Do not be anxious about your life

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

In the verses that follow this one Jesus compares us to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. He tells us that God cares for us more than He does for them and consequentially we should not worry about our needs. Cognitively I think that we all know this. Yet our brains, though much larger and more complex than the birds, seem ill equipped to deal with worry and anxiety. Our brains often contribute to our anxiety.

In times when my mind begins to race about future events and I start playing out the worst case scenarios I find it helpful to pause and lean into my heart. It helps me to remember that trust is something I do with my heart. Leaning on my own understanding only brings anxiety. Leaning into, and trusting with all of, my heart brings peace.

Lord, help me to trust you with all of my heart and not lean on my understanding.

You cannot serve God and money.

No one can serve two masters, for 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 God and money.

What does it mean, and what does it look like, to serve money? I wondered that myself so I looked up the Greek word that is translated serve and I saw words like slave and bondage - that last word caught my attention. I know what it is like to be in bondage to money.. to evaluate every decision from a fiscal perspective.. to care more about the welfare of the bottom line than the well being of employees. Most companies are in bondage to money and their managers are rewarded accordingly.

I am not saying that we should not be wise in how we use money - how we use money is often representative of how we serve God. I am saying that God will never be a real priority in our lives when we are in bondage to something else. Consider how the Apostle Paul told us that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. In a sense love is the issue. When we serve and love money we make an idol of it - and idolatry is the heart of the issue.

Open my eyes Lord to ways that I idolize money and the things that money buys.

The eye is the lamp of the body.

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

I have heard it said that we are what we gaze upon. This statement makes us feel a bit uncomfortable. We all watch stuff in movies and on TV that are pretty dark. Even news shows are often full of darkness. The culture is full of dark images and pictures that we have a hard time avoiding and sometimes it is a challenge to find positive ones to gaze upon.

Jesus speaks to this telling us to keep our eyes healthy. The idea is to gaze upon things that embody goodness and stay away from evil images. I could wax on with examples of visual things that are bad but I think that lists of things holy and unholy are not always helpful. Better that we learn to listen to that inner voice. God is there to help us.

Lord, help me to listen to your voice as you instruct me on the things that please to you.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

I once heard it said that if you want to know something about a person's heart then take a glance at their check book. There is some truth in that statement but I think that a more accurate picture might be found in their calendar and checkbook. How we spend our time and finances is often indicative of the things that we treasure the most.

It is often said that we should spend our lives investing in things that will outlast us. When I consider the phrase "treasures in heaven" I think about things that are invisible and eternal. When we love unconditionally we lay up treasure in heaven. We do the same when we embrace the beatitudes that Jesus previously taught on. When I think about heaven I think of a place of worship - when we worship we lay up heavenly treasure.

Lord, please remind me every day about heavenly things.

Yours is the kingdom ... forever ... amen

"For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen"

Some translations leave this verse out but I never do when I pray the Lord's prayer. There seems to be such a worshipful acknowledgement in these words. When I pray these words I remember that the kingdom is His. The power is His. The glory is His. For prayer to really be prayer there must be an understanding that these things belong to our Father. They are not ours to possess. When we say these words we pray with a sense of humility knowing that we are but servants in His kingdom.

Forever. Amen. What great words to end this prayer. Life is but a vapor. I can hardly believe that so much of my life has passed already. When I pray 'forever' I remember that I am speaking to One who exists outside of time and has always existed. This word instills such hope in my soul. I am, and will be, His forever. That is something to say amen to - with my whole heart.. with everything that is in me.

You are God. The kingdom, the power and glory is yours. Forever. Amen.

Lead us ... Deliver us

"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

I have heard that this verse changes a bit when the comma is moved to follow 'lead us'. Either way you read this there seems to be two aspects to what Jesus is saying. He speaks first to our need for God to lead us - left to ourselves we would always give in to temptation. Yet through His indwelling presence in our lives we have the power to resist and overcome temptation.

The second part of the verse is sometimes translated 'deliver us from the evil one'.
It reminds me of this verse in the book of Jude:
But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”
This is somewhat of an obscure verse but the point of it is that even archangels need the Lord to fight the evil one. Often when I sense an evil presence I will do what Michael did and simply rebuke the devil in Jesus' name. The Lord shows us in this verse that we are to pray for such deliverance. Life is a spiritual battle and the name of Jesus defeats evil.

