“Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” – Matthew 7:9-11
Do you worry? If you are like most people, you fall prey to that insidious “peace-killer” without thinking. If we are not careful, we may begin to doubt that God really wants what is best for us. Last week we heard Jesus telling us to ask, seek, and knock. And that those following these steps would receive, find, and have the door opened.
As we look into today’s verses we find a bit of playful humor from Jesus. Are you a parent? If so, then you have a bit of an inside track on understanding what Jesus is trying to say.
Children get hungry. Also, they don’t hesitate to ask you for something to eat. Let’s say your child is hungry and they ask you for a piece of bread, or maybe a grilled-cheese sandwich. Would you then go out to the driveway or look around the yard for a rock and say, “Here, kid, munch on this”? I don’t think so. We would never consider doing that to one of our children when they are hungry. Most parents would probably give them more than they need to be sure their hunger is satisfied.
Or to take it a step further, if your child really loves to fish and asked you to go fishing, where would you take them? Would you bring them to a mosquito infested swamp with no fish and say, “Have fun”? Of course not. You would do everything possible to provide a pleasant, unforgettable fishing trip. That’s just the way parents are.
And now it gets interesting. “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” Isn’t that awesome? Our perfect Father in heaven out gives all imperfect fathers on earth…over and over again.
So what does that tell you? Don’t worry. Trust God. He won’t short-change you. Keep on praying and trusting. Don’t be discouraged. He is faithful and good and generous and just.
Have a Great Day!
“Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.” – Matthew 5:9
Peacemakers. We need more of them in the ranks of faith. Those who work for peace work hard to keep offenses from occurring. And if it has occurred, they strive for resolution. We have more than enough fighters in the kingdom. We need more of these great-hearted peacemakers.
Our God is a God of peace (Rom. 15:33; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 4:9). He has emphasized the goal of making peace one of the prevailing ideas of His Word. The Bible contains four hundred direct references to peace, and many more indirect ones. The Bible opens with peace in the Garden of Eden and closes with peace in eternity. The spiritual history of mankind can be charted based on the theme of peace. Although the peace on earth in the garden was interrupted when man sinned, at the cross Jesus Christ made peace a reality again, and He becomes the peace of all who place their faith in Him. Peace can now reign in the hearts of those who are His. Someday He will come as Prince of Peace and establish a worldwide kingdom of peace, which will eventuate in ultimate peace, the eternal age of peace.
Peacemakers work for peace, but not at all costs. Make no mistake; peacemaker is not a synonym for appeaser. To be working for peace does not mean we manufacture peace at any price. There are limits. Just as Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of “cheap grace,” we must be careful that we do not introduce “cheap peace.”
Cheap peace occurs when a brother or sister brings reproach to the name of Christ and chooses not to repent. For us to go on as if everything is fine and dandy cheapens peace and sends the wrong message. Luke 17:3 says, “If he [your brother] repents, forgive him.” To ignore the offense or treat it lightly if he doesn’t have a contrite heart of repentance provides an artificial peace based on a faulty foundation.
Also, we are told to dwell in unity, but not at the expense of sound doctrine. If a group is embracing heresy, you don’t enhance the gospel by smiling and agreeing, all in the name of peace. Smiling at wrongdoing or wrong doctrine doesn’t simplify life; it complicates it. To be peacemakers on God’s terms requires being peacemakers on the terms of truth and righteousness—to which many are in fierce opposition.
The peace of which God speaks is not simply the offer of a truce in order to stop conflict and strife, but rather works to foster righteousness. Only righteousness can produce the relationship that brings two parties together. We may be able stop people from fighting without righteousness, but it’s difficult to live peaceably without righteousness.
We must also remember that being a peacemaker does not necessarily mean working to keep the status quo. Our goal should always be endeavoring to be followers of Jesus in partnership to win the world for Christ. We should strive for what is right. God’s people are to contend without being contentious, to disagree without being disagreeable, and to confront without being abusive. The peacemakers are to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).
Have a Great Day!
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” – Matthew 7:7-8
The entire time Jesus teaches on that Galilean hillside He drills down to uncover the essence of how we should live. He snatches away the shiny wrapping of our lives to reveal the true package within. For many listening to Him that day, what was revealed was not pretty. But to those who desired to follow Jesus, His words came as a refreshing breeze offering the prospect of a simple faith. An uncomplicated relationship with the God of the universe.
