Matthew 7

gavel.jpgGreetings! 

Judging Others

Verses 1-2 are often misused by Christians and non-Christians alike.  They use this as an excuse for any and all behavior and to deflect criticism. If they would keep reading they would see that Jesus meant not to judge hypocritically. There are plenty of verses teaching that we need to make sound judgments, such as John 7:24 (“Stop judging on mere appearances and make a right judgment.”)

In an additional irony, they use this verse to judge those who make judgments. If anyone ever throws that verse at you out of context, then just reply by asking, “If it is wrong to judge, why are you judging me right now?”

But we should not judge hypocritically.  Many times I find myself thinking critical thoughts only to realize that I am just as guilty as the one I am accusing. 

 1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

 3“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? 4How 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? 5You 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.

This is an important thing to remember with evangelism.  If people are hostile to the Gospel, we should just move on and not force the issue.  We may be doing more harm than good.  Save your energy for those willing to hear the Good News or engage in reasoned discussions.

 6“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 then turn and tear you to pieces.

Ask, Seek, Knock

 7“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

 9“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If 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! 12So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

The Narrow and Wide Gates

 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. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

A Tree and Its Fruit

The Bible contains many warnings of false teachers.  Satan works to deceive us in many ways, and one of the most effective ways is to use clean-looking “church people.”  But we need to listen closely to see if they are preaching the true Word of God. 

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

 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. 22Many 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?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

The Wise and Foolish Builders

Note that the foolish builder isn’t someone who didn’t hear Jesus’ words.  He is the one who hear the words but didn’t put them into practice.  Many people go to church but don’t take heed of the message (I know – I used to be one of them!).  

 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. 25The 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. 26But 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. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

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

What passages stood out to you, and why? 

Exploring Christianity – Part 4 – Hell

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(Cross posted at the 4Simpsons blog) 

See below to see the latest installment of my friend Nicholas’ interview with me about Christianity or click here for the whole thing.  

Nicholas wrote: What happens to those who, through no fault of their own, never experience the Gospel of Christ?  Have entire populations been hell-bound from birth having never had a chance to experience the Bible?

That is a difficult and important question that many Christians wrestle with, including me.   I can explain my theological views but still wonder on occasion just how it caches out in real life.  I’ll lay out what I see as the Biblical, orthodox case while conceding that some Christians take a different view.  I’ll be wordy, as usual, and come at it from a clinical standpoint then from a couple other angles. 

Once I became a Christian I kept thinking about how I had rejected the Gospel for so many years even with all the advantages I had – growing up with Christian parents, going to church, having a Christian wife and living in a country with religious freedom.  (I didn’t commit my life to Christ until my late 20’s).  Why did I get so many chances when others may not hear the Gospel at all?  Then it hit me one day: That’s why it is called grace.  I didn’t deserve anything from God, regardless of when and how I came to believe.  No one else deserves it either, though in our human reasoning we may rationalize that we do.  We deserve judgment.  God is merciful in not judging us immediately.  Grace is unmerited favor.

It is important to point out something basic to ground the discussion: A righteous, ethical judge has no moral obligation to pardon a guilty and justly convicted person.  God is a perfect and righteous judge.  He is the epitome of love and mercy, but He is also perfectly Holy and He loves justice.  We are all sinners in thoughts, words, actions and lack of good actions.  Just 10 sins per day for 50 years would add up to 182,500 sins.  Now what righteous judge could overlook that? 

So how does the Bible address this?  Chapters 1-3 of the book of Romans (as well as the rest of the book) lay out much of the reasoning.  In Romans 1 we see some of the most important “big picture” passages in the Bible, showing how God reveals himself to us in his creation:

Romans 1:18-20 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

So in that passage and others the Bible teaches that God has made his existence plain to us and that we are “without excuse.”  If anyone thinks they’ll stand before God and deny that He revealed himself to them in creation they are mistaken.  So every person in every culture for all time has had the light of creation.  Still, countless people reject the existence of God or make up their own gods. 