Lead me today Lord. I need your presence. I need your deliverance from evil.

Forgive us our Debts and Trespasses

"Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."

Because the bread and forgiveness aspects of this sentence are separated into two verses we tend to think of them as two different things. We also get hung up about whether debts or trespasses should be forgiven.

The truth is that we need both physical and spiritual bread to live. We need to both receive and give forgiveness to be healthy. I think that our greatest need, both individually and corporately, is the reconciliation that comes from the giving and receiving of forgiveness. This is not to say that God does not want to hear about our needs but to emphasize what our greatest need is. We need to both give and receive forgiveness.

And when I think about debt versus trespass I think of our need to forgive and be forgiven. We have a debt of love to each other and when we do not love our neighbor we trespass against them. The definition of sin or trespass encapsulates the idea of missing the mark. In a sense this involves an expectation to hit the mark or pay off a debt. And the fact is that we can neither hit the mark nor pay off the debt. It is why we need forgiveness.

Lord I forgive. Please forgive me.

As it is in Heaven

"Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

This prayer begs the question about what is God's will. I suggest that the phrase "as it is in heaven" might give us part of the answer because God's will is done in heaven.. and, as I said yesterday, heaven is not really a place but a dimension. Consider how Jesus describes this dimension, or kingdom, of heaven in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew. He uses parables to illustrate that this kingdom is about things that are:
  • small. He speaks of seed and leaven and their ability to grow into larger things. I think that God's will is all about being faithful in small things.
  • priceless. The merchant in the parable sells all he has to obtain a single pearl. Jesus is that pearl and the Father's will is all about us becoming like His son.
  • hidden. He compares this heavenly kingdom to hidden treasure. This speaks to me about our need to seek God to discover His will.
  • eternal. The last parable speaks of how angels will one day separate the evil from the righteous. It reminds me that God's will is about things that last. Things like faith, hope and love.
When we ask for God's will to be done we are asking for things that are small, priceless, hidden and eternal to be manifested in our lives.. on earth as it is in heaven.

Lord help me to understand your will. Let your kingdom come in me.

Hallowed be Your Name

"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name."

When I think about heaven I think about a dimension rather than a place.
I think of God reigning over a kingdom that is not visible to our eyes.
When I pray to our Father I know that he hears me because heaven is not far away but as close as our breath. In a sense we pray asking for the dimension of heaven to break through to our dimension. More on that tomorrow.

When I consider the second part of this verse I flash back to Moses' first encounter with God at the burning bush. In that passage we see a picture of what it means to hallow God and His name. Moses bowed in reverence and awe. God told him to remove his sandals - even the ground was hallowed (or holy) because God was there. And God tells Moses that his name is simply "I Am". Such a one is to be worshiped.. his name is to be hallowed. It is the attitude that must have when we come near to him in prayer.

I worship you Heavenly Father. Fill me afresh with your Spirit.

When you pray, do not heap up Empty Phrases

"And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him."

Two phrases pop out at me: "empty phrases" and "many words". Several times a week I pray the Lord's prayer (which directly follows these verses) in a group setting and I have to consciously slow my self down as I pray so that I can think about the words that I am praying. It is so easy to pray and not think about the words that you are praying.

Jesus helps us by telling us that it is not really about the great words that we speak but simply that we speak to the Father. He seems to be saying that the idea of prayer is not really the effective communication of our prayers but simply the actual act of prayer. He tells us that God already knows what we need and indicates that God is waiting for us to simply pray.. to simply invite Him to help us.. to simply share our hearts with our Father.

Lord help me to be real when I pray.

Pray to your Father who is in Secret

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Again Jesus presses in and lay bare our desire to be seen by others. Praying to be seen and heard by men.. I have witnessed.. and participated in.. this kind of religious seduction that engages the darkest part of us. The desire to be seen is an insidious one.. many are duped by the enemy thinking that they are being "spiritual" when they are just being Pharisaical. Jesus says don't do it.

I once heard that the measure of a person is what they do when no one is looking. When everything else is stripped away we will pray in secret only if we really believe that God hears us. In a sense all other types of prayers can be rationalized away.. all other forms of prayer can be done for reasons outside of faith. Secret prayers bring a reality to bear where it is just us and God.. face to face.

