these five was made in the 20th century. In  (1916) by Theodore Engelder, a Lutheran scholar recognized three: faith alone, grace alone, Scripture alone.  Emil Brunner added Soli Deo Gloriam (glory alone to God).  Karl Barth added solo Christo as another common theme of the Reformation leaders.  Others have added church alone and love alone- but these are clearly secondary ideas that do not distinguish the Protestant from the Roman Catholic church.  Others still have added the “Priesthood of all Believers.” 
The Reformation radically changed the church.  The Roman Catholic reaction at the Council of Trent took some of these reforms to heart.  Vatican I and Vatican II especially opened the doors for mutual respect of Protestant and Roman Catholic churches.  The Roman Catholic church (until Vatican I) discouraged the reading of the scriptures in the vulgar language and the Mass was primarily in Latin and not understood by most.  Vatican II recognized some validity in Protestant churches. 

This study is not just about the past, it is perhaps more relevant than ever in our Post-modern, Post-Christian, Post-truth world.  Many are denying any idea of truth or thoughts of holy living.  In a pluralistic society that values tolerance above most other values to say just the words “alone” appear to be proud or offensive.  The claims that “scripture alone is our standard”, “that salvation is of Christ alone”, or that “our good deeds do not save us” rubs many the wrong way.  Yet, false hope is no real hope at all.  The hope is not that truth doesn’t matter or that what we believe is ambivalent.  True north means false directions are not true. While we know we need to be gracious and kind to all does not mean that behavior or holiness is passé.  The hope is to always hold love and truth together.  The world still needs both. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Forgive Us Our Debts

And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

Thoughts: Forgiveness is a key to Christian thought.  For some it seems impossible.  Some deeds and words seem to be beyond forgiveness.  But as god forgives us of all our sins- so we should forgive others.  In fact, this great prayer puts a condition on forgiveness- to forgive others as we have been forgiven.

Prayer: Lord, help me to forgive others as you forgive me.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Daily Bread

Give us this day our daily bread.

Thoughts: When the children of Israel were in the desert, they were dependent on God each day for Manna from heaven.  Each day was a fresh batch.  Jesus was teaching us that we still need to depend on God to provide for us.
This does not mean that we pray this and do not go to work.  Philippians 2:12,13 says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  When we work, God works through us.  God does not work despite us, but through usz and with us.
Jesus was praying for a daily need here- not for extras.  Many times we confuse what we want with what we need.

Prayer: Lord, you are Jehovah Jireh- the Lord our Provider.  Help me to trust in your provision.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Thy Will Be Done

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Thoughts: Jesus taught the way He lived.  When He was in the Garden of Gethsemane, before He went to the cross, He prayed this part of the Lord's prayer- Lord, not my will but thine be done.
This should also be our prayer.  We submit ourselves to God's will.  God's will is done perfectly in heaven.  We pray and work for His will to be done more and more on earth.

Prayer: Lord, Let me seek your will, find it, submit to it, and do it.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Thy Kingdom Come

Thy kingdom come.

Thoughts: The Father has the kingdom.  The Father is the king.  It is His kingdom that is coming, and as His heirs it is ours.  But it is not our kingdom apart from Him- but because of Him.  As we are His, so we are heirs of the kingdom.  As we disown Him, we disown our rights to the Kingdom.
    That we pray that the kingdom would come means that it is not here yet.  There is a sense in which the kingdom of heaven is at hand (as Jesus said).  But there is another sense in which the kingdom of heaven is coming- when we get to heaven.  Jesus said that our response to thinking the kingdom of heaven is at hand is to repent.  We want to turn back to God and straighten up in order to be a part of the kingdom that is coming.  When the kingdom comes- if we do not repent- we are not just left behind- we are rolled over.  But if we repent we are given new robes- robes of the kingdom and made fresh.

Prayer: Lord, may your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.  May your kingdom come in me.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Hallowed Be Thy Name

Hallowed be thy name.

Thoughts; The old joke is that the little boy told his father after church- "Now I finally know what God's name is."  "What is it?" Said the father.  "It is Harold... Harold be thy name."

Hallowed- full of holiness- is the description of His name.  His name is not to be taken lightly, but reverently.  His name is holy because He is holy.  The word "Holy" means "separate" or "Other." He is not ordinary (or mundane).  He is not natural- but supernatural.  He is purposefully different.  It is not God's job to fit into our expectations or to conform to our behavior.  God does not take a poll to decide how He should act or what He requires of us.  He is holy- other.