Continue reading

Matthew 6

prayer2.jpgGreetings!  This is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. 

In Matthew 5:16 Jesus said, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  Yet in verse 1 of this chapter he says not to do your acts of righteousness before men.  What is the difference?  It is partly in the motive. 

In chapter 5 the motive was to have people see that your deeds were done because of your Father in Heaven.  But below, Jesus teaches that the motive should not be “to be seen by” men.  It can be a tough line to navigate.  It is easy to let pride creep into our good deeds and our giving.  Are we doing it for God’s glory or ours? 

Matthew 6

Giving to the Needy

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

 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 men. I tell you the truth, 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.

There are many important lesson on prayer in the next passage.  Again, motive is important.  Prayer in public or in groups is fine, but not if we are doing it to be “seen by men.”  And our prayers don’t have to be long and eloquent.  Consider how brief the Lord’s prayer is. 

God knows what we need before we ask him, but Jesus tells us to pray anyway.  There may be a lingering mystery as to why we would need to pray if He knows what we need, but we are clearly told to pray anyway.  We can trust that there is an important purpose behind it.

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 men. I tell you the truth, 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. 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.

 9“This, then, is how you should pray:
   ” ‘Our Father in heaven,
   hallowed be your name,
 10your kingdom come,
   your will be done
      on earth as it is in heaven.
 11Give us today our daily bread.
 12Forgive us our debts,
      as we also have forgiven our debtors.
 13And lead us not into temptation,
   but deliver us from the evil one.’ 14For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Fasting

 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. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so 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.

Treasures in Heaven

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

We are not told exactly what it means to store up “treasure in Heaven,” but we can trust that it isn’t just marketing spin.  If Jesus says it we can trust that we’ll be truly glad that we did so. 

Consider the truth of “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  If you own a lot of stock in one company, think of how often you check that stock price.  If you give to a mission in a particular country, consider how much more often you think of that country. 

 22“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23But 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.

Do Not Worry

Jesus talks a lot about worry.  Worry is a sin that we all commit.  Ironically, worry eats up our life instead of adding to it.  There is a difference between planning and worry, though.  Saying, “Don’t worry,” isn’t an excuse to be reckless.

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? 26Look 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? 27Who 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. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If 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? 31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

If we seek his kingdom and righteousness first then everything else will fall into place. 

What passages stood out to you, and why? 

Greetings and overview

bible21.jpgWelcome!  The purpose of this blog is get into God’s Word on a regular basis.  The Bible is the most popular and life changing book of all time, but it is also one of the most misunderstood books.  If you have never read the Bible, or if it has been a long time since you read it, give it a try.  You may be surprised by what you find. 

We cover one chapter every other day.  I make a few comments about each chapter, but the main thing is to read the text itself.  Feel free to add your own comments or just read along. 

The reading itself is either linked to BibleGateway.com or included in the post.  I’ll also post Bible study tips and other Bible related topics on in-between days.  See previous posts in the “Bible – General” category to the left.

It is always a good idea to start by asking God to open your mind to the truths you’ll be reading from his Word. Regardless of how much you know about the Bible, you can get a lot out of it by reading as little as a chapter and following a few simple steps (I picked these up from a sermon by James MacDonald):

  1. What portion stands out to you? Why? (Don’t just focus on what you don’t understand, think about the things you do understand.)
  2. Is there an example to follow or a duty to perform?
  3. Is there an error to avoid?
  4. Is there a promise to claim?  You would be surprised how many promises you’ll come across.
  5. Is there a sin to confess?
  6. Plan it – make a plan for how you will use it
  7. Pray it – pray scripture back to God
  8. Share it with others – it will help others and help you to remember it

Click here for some more Bible study tips.

Please post a comment if you have any suggestions to add.  Come back soon!