Lastly, Jesus said "when you pray". I think that it is good to be reminded that believers pray.. it is in our spiritual DNA. And whether it is in secret or in public we should always simply pray from our heart.. keeping it real.. praying to that audience of One.

Lord give me a heart to pray when no one is looking.

Beware of practicing your righteousness ... to be seen

"Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 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. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

The challenge of anonymity hits to the heart of what it means to live by the spirit, and not the letter, of the law. Living by the letter of the law will many times be accompanied by pride.. in this case the pride of giving our time and money to the Lord's work. Contrary to this Jesus speaks to us about the heart of serving and giving. He tells us that our service and giving should be anonymous and not bring attention to us but to God.

Almost four years ago I wrote a post about the overwhelming desire to be seen and how it affects the church today. I called it Invisible Ministry. Here is an excerpt from it:
For years I have battled with a phenomenon that I call "Invisible Ministry" ... you know, doing the stuff when no one is looking and doing the essential nonpublic forms of ministry. Much of this work comes under the heading of 'pastoral ministry' and I love doing it ... but ... I am almost choking as I write this ... I have been in a fierce battle with a dark part of me that wants to be 'visible'.

The desire to be visible is a dark side of the ministry ... wanting to be seen and appreciated by people is a dark force that permeates much of American church leadership. Many large ministries and churches, as well as small ones, are led by men which have surrendered to the dark side of visible ministry. These men were, at one point in their lives, seduced by public ministry.
It is no wonder why Jesus speaks so directly to this. The temptation to do good works (and make no mistake they are good works) to be seen is a dark force. It is the temptation to rob God of the glory due Him and to garner some sort of weird religious credit for ourselves.

God deliver me from the temptation to serve to be seen.

Love your Enemies, pray for those who persecute you

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus ends this section of his sermon by dropping an atomic bomb on those who aspire to live according to the letter of the law. In a few words he destroys every effort of self-righteousness. Jesus rebukes an age-old practice of hatred towards those who are not Israelites. In another place he regales a Samaritan, one of a people hated by most Israelites. Jesus lays bare and destroys all excuses by telling us to love those who abuse, persecute and mistreat us. It is one of the most amazing teachings in all of literature.

Looking back I am ashamed of the ways that I have rationalized hatred in my life. In a sense hatred is a mental rationalization that dehumanizes people. The Nazis used this sort of rationalization to persecute the Jews. American slavery was the result of people who rationalized that a sect of humanity were not really human. Religious people use this tactic yet today to dehumanize people they consider to be their enemies. Jesus speaks to this rationalized hatred admonishing us to use our hearts instead of our heads - for love is an issue of the heart.. and unconditional love is God's kind of love.

And Jesus once again speaks to us in prophetic hyperbole when he tells us to be perfect, or mature, as God is. In a few words He challenges us to live our lives out with unconditional and sacrificial love. For you cannot love your enemy if you have conditions. This kind of love requires a mind that will sacrificially bow to a loving heart in an unconditional way. This kind of love is in agreement with the spirit of the law.

I repent of conditional love Lord. Fill me up with your kind of love.

Do not resist the one who is evil.

"You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you."

Undoubtedly this is one of the more difficult passages in the Sermon on the Mount when it is read with a literal perspective. Words like "Do not resist the one who is evil" seem to fly in the face of places in the scripture that instruct to resist the Devil (i.e. the evil one). Yet I think that the verse makes sense when it is understood that Jesus is once again speaking in prophetic hyperbole in the same way that he previously spoke of gouging your eye out to prevent it from lusting. He speaks this way to make an important point.

The point or focus of this passage is the tension between the one wanting revenge and the one wanting reconciliation. Love fuels and motivates the latter while something darker energizes the former. In a sense Jesus is telling us to overcome evil with love. The theology of "an eye for an eye" is so appealing to our fleshly sense of justice. Yet there is no heart of mercy in that theology. Perhaps that is why Jesus issues a correction to it. We would all be blind and toothless if we followed the letter of this law.

Lord, make me merciful. Help me to love my enemies.

Do not take an Oath

"Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil."

Years ago I heard a televangelist asking folks to take a vow to support his ministry. Often churches ask members to pledge financial support to them. There are all sorts of ways that religious folks seem to contradict the spirit of what Jesus is saying here. And in these days of litigation and civil lawsuits it seems harder and harder to answer simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

I think that the delineation between these two approaches is the difference between the head and the heart. The head is all about rationalizing and complexity. The focus of the heart is wisdom and simplicity. In a sense wisdom is all about sifting through complex issues and coming to a place where we are able to say, with our heart, yes or no.