The very name of God is holy because the name represents the person of God.  We take God too lightly because we have a very high opinion of ourselves and a way too low opinion of God.  We talk of God as if we are the judge.  We talk of not believing or doubting God too flippantly as if we are God, and He is just there to serve us- if He dares to exist at all.  This is such blasphemous pride. When we come face to face with God (and we all will) the mention of God's name will send shivers up our spine.  In our anxiety to not fell shame- we have tried to say God does not see or care or maybe even exist.  We are like the ostrich who is afraid so they hide their head in the sand- thinking the danger will pass if we don't look.  God is holy.  By the very meaning of that word- if God wants a relationship with us- then God cares about our being holy too.  The fact that we are not holy- that we are indeed covered with dirt and sin- should make us nervous.  

It is the name of Jesus- that we claim- that can make us holy and allow us to be holy.
The holy name of YHWH (I am who I am) is too holy to even be mentioned in the Jewish Bible.  We are not worthy of even mentioning the name.  But we can call on Yahshua- the Lord saves.  Jesus' death on the cross is a holy event that makes us unclean beings holy before Him.

Prayer: Lord, make me holy.  Let me not take my holiness for granted.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Our Father

Our Father who art in heaven...

1) It is more than ok to call God "Father" as opposed to pagan pantheistic or panentheidtic Mother Earth.
2) He is "our" Father- not just the father
3) He is in heaven- powerful and listening

Prayer: Father, let me trust in you. 


9“This, then, is how you should pray:

Jesus taught his disciples to memorize this prayer that summarized his teachings.

Our Father...

Monday, February 20, 2017

God Hears

 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-)

Thoughts: Jesus had just finished talking about obeying God's commands from the heart.  Then he speaks of giving- not for show but from the heart.  Now he speaks of praying from the heart.  
    Pagan prayers often used the technique of working themselves into a trance like state through multiple repetitions of the same thing over and over.  The Hindu mantra repetitions are an example of this today.  Jesus reminds his followers that what counts are not the number of repetitions or many words, but praying from the heart.  Our spirit prays with the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus (for his sake) to the Father.
    Psalm 139 says, "Before a word was on my tongue you know it completely O Lord."   God knows our thoughts and our prayers.  We don't have to shout or somehow try to get his attention (like the prophets of Baal - 1 Kings 18).
     So then, if God knows, why do we even need to ask?  God wants us to ask because 1) It lets us know how our prayers are answered; 2) It draws us closer to our Father; 3) God asks us to ask for His glory; 3) Our asking and his beneficence is a part of our worship.  

     Do not fail to ask.  But don't draw attention to it.  How many times God has answered prayer in my life.  Just tonight someone told me that they got a job they had been wanting for months.  They desperately needed it, but hadn't had any offers or leads for a long time.  But after we prayed in our study she received two offers on the same day.  While God can say no, let us never forget that God can also say Yes.

Prayer: Lord, hear my prayer.  Hear my heart felt supplications and my secret confessions.  Hear my loud praise and joy.  Hear my humble thanksgiving.  Hear and respond with more of your presence and love.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Power of Secret Prayer

5“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 others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6But 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. (Matthew 6:5-6)

Thoughts: Jesus reminds the disciples (and us) that prayer is not something we do to impress others..  It is a reverent talking to God.  Earthly prayers have temporary, fading earthly rewards.  We may not see God, but He sees and hears us.  Let your heart out to Him- not to be seen by others- but to be heard by Him.  There is a promise that God rewards the prayer in secret.  Why?  Because God judges the sincerity of prayer.  It is not the words but the heart of prayer that God understands   Jesus later (Mt. 18) encourages joint worship and agreement in prayer.  There is real power when people can agree in prayer. But here Jesus simply wants people to be sincere and true in their prayers to God. 

Prayer: Lord, hear my prayer- done in secret and done in worship.  May my heart be open and sincere before you.  

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Giving so God Gets the Credit

2“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 others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:2-4)

Thoughts: The best giving is anonymous giving.  The pay it forward idea of giving a gift to a stranger and driving off spreads good will more than wanting someone to say thank you.  We like to be thanked and rewarded for our good.  But when we give to God it is a bit different. Let us give generously giving God the glory for the gifts He has given us that enables us to give to others. 

Prayer: Lord, help me to not want the credit and the thanks.  