This section of the Sermon on the Mount forms the positive side of Jesus’ summary of the principles that lead to right human relations. When we love others the way God wants we will not look upon them self-righteously or criticize them or their actions unmercifully. This attitude must be removed. But not being unjustly critical of others doesn’t mean we are showing love to them. Love is much more than that. The positive side of love is the active side. It is not seen in what we refrain from doing but in what we do.
In order to properly interpret today’s verses we must understand the context in which they were taught. Contrary to some popular interpretations, verses 7-8 are not a blank check for just anyone to present to God for any reason. For one thing, Jesus was teaching His followers. The scribes, Pharisees and insincere followers were always referred to in the third person as if they were not the direct targets of His words. He is teaching His disciples with the crowd listening in. These verses are also sandwiched in between the negative teaching about a critical spirit and the positive teaching of the golden rule (v. 12). If we are not to be judging others’ actions and motives while discerning falsehood and apostasy, our greatest need from God may be wisdom. And for this Jesus says, “Be persistent.”
Bill Hybels tells about an interesting experience after a baptism service in their church. He writes: “I bumped into a woman in the stairwell who was crying. I thought this was a little odd, since the service was so joyful. I asked her if she was all right. She said, ‘No, I’m struggling.’ She said, ‘My mom was baptized today. I prayed for her every day for almost 20 years. The reason I’m crying is because I came this close to giving up on her. At the 5-year mark I said, “Who needs this? God isn’t listening.” At the 10-year mark I said, “Why am I wasting my breath?” At the 15-year mark I said, “This is absurd.” At the 19-year mark I said, “I’m just a fool.” But I just kept trying, kept praying. Even with weak faith I kept praying. Then she gave here life to Christ, and she was baptized today. I will never doubt the power of prayer again.”
“Ask…seek…knock” are three powerful, single-syllable words. They are also commands urging us not to cave in with discouragement when facing the difficult or the unknown. They are all “present imperatives” in the language in which Matthew wrote them. Because of this we can translate them, “Keep on asking!” “Keep on seeking!” “Keep on knocking!” The implication is, “Whatever you do, don’t quit; keep it up!”
These three commands are also progressive in intensity. They move from a simple request to an active search to pounding away in order to be heard at the door. Don’t give up. Don’t stop until you get your answer.
Please don’t miss the threefold promise that accompanies the commands. What happens when we ask and seek and knock?
In light of this great promise we can feel free to fully love others and totally sacrifice for others, because our heavenly Father sets the example in His generosity to us and promises that we have access to His eternal and unlimited treasure to meet our own needs as well as theirs. We can do for others what we would want done for ourselves (see v. 12) without fear of depleting the divine resources and having nothing left.
Have a Great Day!
“Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” – Matthew 7:6
So, who are the dogs and who are the swine? And by the way, is it politically correct to refer to someone as a pig? I’m not sure, but I guess it’s alright since Jesus did it.
Isn’t it interesting that He says this right on the heels of a very clear and forceful prohibition of judging others? As we brought out yesterday, Jesus is not suggesting that we suspend all faculties of discernment. He wants us to become neither gullible fools nor self-righteous critics. Many foolishly believe that Jesus was simply a non-discerning mild and weak man with a spineless personality. To know the real Jesus we may want to read Matthew 23. In this scene He takes on the Pharisees in front of His disciples and many followers. Seven times He lobbed verbal grenades by repeating, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (vv. 13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29). He called them, “blind guides” (23:16), and even said they were “like whitewashed tombs” (23:27) and “serpents…brood of vipers” (23:33). Just think about it. What if Jesus called you a snake to your face? So much for a meek and mild spineless wimp.
These are very shocking words from the very one who is the embodiment of love. He intended them to shock and startle. And what do we make of the choice of animals He used to illustrate His point? During Jesus’ day dogs were seldom kept as pets as they are today. Except for the working dogs used for herding sheep, they were mostly half-wild mongrels roaming the outskirts of the city acting as scavengers. They were dirty, wild, greedy, snarling and often diseased. They were dangerous and despised pests.