Lord, give me the wisdom of heart to be able to say yes or no.

What God has joined together, let man not separate

"It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

Here is a companion passage to this one from the tenth chapter of Mark's gospel:
Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"

"What did Moses command you?" he replied.

They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away."

"It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. "But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
Sadly.. I mean sadly.. it makes me really sad that the main question a person sometimes asks is whether divorce is lawful. By asking the question the person reveals a desire to know the letter and not the spirit of the law. Wanting to know the letter of the law can be an evidence of having a heart hardened to the spirit of the law.

Many today seek to understand the letter of the law concerning divorce and in doing so often miss the spirit of it. Interesting that Jesus spoke about hard hearts - some times a marriage can be destroyed by the hard heart of one party. Sometimes adultery is involved but many times other hard heart factors are at the root of problems that result in divorce.

I have many wonderful friends who have divorced. Most of these never wanted divorce and all of them wanted their marriages to be successful. I have seen the devastation that often results when some harden their hearts to their spouse. But I have also seen the redemption that follows when hearts are soft towards God.

Soften my heart Lord. Help me to know the spirit and not the letter of the law.

Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent

"“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell."

Years ago President Jimmy Carter admitted this to Playboy magazine:
"I've looked on a lot of women with lust.
I've committed adultery in my heart many times."
I wonder what he meant by that? I am not sure that what he said aligns with the passage above. His confession seems to ignore the deeper issues of lust and how much intent, or motive, factors into the sin. So often lust is trivialized because of sentiments such as the one that President Carter expressed.

To be delicate, let me first say that there is a progression to lust.. a progression that results in acting out sexually.. which is why Jesus speaks of the progression from the eyes to the hands. The pornography industry has built an empire on lust. It is serious because of the way that it destroys marital relationships.. adultery usually does.

Lastly, I want to speak to the issue of prophetic hyperbole. Jesus often speaks in this fashion and overstates an issue to make a point. In this passage he is not saying to literally tear out an eye or cut off a hand. He uses hyperbole to emphasize how important it is to keep yourself from lust. When we read such statements we are not to blow them off as fundamentalist rhetoric but to take note of the seriousness of what is being taught.

Lord, help me to keep my intentions pure.

Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Jesus takes relational living below the surface and beyond the superficial as he begin to describe the differences between the letter and the spirit of the law. Consider the verses that follow:
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
These words convince us of the serious nature of forgiveness and reconciliation. Name calling is serious because of the alienation that results from it. Jesus even speaks about those who accuse us and requires us to even forgive them. I think that it is so easy to fall back on the letter of the law in these situations - I mean who in their right mind would befriend one who insults and accuses them? It is the difference between those who live according to the letter of the law and those who live from the spirit behind it.

Father, help me to embrace the spirit of the law.

I have not come to abolish the Law

"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."

When I think of the word "fulfill" I think about fulfilling the terms of a contract. When we make the final payment on our car the contract with the bank is fulfilled because the terms of it have been met. This is the context of the New Covenant.

On the cross Jesus fulfilled every obligation of the law and every Messianic prophecy. When Jesus was raised from the dead God declared that the Old Covenant is no longer in effect and we are no longer under it's laws. Here is what the writer of Hebrews repeats twice about the New Covenant in both the eighth and tenth chapters:
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
The simplicity of the New Covenant overwhelms me. The complexity of laws that need lawyers are reduced to the simplicity of one written on our hearts. Thank God for this simplicity. Thank God that Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets.

You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.

You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.

Whenever I read this verse I think about a time in 1976 when my diabetic wife Ellen thought that God was telling her to stop taking insulin. She began to feel bad and decided to look at what the bible said. She opened the book and her eyes fell to this verse in the book of Acts:
"How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?"
We were both very young Christians and did not understand that getting this kind of direction was pretty ill advised. Nevertheless, God used this to help us - Ellen immediately gave herself an insulin injection. Later that year a Christian doctor wisely told Ellen that she would know if God healed her because she would have an insulin reaction.