Friday, February 17, 2017

Anonymous Work

1“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)

Thoughts: Jesus is more concerned with our hearts than show.  Politics and media are all concerned with "spin" and perception and popularity.  Jesus is concerned with doing the right thing- even secretly and anonymously.  Popular acclaim is its own very fickle and fading reward.  But doing things in secret gives an eternal lasting reward.
    What have you done good that was done in secret- anonymously- without any kind of payback or hopes for payback?  What have you given without a tax write off?  What have you given with no hopes of recognition?  

Prayer:Lord, Help me to be careful. Help me to be cautious to practice my good deeds for your acclaim and no one else.  

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Teleological Argument for Love

48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

Taking this verse out of context can lead to a whole lot of sadness, sense of failure, and lack of grace.  It appears to be a winning verse for the perfectionists among us.  The better translation of the word here translated "perfect" would be "complete" or "whole" or "mature." (teleiois).  The same word is used in James 1:4 "that you may be mature (teleioi) , and complete not lacking anything.? Colossians 1:28 says that you might present every man perfect (teleion) in Christ. There are a few translations who get this (Weymouth).  Teleios is the same root from which we get the word "teleological" meaning argument from the end.  It has the end or goal or final part in mind.
    So what this verse is saying is that if we want to be mature, we need to listen to how Jesus interprets these commandments of the Old Testament.  These are but samples of how to interpret them.  There are three parts to each interpretation: 1) The actual commandment- which is to be taken seriously- he does not deny them; 2) The heart of the commandment- how the commandment is applied to our heart (Murder= anger in the heart; Adultery is lust in the heart, etc); 3) The positive side of the command- instead of hate- love your enemies; instead of lust- love.  Really the command to love is the mature and teleological end of each command.
       The classic teleological argument used to point to God's existence goes something like this- because there is order and design and purpose in the world, there has to be a designer, someone who gives order, an arranger.  Perhaps another way we may say is that love exists- despite our selfishness and sin- therefore there has to be a God of love.   Now I am talking about sacrificial agape unconditional love- not just lust (which seems more natural).  Love (like turning the other cheek or forgiving another) can conquer sin.  God did not just make us- He loves us.  God is love.  We love because He first loved us.  Love comes from God.  Love is what we move toward for maturity.  It is our end, our goal, our perfection.  

PRAYER: Lord, help me to grow in my maturity- and grow in my love for you and my neighbor. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Loving Those Different

43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbori and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be children 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. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matthew 5:43-47)

Thoughts: Jesus goes beyond the idea of loving your neighbor.  Basically his reasoning is God loves all people- He makes His sun to shine and His rain to fall on everyone.  We should do our best to love all- even if they do not love us back- and even if they actively hate us.  Jesus was preparing His disciples to take the hope of God beyond the borders of Israel.  God is not just for the Jews and not just for their friends.  God is for all and we should show care for all people.
       Jesus did not put the qualifications out there.  I have heard lots of scholars speak of what Jesus did not really mean here.  For example, some say, Jesus was not talking about one nation against another.  They would say we should not universalize this for political purposes. There certainly are other passages that help us interpret this.  But nonetheless, this is not qualified here and we must wrestle with what the text says and what it does not say.
      Practically speaking- today- go out of your way to greet a stranger.  Greet a stranger especially who may look differently from you.  Today Christians are not just cynical about things, they do not go into the darkness to bring light.  We let the people in darkness stay in darkness while we hang out with the people who think like us.  Love crosses barriers.  Love goes into enemy territory to win some enemies to Christ.  

Prayer: Lord, help me to love my neighbor.  But also help me to love those different from me.  Help me to love those who may despise me because I love you.  Use me to make a difference in their lives.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Turn the other eye

38“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’h 39But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  (Matthew 5:38-39)

Thoughts: Jesus takes away our thirst for revenge- even if it is a just and deserved revenge.  This command was really to establish equitable justice.  It is not a life for an eye, or a head for a tooth.  But justice can easily turn into never-ending hatred and revenge.  As one person said, if we followed this the world would be blind and toothless.  But we are able to turn the other cheek because we know that the Great judge sees and holds to account everyone.  We do not get away with murder-- or anything else for that matter.  God sees, and so we know that evil will be held accountable.  God lives- so evil will not win.  So Jesus could die on the cross without complaint aware that God would raise Him from the dead.  We do not need to panic, this world is not all there is.  

Prayer: Lord, for those who do not like me, give me grace to turn the other cheek.  You be my ever-sure defense and my true source of justice.  