As for throwing something holy to these despicable scourges, it was unthinkable. Part of the sacrifices offered on the altar was burned up, part of it eaten by the priests, and some of it was taken home and eaten by the family that had offered the sacrifice. That part of the sacrifice left on the altar was considered holy and was to be eaten by no one. If no person was to eat it, how much less would one consider desecrating it by throwing it to a pack of wild, filthy dogs?
And swine were considered by the Jews as the epitome of uncleanness. That is the reason Antiochus Epiphanes’ sacrifice of a pig on the Jewish altar and forcing the priests to eat it was such an absolute abomination—and touched off the Maccabean revolt against Greece in 168 B.C. And because the Jews would never have considered trying to domesticate pigs, they were much like the wild dogs, scrounging greedily around the dumps around the city. If you tried to get between them and food they would likely turn on you and tear you to pieces with their long tusks and sharp hooves.
Jesus’ point is that certain truths and blessings of our faith are not to be shared with people who are totally antagonistic to the things of God. Such people are spiritual dogs and swine, who have no appreciation for that which is holy and righteous. They will take that which is holy, the pearls (the rarest and most valuable of jewels; see Matt. 13:45-46) of God’s Word, as foolishness and as an insult.
We must face the fact that some individuals will never come around and appreciate the riches of God’s Word and the simple faith He offers them. They are so depraved, senseless, hateful, and closed that their obstinance and behavior is enough to signal it’s time to move on to someone else who may be ready to receive what Jesus offers. To quote the prophet, “Ephraim is joined to idols;/Let him alone” (Hos. 4:17). We are never to give up hope, but we are wise to move on to other soil while God continues to work on them in His way.
I know this is difficult for us to swallow. We have always been told, “Never give up. Keep plugging away. Keep planting the seed.” While it is true that no one is too far gone for God to reach, there may come a time when continuing to press the issue with them may result in them closing themselves off to ever hearing the gospel again. Jesus is teaching here that there will be occasions when perpetually closed minds need to be left on their own. It may be wiser to back away and let God take full charge. It may be best sometimes to “let stubborn dogs lie.”
So what do we do? Keep on praying. And that’s exactly what Jesus addresses next in His message. More on that tomorrow.
Have a Great Day!
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:1-5
Many Christians like to play games. One of the games played most often is one that author and pastor, Chuck Swindoll calls, “Let’s Label.”
There are some ground rules for this game. First, you find someone who is different. It may be they look or sound different or think different. The game works really well if the person holds a different opinion or acts in a different way than the “acceptable manner,” which differs from your religious group.
So how do you play Let’s Label? Swindoll says it involves at least six steps.
Actually, there is another name for the game. It doesn’t sound nearly as nice or inviting, but it is the term Jesus used in His message on the hillside: judging.
What is so bad about judging? And why would Jesus have reserved some of the strongest words in His teaching for this? Possibly for these four reasons:
Jesus is so adamant about the ugliness of judging another person that He opens this section with a strong imperative. He is saying, “Stop this!” “Do not judge.” He leaves no wiggle room. He didn’t intend to.
Now that we know what Jesus said, it would help to know what He means as well as what He doesn’t mean by judging.
I think it should be obvious that Jesus is not telling His followers to stop being people of discernment. All during this teaching He is encouraging discernment as it relates to the scribes and Pharisees…later warning them to “beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing.” We are also told elsewhere in Scripture to “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). Some judging is not only acceptable, it is mandated. We must call sin exactly what it is, sin. But we must be careful that the action we are attempting to discern is actually sin and not just our judgment of what might be sin based on our particular camp’s biases.
So then, what does Jesus mean? He is saying, “Don’t be critical of others…don’t conduct your life with a judgmental or negative attitude.” I’ve heard some people justify their judgmental attitude by rationalizing, “I’m not judging, I’m just inspecting fruit,” which is no excuse. It’s the “inspecting” part that Jesus says is so wrong. More often than not, judging is an ego trip, prompted by pride. We like to point out what others are doing that we think is wrong because it tends to bolster our estimation of ourselves, all while being blinded to our own faults which may be potentially worse in the eyes of Jesus.
So how do we stop it? Here are four suggestions that may help you conquer this ugly game which can be so addictive.
First: Examine yourself before being tempted to inspect others.Focus on your own areas of weakness and error. You can look at your own impatience, laziness, pride, intolerance, greed, lust, ingratitude, anger, careless tongue, indifference, gluttony, pessimism, and worry, to name only a few. Self-examination does wonders when we are tempted to find fault.