Matthew 5

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Greetings!  This begins the famous Sermon on the Mount.  This is chock full of important theology, so I’ll just comment on a few things.  Please feel free to comment on what stood out to you. 

Matthew 5

The Beatitudes

 1Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them saying:
 3“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
      for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 4Blessed are those who mourn,
      for they will be comforted.
 5Blessed are the meek,
      for they will inherit the earth.
 6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
      for they will be filled.
 7Blessed are the merciful,
      for they will be shown mercy.
 8Blessed are the pure in heart,
      for they will see God.
 9Blessed are the peacemakers,
      for they will be called sons of God.
 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.

I listened to a terrific sermon series by John MacArthur on this passage.  He did a whole sermon on each beatitude (a verse that starts with “Blessed are . . .”)  Here are the meanings in a highly summarized form:

Poor in spirit: Those who know they are spiritually bankrupt are blessed because they know they need God.

Mourn: I used to think of this as blessed are those who mourn over things like other people dying.  But it makes more sense to read it as blessed are those who mourn over their sin and spiritual bankruptcy.

Meek: The comedian Dennis Miller had a great piece on Matthew 5:5 – Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  He said something like:

Continue reading

Matthew 4

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Greetings!  In v. 6 Satan tries to tempt Jesus by quoting Scripture out of context.  Satan tempts Jesus three times, and each time Jesus responds with a proper application of Scripture.  Knowing the Bible is invaluable when we face our own temptations.  God doesn’t tempt us to sin, but He does allow testing in our lives and other people and situations will tempt us.  It reminds me of 1 Corinthians 10:13 –  No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

The Temptation of Jesus

 1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

 4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

Christians should be in the Word of God daily.  Are you feeling weak?  If so, have you been reading the Bible?  When friends have been reading the Bible regularly I can see it in their words and actions.  The correlation is remarkable. 

 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
   ” ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
      and they will lift you up in their hands,
   so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”

 7Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

Sometimes people test God by saying, “If you do this, I’ll do that . . .”  But God is not a circus animal. 

Fortunately for us, Jesus didn’t take the route of avoiding pain and suffering.  He could have had countless angels protect him at any time, including when He was to be crucified. 

 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

 10Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”

 11Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Jesus Begins to Preach

 12When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. 13Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
 15“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
      the way to the sea, along the Jordan,
      Galilee of the Gentiles—
 16the people living in darkness
      have seen a great light;
   on those living in the land of the shadow of death
      a light has dawned.”

 17From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

What a profoundly simple message: Repent.  It means to turn away from our sins and turn to God. It starts there.

When Jesus called his disciples they came immediately.  It is not clear how well they knew him before they were called.

The Calling of the First Disciples

 18As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 20At once they left their nets and followed him.

 21Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Jesus Heals the Sick

 23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. 25Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

Jesus healed countless people of serious diseases.  I can’t imagine the liberation someone must feel after living with a disability and having it completely cured.  But I do know what it feels like to be forgiven of my sins and redeemed. 

What passages stood out to you, and why? 

Matthew 3

john-the-baptist.jpgGreetings!  See Luke 1 for more information on the birth of John the Baptist.  He was one passionate guy. 

Matthew 3

John the Baptist Prepares the Way

 1In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea 2and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” 3This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
   “A voice of one calling in the desert,
   ‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
      make straight paths for him.’ ”

 4John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

 7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Jesus expands on the fruit-bearing metaphor in John 15 and elsewhere.  If we are Christians then that should show through in our lives.  The good works don’t save us, but they are an evidence that we are saved.

 11“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Jesus pointed out that John the Baptist was the greatest human, but even John didn’t feel qualified to be compared to Jesus.

The Baptism of Jesus

 13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

 15Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

 16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

This is one of the passages where all the members of the Trinity are mentioned – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  One God in three persons.  It is a mystery.

Jesus was sinless so He had nothing to repent of, but He submitted to baptism anyway.

What passages stood out to you, and why?