Monday, February 13, 2017

When we Keep our Word

33“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5:33-37)

Thoughts: It is important to fulfill vows.  Jesus knew that.  But he was cautioning about making a vow that we cannot keep, by something beyond ourselves.  Vows and swearing by things was too common in that ancient world.  Jesus was saying that we can mean what we say and that leads to more trust and honesty.  When our word is our bond, we do not have to swear by something higher.  When our word is true- we can trust and rely on each other.  When we keep our word, people trust us, and that allows them to trust what we say about God and His Word.  

Prayer: Lord, let my yes be yes and my no be no today.  Let my words be soft and true.  

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Christians and divorce

31“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’f 32But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32)

Thoughts: The Pharisees who were sticklers about little things (tithing mint and cummin) were too lenient about their marriage relationship.  A man could divorce his wife for any reason.  For Jesus, vows meant something.  His saying this was a safeguard to women.  But he also pointed out that there may be valid reasons for divorce, just not common and fickle reasons.  Paul added to adultery that when an unbelieving spouse leaves there could be a valid reason to divorce. Divorce is not God's intention.  It is not the intention of those who are getting married.  But it is also not the unforgivable sin.  Divorce, psychologists say, is one of the most stressful things for the spouses getting the divorce.  It is like a living death.  Some give up on love, on faith, and on hope- leaving them a shell of what they were.  One of the larger reasons for the decline of the church in America is the epidemic of sexual immorality and divorce. But it is when we are lowest that we need God and the help of His people the most.
But, what we often forget is how hard it is on the children if there are any in the relationship.  Not only are divorced parents more likely to be in poverty, but their children are too.  If the divorced spouse marries again, the children of the previous relationship are visible reminders of a previous love, and could easily be rejected.
    Studies show that sporadic church attendance and nominal belief does not shield from divorce.  But regularly reading the Bible, praying regularly, and regular church attendance,  makes a huge difference in preserving a marriage.  

Prayer: Lord, help me to value marriage and always have faith, hope, and love.  Help me to have mercy on those who are going through the stress of divorce.   

Friday, February 10, 2017

Love vs Lust

27“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’e 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to stumble, 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. 30And if your right hand causes you to stumble, 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. (Matthew 5:27-30)

Thoughts: Jesus did not eliminate the commandment against adultery.  Three times it is recorded that he accused his generation as "an adulterous generation."  This follows an Old Testament theme that God's people are the "bride" of God, and that to worship other gods is to commit adultery against God to whom we have pledged our faithfulness (or troth).
    Here Jesus reaffirms the commandment against adultery even enhancing it by pointing out that adultery begins in the heart.  In our day of epidemic and rampant pornography, this passage still speaks.  Statistics from "Enough is Enough" indicate that 87% of college age men and 30% of college age women doubleclick for pornography weekly or more.  Pornhub claimed 87.8 billion views last year- up 10 billion from the year before and another 15 billion higher than 2015.  Studies show that pornography leads to positive attitudes toward extra marital affairs.
    Some site the passage of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery as his tacit approval of adultery.  He tells those who would stone her for her adultery, "let him who is without sin cast the first stone." He was allowing mercy and showing adultery is not the unforgivable sin.  But he also tells her to "Go and sin no more."  This implies Jesus believes adultery is a sin that is to be forsaken. To obey is better than sacrifice or forgiveness.   In Acts 15 the apostles asked the Gentile church to abstain from sexual immorality to distinguish themselves from the pagans.
     In the rest of the New Testament adultery is also forbidden.  2 Peter 2:14 "with eyes full of adultery they never stop sinning."  James 2:11; Rom. 1:16, 2:22; Some passages warn against continually committing adultery without repentance Heb. 13:4; 1 Cor 6:9; Rev. 22:15.
     The commandment against adultery does not disappear because a lot of people break it.  It tears at our marriages, and scars children with deep scars.  Adultery is one of the things that is tearing at the fabric of the western church, and is plugging the ears of those who need to hear of the hope and good news of Christ.  Love is so much more real than the fake love of pornography or sexting.  The design of God is for human love to be protected by the bounds of marriage and enhanced by trust and commitment.  

Prayer: Lord, help me to value faithfulness and love over lust and adultery.  