Second: Confess your faults before confronting another.It’s amazing how this works, but there is something therapeutic about admitting one’s own weaknesses prior to facing someone you need to confront.
Third: Try to understand the other person’s struggle.It might help by starting with yourself. It can resolve the log-and-speck issue Jesus brings up.
Fourth: Remember, the goal is restoration, not probation.We are called to relieve others’ burdens, not add to them.
Lift someone up today.
Have a Great Day!
“Therefore I say to you, do not worry 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? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” – Matthew 6:25-34
Termites…in your head?
Let me explain. You spend an extraordinary amount of time, money and resources to build that nice home that will keep you safe and protected from the harsh environment around you. Once you are done, you sit back and relax, enjoying your new home. Everything is great for a while. But then something subtle begins to take place. You may not even realize it’s happening. One day, you step on that board or try to hang a picture on the wall and realize it’s a little spongy. It’s not as solid as it once was. And then you realize it. You’ve got termites. Those subtle little creatures ate away the solid protection that once provided you peace.
Now to the ones in your head. Well, not the real ones anyway. (You probably wondered where I was going to go with this) Stop and think for a moment. There was probably a time in your life when you decided to trust God in simple faith. You knew you couldn’t make it on your own so you decided to allow Him complete freedom to carry out His plan and purpose in you, as well as through you. Then, you only needed to relax and count on Him to take care of the things you once tried to keep under control yourself. No need to step in and take charge anymore. But then in a moment of weakness you begin to doubt if everything is going to turn out as you think it should. You begin to think, “What if…” No one can tell by looking (and you certainly wouldn’t think of telling anyone), but in place of your inward peace and simple faith, you are now immobilized by…you guessed it, the termites in your head. They are very subtle. It is the most notorious faith killer in all of life. That’s right. It’s called worry.
In today’s teaching, the heart of Jesus’ message is: Don’t worry – not even about the necessities in life. You may be thinking, “That was easy for Jesus to say. After all, He’s God.” But it must be an important lesson for us to learn because He gives the command, Do not worry three times (vv. 25, 31, 34). Jesus then gives four reasons why worry is so wrong.
“Therefore” refers back to the previous verse, in which Jesus states that the Christian’s only Master is God. It may seem subtle, but there is a profound connection between God being our Master and the frivolous waste of time we call worrying. In effect He is saying, “Because God is your Master, I say to you, do not worry.” For Christians, worry and anxiety are forbidden, foolish, and sinful. Worry is the sin of distrusting the promise and providence of God, and yet it is a sin that Christians commit perhaps more frequently than any other. The English term worrycomes from an old German word meaning to strangle, or choke. That is exactly what worry does; it is a kind of mental and emotional strangulation, which probably causes more mental and physical afflictions than any other single cause.
Everything we now have belongs to the Lord, and everything we will ever have belongs to Him. So why do we worry about His taking from us what really belongs to Him? It really is a no-brainer.
2. Worry is unnecessary because of who our Father is (6:26-30)
To explain His point, Jesus uses three real life examples of things about which we may worry. He points out how foolish it is to worry about food, our life expectancy, or about clothing.
Possibly pointing at a bird flying by, He makes His point (no pun intended). As an object lesson, He calls attention to the fact that birds don’t have detailed and logistical-intensive plans for obtaining food. God provides the resources for them and also provides the instinct to find these resources. If God goes to this extent to take care of seemingly insignificant creatures such as birds, how much more will He take care of those who are created in His image and for whom Christ died?
The second illustration has to do with life expectancy. Our culture is obsessed with trying to lengthen life. We exercise, eat carefully, and pay for life-saving treatments in the hopes of adding a few years to our lives. We do all this for a few more years, but no amount of fretting and trying will coax God into extending our life’s span. The fact is, we can worry ourselves to death, but not to life.
The third illustration has to do with clothing. He uses flowers as the object lesson. How many of us have more than one change of clothing? There are many who stress over not being able to afford the current designer labels when we may have a month worth of clothes in our closet. Those to whom Jesus spoke probably had no more than the clothes on their backs, and to them He said, “Do not worry.” To be anxious or worried about the things we need to survive is sinful and shows little faith according to Jesus.