It is interesting how Satan so often uses God's very own words to appeal to our flesh and deceive us. Our desires for "good" things like miracles and healing can sometimes be a source of temptation. So often we can misuse the scriptures and think that we are operating in faith when in fact we are simply, and foolishly, testing God.

Not my will Lord but yours.

Man shall not live by bread alone

"Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God."

I love bread. I grew up on a street that had an Italian bakery that made the most amazing bread. On Sundays my dad would send one of us there to buy a dozen warm dinner rolls - my mouth waters at that memory. This is the context that I have when I think about bread. Consider this response to the word of God from Psalm 119:
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Sometimes I think that we are what we love and desire. As I said before, I love bread.. my waistline shows it.. yet I am not sure that I love God's bread as much. My love of bread has caused me to sometimes eat bread too much.. yet I am not sure that I am fat on spiritual bread.. honestly, my mouth does not water for it like it does for that stuffed cooked in ovens.

Lord, cause my mouth to water for your word.

You are the Light of the World

"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."

Again Jesus makes an amazing declaration about his followers. He does not say that He is the light that shines from within us. He says that we are the light. A few thoughts:
  • God created that light within us. He gave us a new shining regenerated heart (i.e. innermost being) when we were born again.
  • Jesus says that we are not to hide this light.. we are not to suppress the workings of our heart.. we are to live from our heart and not from our head (i.e. flesh).
  • People notice when we live from our heart because we act differently. Love emanates from our new heart and God is glorified as we love others.
Lord, help me to love from my heart today.

You are the Salt of the Earth

"You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet."

Jesus makes a declaration about his followers. He says that our purpose is to be salt. Here is what Albert Barnes says about it:
Salt renders food pleasant and palatable, and preserves from putrefaction. So Christians, by their lives and instructions, are to keep the world from entire moral corruption.
It causes me to remember that we are salt shakers in the Lord's service. In a sense the Holy Spirit turn us upside down, shakes us and releases salt into the lives of those around us.

When I think about this idea the word encouragement comes to me. I think that the Holy Spirit will often use us (as in 1Corinthians 14:3) to bring comfort, strength and encouragement to others. This kind of salt will help people to make it another day. This salt is totally relational in nature - it can only be spread in a relational context.

Turn me upside down Lord and shake the salt out of me.

Blessed are those who are Persecuted

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

I have to admit that I cannot relate to being persecuted.. much less persecuted for righteousness sake. Yet even the casual reader of the bible, or of the history that follows the biblical text, understands that people have been, and are being, persecuted for their faith.

So, the question is how can a person like me (and maybe you) even relate to these verses. I could try to find some analogy, or even regale you with stories of martyrs, but anything that I think of seems to fall short when I think of the way that most of us in the West live these days.

So my challenge, and maybe yours, is to keep before my heart those who suffer persecution in other lands.. those who are imprisoned for righteousness sake.. those who are beaten on account of their faith.. those who are murdered because they preach the gospel.

Lord, help those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

Methodist theologian Adam Clarke once wrote "the Gospel is called the Gospel of peace, because it tends to reconcile men to God and to each other". I think that reconciliation is the operative word - peacemakers are reconcilers.. those who bring together folks that are alienated.. people that are hostile to each other.

An old friend recently died - I was sad because we had not talked in a long time. It caused me to contact another old friend that I had not seen in a while. We shared not only a meal - we shared our lives. Life is too short to allow any sort of alienation in our lives. Being a peacemaker sometimes involves making contact when it is uncomfortable. Being a peacemaker is a divine call.

Small wonder that folks who make peace are called children of God.

Lord, help me to make peace.

Blessed are the Pure in Heart

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

I think that this verse can be a very intimidating one because we are all very aware of the lack of purity in our thoughts and motives. Even so, I think that Jesus is speaking to us of the wonder of the new creation that Paul references in his writings. Consider what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John's gospel:
        "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again
         he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Again Jesus speaks of seeing.. seeing God and His kingdom. Perhaps it was because of their unregenerate and impure hearts that the religious leaders of Jesus' day could not see God standing before them and see the works of God's kingdom done before their eyes.

This speaks to my need to live from this reborn pure heart that was born in me so many years ago. It instructs me to see not with my head but with my heart. It challenges me to move beyond the natural and physical aspects of life and press into the invisible and eternal. It helps me to know that when I see with my heart I will see God and His kingdom.

Lord, help me to live from, and see with, my heart.