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Forgiving and Worship Go Together

23“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; 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 together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:23-26)

Thoughts: Jesus here points out that worship should wait until forgiveness is found.  To worship without forgiveness is a kind of shallow worship.  But to come before God with clean hands and a pure heart (Psalm 24:4).
    In another place (Mt. 18) Jesus says a similar verse on reconciliation: 
15“If your brother or sisterb sins,c go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’d 17If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.  In Matthew 5 someone has something against you.  In Matthew 18 you may see something wrong in another.  Either way, you are responsible for reconciliation in Jesus' eyes.  We do not wait for someone from the outside or the other person to tell us that we need to be reconciled.  In The Lord's Prayer we are taught to ask God to forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors- and our Lord later said, "with the measure you forgive you shall be forgiven."  
Verses 25-26 speak of the need for speed for forgiveness.  Paul said, "Do not let the sun go down on your anger" (Eph. 4:26).  Forgiveness is a priority.  Grudges are not to be held.  Turning the cheek, putting other's needs ahead of your own is important.  

Prayer: Lord, give me grace to live a forgiving life.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Thou shalt not murder in the New Testament

1“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,a and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sisterb cwill be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’d is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22)

Thoughts: It would be easy to look at the commandment that says, "Thou shalt not kill" (or a better translation- "You shall not murder") and think, that will never apply to me.  Jesus was saying this commandment- like all of them starts with the heart.  If you are angry or cutting or destructive toward your brother or sister in your heart then you have broken this commandment.
Paul urges us to put off all anger, rage, slander (Col. 3:8).
Jesus specifically says, "anger with a brother or sister."  He is speaking not just about our physical family, but our spiritual family.  The family of God has rules too.  Being angry with each other in church is like murder.  Calling a church family member "Raca" (fool, or brainless idiot) is as bad as murder too.  None of us- even the most smart of us is perfect.  We all need grace and patience. Jesus is calling us to that.  

Prayer: Lord, give me patience with those around me.  Help me to love them as you love me.  

Law From the Heart

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. 18For truly I tell you, 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.19Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly 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. 20For 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.  (Matthew 5:17-20)

Thoughts: There are those who think that Jesus came to stop the law.  But Jesus actually emphasized that the law should be obeyed not on the outside but from the heart.  Jesus shows His basic concern is not about the surface but the interior.  He accused the Pharisees- law abiding citizens to a t- that they were whitewashed walls- rotten wood that is painted over to look good (Mt. 23:27) or some translate it "whitewashed tombs"- which look nice but inside is full of what is dead.
     Jesus did not say it is okay to murder now that He is here.  In fact, He asks us to repent and believe.  He says to even be angry or call cutting names is to break this commandment.  Jesus looks at the heart- not the surface.  Similarly with laws about adultery, Jesus says when we lust from our hearts we break this command.
     Galatians 6:2 (cf. 1 Cor. 9:21) speaks of "The Law of Christ."  Most believe this refers to Christ's answer that the greatest commandment is "to love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul, mind, and strength and the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself."  The command of love is a command of the heart.
      Those who wish to change the commandments or say they no longer apply should be careful of this passage, for Jesus (yes Jesus meek and mild) has a warning.  If we set these commands aside and teach others to do so too may make it to heaven, but they will be least in the kingdom. 

       Luther taught that we are not saved by obeying the Law, but it is nonetheless useful in that it convicts us of our sin- showing our need for the cross and grace, and restrains us from being worse. John Calvin added that the Law also can serve as a guide to lead us in making decisions and going in a direction that pleases God.
       Our outside  legalistic righteousness will not begin to exceed the Pharisees who had an intricate system for keeping the law- on the surface.  But righteousness is not just a surface matter.  It is a matter of the heart.  Our hearts are changed by God's Spirit- God's grace and presence working in us.  The Law is good and helpful, but it is not how we get to the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus never called the Law bad.  He didn't add to the burden of the Law.  But He transformed the Law saying it is from the heart that we obey.  We will see a good bit of that in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. 

So look at your heart and make sure God is ruling there.  Ask yourself if you are willing to submit your heart to God- loving Him with your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Then ask if you are willing to let that live from you by loving neighbor more than self. In our very divisive world where so many are unfriended for different points of view- and we don't want to hear anything but our viewpoint- let us love our neighbor- even those who look differently, act differently, or believe differently from us.

Prayer: Lord, give me grace that I might love you more and more this day.  May your  true righteousness rule in my heart and shine from my lips and my actions today.

To see a communion homily on this passage, click here.

Monday, February 6, 2017

You are the Light

14“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither 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.16In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Thoughts: The light of Christ only reflects through us when we are pointed toward Him.  Jesus gives them this great compliment and then he tells them to not hide their light.
     Perhaps Jesus knew that they would have a tendency to be ashamed or hide this most important light that they need to reflect and shine.  The point of our being the light is not that people would look toward us- but would look toward the Father and glorify Him. 