3. Worry is unreasonable because of our faith (6:31-33)
Worry is characteristic of unbelief. If we truly trust God, we have no need to worry.
4. Worry is unwise because of our future (6:34)
God promises His grace to us. He will provide the grace for each day. But He does not give us grace for tomorrow until tomorrow arrives. There’s enough trouble in each day without borrowing some from tomorrow.
Do you really want to live a worry-free life? If so, we are told how in the concluding verses of chapter 6.
First, “Put first things first.” Seek God’s will above everything else.
Second, “Live one day at a time.” Don’t contaminate today with tomorrow’s troubles.
Have a Great Day!
“Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.” – Matthew 5:8
A simple faith. That is exactly what Jesus has made available for us. When He came on the scene in the first century, the Jewish faith was anything but simple. The experts in the law and other religious leaders had made faith in God a tedious and intricate system of performance-based rules and regulations. Everywhere you turned, you were judged by what other people saw. If you did something good for someone else that required a little effort on the Sabbath you were brought before the judges to receive your penalty. If you didn’t wash your hands properly the “clean police” would come and pick you up. Ok, so I might be exaggerating a bit. But not much. These are two laws the Pharisees accused Jesus and His disciples of breaking. Jesus’ response? It’s not our performance or behavior that gains the favor of God. It’s a matter of the heart instead.
A life that is blessed by God is not based on performance or rule-keeping. Being accepted and blessed by God is a matter of internal transformation. It is a transformation from within that manifests itself without. Living a life that pleases God is simply the outward manifestation of an inward reality. We don’t perform in order to be accepted by God. We perform because He has already accepted us (“to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.”Ephesians 1:6).
We must understand that a life of simple faith is linked to a pure heart. A pure heart is one that is not mixed with anything that is impure. The word “pure” was often used of metals that had been refined until all impurities were removed, leaving only the pure metal. In that sense, purity means unmixed, unalloyed, unadulterated. Applied to the heart, the idea is that of pure motive—of single-mindedness, undivided devotion, spiritual integrity, and true righteousness. If a film were made about someone who lived this kind of completely sincere life in both private and public, there would be no need to edit. You could video that person at church or at home, at work or at play, and you would catch no contradictions.
If we live pure in heart we will live transparently. We would have no guile, no hidden motives. How seldom do any of us even approach anything near that standard. While it is true that we cannot live in pure perfection, this beatitude implies that life can be lived without masks. “Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.”What does this mean? I believe this means that if we are willing to be honest with how we feel, open with why we do what we do, and sincerely trust God to form in us His life and His will, we will see God work. We will see Him doing awesome things in our lives.
Take off the mask. Quit acting all pious so others will think you’re all that and more. Risk being real. That, by the way, is what God wants. He doesn’t want actors. (For a little review, go back and read Day 17 again.) He wants real people connecting with other real people in real ways. Then, and only then, will we be able to have real community. Those who are hurting will never connect with those who exude an air that they have it all together. Why do you think James said, “Confess your faults one to another”? (James 5:16a) The truth is: none of us have it all together. We simply know the One who does!
Have a Great Day!
“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.” – Matthew 6:19-21
It’s interesting how as human beings we are so thing-oriented. It tends to be especially prevalent in prosperous cultures like ours. What’s your thing? Is it money? Is it amassing wealth? Your house? Car? Gadgets? Hobbies? Children? Spouse? That’s right. The things we may treasure above God are not only inanimate objects.
Also, given a few minutes and a peek at your pocketbook, I can tell you exactly what your treasure is and where you’re keeping it. And no, I’m not Carnac the Magnificent. The fact is our treasure is not very difficult to identify. It is anything that is tangible and has a price tag. Our money flows to and follows our treasure. This is the way it works. If we don’t think something is important enough, we won’t waste our money on it. If it’s important to us, we will spend money on it. We make choices everyday. We spend (whether it’s time or money) for that which we value. Our earthly treasure is anything we can see, touch, or measure. Our heavenly treasure would include the intangible, unseen, priceless assets which will survive the transition from earth to heaven.
Jesus’ choice of words, lay up (thēsaurizō) and treasures (thēsauros), conjures up an image in my mind of an old miser with a greedy grin in a dark lamp-lit room at a table piled high with gold coins. Both of these words come from the same root word from which we get our English thesaurus, a treasury of words. These words also originally carried the idea of stacking up or laying out horizontally like a person would stack coins. So with our things, we might be like this miser, obsessed with keeping track and hoarding the material things we value and never using them for the kingdom of God. They key is, who are they for? Jesus specifically said to not lay up treasures for ourselves. When we accumulate treasures for ourselves with the intent to hoard them or to spend selfishly, those treasures become our idols.
Just like Jesus’ teaching on prayer and giving, we should be careful not to misunderstand His intent. Jesus never said that praying in public or giving where others might see is necessarily wrong. Neither is He saying that having wealth or many possessions is wrong. There is a difference between having our possessions and our possessions having us. We must not infer from this teaching that poverty is the means to spirituality. Many of the Old Testament patriarchs were stinkin’ rich, and God kept giving more to them. The problem is not how much we have, it’s our attitude toward how much we have (or don’t have) that makes the difference.
Think for a moment and consider a self-analysis. As you think about what you possess and how you use those possessions, take a few moments and ask yourself why you own those things. Having just read Jesus’ teaching, can you honestly say your heart is not set on physical treasures? Is your giving generous? Are you quick to give up your time and resources to help others? Are you living open-handed or close-fisted? Do you genuinely appreciate God’s provision as a means of building His kingdom?
No matter how hard we work to amass things here on this earth, the fact still remains; we can’t take it with us. Only what has been invested in God’s kingdom will endure into eternity. Let’s be careful to invest, not simply possess.
Have a Great Day!
“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” – Matthew 6:16-18
For many, fasting is what you do after midnight before you have blood work done or before you go in for surgery. That’s not exactly what Jesus meant. The fasting He is referring to is abstaining from some or all food for a period of time to humble ourselves before God. But as with any other spiritual practice, it has the potential to be misused in a hypocritical way. Such was the case with the religious folks in Jesus’ day. There were those who attempted to make their religious rituals obvious so others could take notice and see how “pious” they were. It was all for show.
This reminds me of a church bulletin I heard about that read: National Prayer and Fasting Conference announcement: “The cost to attend the Fasting and Prayer Conference includes meals.” That probably makes sense in some universe.
There are many reasons why people may fast. Historically, ancient pagans believed that demons could enter their body through food. So when they felt they were under demonic attack they would abstain from food to keep any more spirits from gaining access to their bodies. In modern times fasting has come into vogue for cosmetic and health reasons. Fasting is a part of many diets. In the Old Testament, the only time fasting is commanded it is linked with the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29; cf. 23:27).
In much the same way that Jesus dealt with giving and praying, He now deals with fasting. He talks about how not to do it, and then, how to do it. Although fasting is only commanded in relation to the Old Testament Day of Atonement, Jesus said that there would be other times we might consider humbling ourselves before God for some spiritual purpose, for example, when you fast…
So let’s say you’ve decided to fast. What’s the wrong way? The wrong way to fast is similar to the wrong way to pray and to give. We should not give, pray or fast in order to call attention to ourselves. This is what many were doing in the first century. As a matter of fact, when they fasted they would assume a gloomy, depressing face, neglect their appearance, dab on a little dirt and few ashes, and muss up their hair and beard. Some even stooped to using makeup to look sickly and pale so as to appear to others they were suffering a tremendous burden for the sake of their godliness. Some would even time their fast to coincide with the busy market days a couple of times a week so they could maximize their “airtime.”
Jesus said, “Don’t do that!” He again reminds His followers that it’s not the appearance that counts, it’s the heart. We may appear saintly on the exterior while hiding self-righteousness and hideous pride. Jesus said those who stoop to theatrics in order to be noticed by others have already received their reward. They’ve been seen. That’s it. They’re getting nothing from God. All they got was what they wanted – to be noticed by others.
So how do we do it if choose to fast? For starters, don’t brag about it and don’t publicize it. But we should also be careful not to lie about it. Remember, it’s the heart motive that God sees. Let’s say you’ve chosen to fast this Thursday. Everything’s going great until a friend invites you to lunch. What do you do? You could go the hypocritical route and respectfully decline in a mournful tone saying that you would love to go because you’re so hungry, but cannot because you are “faaaaasting.” Or you could flat-out lie about it and say that you’re not hungry. But what if they press you as to your reason for hurting their feelings for not wanting to eat with them? In this case simple honesty may save the day without compromising your motives.