Prayer: Lord, you are the light.  Let me reflect your light. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Salt Of the Earth

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 underfoot. (Matthew 5:13)

Thoughts: What does salt of the earth do?  We cannot live without salt.  It not only preserves and disinfects it gives life.  Hyponatremia is a condition of not enough sodium.  People who have Addison's Disease may have this symptom and it can give rise to the inability to think straight.  Salt is necessary for life.  But it also adds flavor, spice, and interest to life. Things are just tastier with a little salt.
     Jesus was saying to his followers- a very small group at the time- that they were an important part of life.
     But salt that is not salty means nothing. In Jesus' day, salt was mined around the Dead Sea.  Large white rocks were taken to the homes and put in a dry, dark place.  But if those rocks were left outside in the sun where the salt is bleached out, or where the rain can wash out the more soluble salt.  If the white rocks have no salt in them, they really are not useful for anything but maybe paving stones to be tread on.
     Christians, as they have love for God and neighbor have the opportunity to make a difference.  We are called to leave the saltshaker and go out into the world. 

Prayer: Lord, Help me to be salt.  Let me be a good influence for you.  

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Blessed are the persecuted

10Blessed 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. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)

Thoughts: The Vatican has estimated an average of 100,000 Christian martyrs per year for the last ten years. The definition of martyrdom was not that they were actively witnessing when they were killed as much as they were killed simply because of their faith.  Perhaps the final and ultimate persecution is martyrdom.  But there are others who insult, degrade those who become verbal about their faith in Christ, and others who just put Christians down in order to feel better about themselves.
     Dylan Klebold who was shooting up students at Columbine High School reportedly asked Valeen Schnurr if she believed in God.  She said "Yes" and then he shot her (wounding her). To say "Yes" identifying with Christ is the ultimate taking up our cross and dying to self.
       Being a witness may be standing up for what is good.  Things like refusing to watch a nasty movie, though your friends may wan to see it.  Or refusing to cheat a customer or treat them unfairly. Our ultimate boss- or Lord- is Christ.  To be willing to face rejection or persecution is a test of faith.
      When China was in the process of changing over to a communist country, kicking missionaries out, one missionary in danger was asked, "Aren't you afraid?"  Her answer was, I am only afraid that I will become a grain that is not willing to die."  We are all seeds of Jesus.  Let us be willing to give of ourselves to others so that we will bear fruit for eternity.
       It is easy to say "I will take up the cross."  But when persecution comes, we really will be taking up the cross.  Jesus, who knows a lot about suffering and humiliation, says that we will be blessed if we do it.  

Prayer:  Lord, help me to have faith that is real and that can endure tough times and tests.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.  Matthew 5:9

Thoughts: Peacemakers are not the same thing as protesters.  Sometimes protesters  can protest peacefully, and they can seek to make peace between people.  But in our day, protesters may simply be protesting that their way is better or they are being neglected.  Peacemakers stand between those who are being left out and those who have power and bring them together.
     Today if you google an image of a peacemaker- you will either get a gun called a "Peacemaker" or a protester.  Jesus was not speaking of either one here. The peace made by the gun or the peace made by a political decision is not the same and not nearly as powerful as the peace made in the heart.
     It is important to define what peace really means.  Peace is not just toleration or non-conflict in the Biblical sense.  Peace means wholeness- and well-being- shalom.  It is being at peace with God, with others, with yourself.  The peace of shalom is the ushering in of God's kingdom peace. Peace is not ignoring hate. Peace is not the peace of death (rest in peace) where there is no activity or worry because there is only death.  But the peace of God is an active peace- that helps people, heals people, strengthens life, destroys hate with active love.  Peace is not cheap (JR Stott), but is costly and valuable.  In some sense peacemaking is bringing hope and peace to others- a sharing of the Gospel does just that.
     I have sometimes heard that middle children (the middle of three in particular) are often peacemakers, who stand in the middle and unite the two other siblings. Peacemaking is being a mediator- the role of a priest.  Jesus was the ultimate peacemaker and priest who stood between God and humans and brought them together- through the sacrifice of Himself.  We model and become the children of God when we follow Him in this practice- sacrificing ourselves for the peace of others.

Prayer: Lord, you are the Prince of Peace.  Help me to bring peace to others.  Help me to be a peacemaker.