There’s no need to attend a conference on fasting where you would go out for a few hours to fast and pray and end up going out that evening to the nearest “all you can eat” buffet. That would defeat the purpose wouldn’t it?
So think about it. With proper precautions, fasting is good for you. Both spiritually and physically. It can assist you in focusing an extended period of time on God and can also provide a healthy dose of self-discipline. I have found that fasting can serve to help me reprioritize my life and allows the petty annoyances and troubles to fade into the background. When you do fast, take Jesus’ advice. When you think you’re beginning to look a little glum, go wash your face and spruce up a bit. After all, you’re doing it for God, not for others to notice.
Just wondering, have you ever fasted? If so, what benefits have you experienced? Please leave your comments below.
Have a Great Day!
“Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.” – Matthew 5:7
So what’s the big deal about mercy? It probably wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that we all need it. For our definition, mercy is simply concern for people in need. The word for mercy that Jesus used means “not simply possessed of pity but actively compassionate.” We are all at times moved by pity at needs of others. But the question is, “what do we do about it?” Jesus is not saying that we should pity everyone. What He is saying is that if we see someone in need, we should be moved by compassion and do something about it.
The times in which Jesus lived were not known for mercy. The Jewish religionists in His day were not particularly inclined to show mercy. Why not? Well, compassion is not characteristic of those who are proud, self-righteous and judgmental. I’ve heard it said that mercy is God’s ministry to the miserable. It is not merely feeling bad for someone in dire straights; it means identifying with those who are hurting and imagining the pain they are having to endure, then doing something about it.
As I think about mercy and compassion, the best example that comes to mind is the actions of the Good Samaritan, the traveler who stopped to help a man who had been mugged, beaten, and left by the side of the road to die. At least two religious leaders walked past the injured man. Maybe they were preoccupied with reviewing their memory verses or going over their impressive “to-do” lists for the day. The fact is they did not stop to help their fellow man in need. Then along came the Samaritan. As he passed by, he put himself in the injured man’s place. The question probably popped into his mind, “What if that were me and somebody else was standing where I am. What would I want them to do?” He decided to take time and cleaned the man’s wounds. He even loaded the man on his donkey and carried him to the nearest inn for the night. Before leaving him he asked the innkeeper to “put it on his tab.”
Mercy is not simply some feeling of sympathy or sadness over somebody in trouble. It’s more than that. It’s getting inside other people’s skin, imagining yourself in their shoes (and whatever other metaphor you can think of), feeling what they feel, understanding theirmisery and then helping them through it.
And just in case the Good Samaritan’s story doesn’t grab you and move you to action, here are a couple more entreaties from God:
“If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” – James 2:15-17
“But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” – 1 John 3:17
Can I share a secret with you? I’m not naturally compassionate. That’s right. I don’t feel pain for other people automatically. Except for those I love and care for close to me, I’m usually oblivious to the needs and pains of others. But lately, it’s as if God has been punching me in the side and makingme feel the pain of others and imagining, “What if it were me?”
So where do we begin? Begin with what you see. There are plenty hurting people around us. There are plenty of hurting people around the world. There are injustices just about everywhere we look. For example, there are a billion people that live on $1.00 or less per day. There are 26,000 children who die of starvation and preventable diseases every day around the world. To put that in perspective, it would be like every elementary age child in Calcasieu, Beauregard, Allen, and Jefferson Davis parish would be dead tomorrow. The same thing would happen the day after, and the day after that, and so on. There are other injustices that are occurring every day that if you heard about it, it would make your blood boil you would be so angry.
So what? You may not be able to change the world, but you can change someone’sworld. There are many options for you to get involved today. It could be volunteering at the local women’s shelter. It might be giving some of your time or resources to one of our crisis pregnancy centers. Maybe it’s foster care or adoption. It might be sponsoring a child in a third-world country. It may not be much, but it will matter for someone.
Here are some possibilities to get you started:
These are just ideas to get you started. The important thing is not what or who, but when and how. Compassion is not simply a feeling. It should move us to action.
What are some ways you are making a difference for those in need? Help us with what God has shown you. Please leave your ideas in the comments below.
Have a Great Day!