QT. 4/26/13

 

Matthew 5

The poor and humble have always been indiscriminate of the help they receive. A man down to his last meal will savor the crumbs that fall of the rich man’s table. A man severely parched in a desert cries in desperation “dip the tip of your finger in water and cool my tongue”. Hardly ever does a poor man turn away the helping hand he is offered. In spite of his age, gender, or status, a poor man looks to the helping hand as capable of saving him from his present torment, caring very little if at all, whether the hand be that of a child, a woman, or even an animal. The only hand that can be of no use to him is that of another poor hand in an identical situation as him. The blind cannot be of help to the blind.

In contrast, a rich man is often highly selective of the help he receives. Indeed, he unwillingly accepts help even in the event that all his resources fail him. Naaman the Syrian leper, with all his wealth, clout and influence, grudgingly dips himself in the Jordan. The rich take delight in refusing help and in being able to exclaim, “by my own strength I have saved me”! It’s always been a fact that the poor have always been receptive of the Gospel. The countries where Christianity dominates are the countries whose citizens are poor. The rich have no need, or think they have no need, of the nail-pierced-hand that reaches out to them. “And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God”.

In Matthew 5, Jesus begins his teaching ministry with the classic Beatitudes. In the Beatitudes he describes eight traits of one kind of person who is able to enter the kingdom of God. In brief, verse 3 sums up that kind of person. “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. To understand why the poor have been able to enter God’s kingdom, and the rich unable, we must explore what it means to be poor. To be poor is to be in lack of something. We can say of a person, “he is poor in health”, “poor in finances”, “poor in looks”. What we mean is that the person either lacks health, money, or good looks. Such a person is in a state of desperation, and would accept any doctor — qualified or unqualified; accept whatever change one is willing to spare; accept whoever finds them attractive. On the other hand, the rich are in a state of self-sufficiency. He can provide for himself the best doctors; he is no need of your coins; he dates only the most attractive. In other words, he is his own savior. The unfortunate thing is that, as men, whether rich or poor, we are all in a desperate, critical spiritual state. Sin is eating away at our spiritual health. We have all sinned and cannot by own efforts attain God’s acceptance. The PRESENCE of earthly riches, whether it be in money, health or looks, disillusions one to the reality of his true poverty — that he or she is a sinner in need of God’s free grace. The ABSENCE of earthly riches, whether it be in money, health, or looks, causes one to begin to see for the first time that the true problem is “I am a sinner in need of a Savior’! This discovery doesn’t come by easily. It requires us to reach a point where we see our “spiritual poverty”. Then in that desperation, we will cry out for a hand to save us. In that desperation, we will look to the nail-pierced-hands and see that, it is the only hand that can save us. For as I said previously, the only hand that is useless to a poor man is that of another hand in the same poor state. We cannot look to the hand of another man to save us for all men are equally spiritually impoverished. All men are sinners. There are no hands clean, except those of the nail-pierced-hands. It is His hand alone that can save us from our torment. It is they who recognize that “I am poor in spirit” that can for the first time begin to make strides into the kingdom of God!

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QT. 4/25/13

Matthew 4

There are very few weapons more powerful than a lie. Our society shivers in fear of the abundance of weapons like guns and the ease with which explosives can be crafted. We blame these weapons as the cause for the tragedies we hear about on the news. We apprehensively call out for our lawmakers to pass stricter laws to control and make access to these weapons more difficult. But I submit to you that even these destructive man made weapons pale in comparison to the powerful weapon of a lie. I will venture even to modify my thesis and say that in truth, the tragedy of an Aurora, or of a Newton were all fruits borne out of the seed of a lie.

Lies are seeds sown, which go on to produce fruits like anger, fear, hatred, rage, and the like. The abundant seeds of lies have been spread about on the fertile acreage of our society, taken root at its heart, producing far greater tragedies than any one individual marching into a crowded theater with lots of ammunition can ever cause. Each day we are fed on solid lies. Lies of beauty cause many a naïve girl to take on unhealthy diets or to take great pains to look like a computer generated image which cannot be realistically attained. Lies of riches and a luxurious life send many young males in search of “quick paper”, selling drugs, stealing, killing if necessary. These are tragedies that take place on a day to day basis. These are tragedies whose cumulative effects result in the ones that make the headline news.

Think for a second about yourself. Think about the lies you have believed as truth. Perhaps it might be a lie like “I am not attractive”. Think about the powerful effect of such a lie. Think of the relationships you might have failed to initiate because this lie made you feel unworthy. Perhaps it might be a lie like “I am not intelligent”. Think of the education such a lie robbed you of, and consequently the position of poverty it has placed you in. Lies take root in our minds, and if not uprooted, are so powerful that they can control our entire lives, causing us to live in a constant state of fear, robbing us daily of a life of peace and joy.

Lies are in essence to be in the “dark about the truth”. Lies prevail only if the truth is not known. We are told in John 8:44 that lies are the “native language” of Satan, and that “he is the father of lies”. In 2 Corinthians 4:4 we are told that Satan, “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God”. Among many of the titles given to the devil, one of the chief and most powerful ones is “the deceiver”. In Matthew 4:1-11, we get the account of Jesus being tempted by Satan after his forty day fast. Satan comes to Jesus and recognizes he needs powerful lies. All powerful lies are grounded in some truth. Satan thus misquotes scripture in an attempt to deceive Jesus. Yet with each temptation, and each deception, Jesus responds with the words “It is written”. I said previously that lies are in essence to be in the “dark”, to be ignorant, blinded, not capable of seeing what is true. The Psalmist says in Psalm 119:105 that “thy word is a light unto my feet and a lamp unto my path”. The truth of the word of God erodes the darkness of lies. The word of God causes us to see things as they “truly” are. It causes the girl deceived that she isn’t beautiful to see that “I am fearfully and wonderfully” made. Each lie fed by the god of this world can be overcome and countered with the phrase “it is written”. In order to be able to say “it is written”, we must daily reject the lies the world feeds us, and rather feed our hearts and minds with the “truth of God’s word”.

QT. 4/24/13

Matthew 3

The  deferral of credit to others is a sign of humility and an awareness of the truth that much of what we are capable of doing is not solely a function of our own efforts. A perfect illustration of this I heard last night, is during a press conference when an athlete who played a major role in a team’s victory is questioned by members of the press on how he managed to get the win. The wise athletes recognize the trap immediately. To take all the credit is to put oneself center page on the morrow’s paper with a headline painting one as proud and arrogant. Rather they are prone to say things like “I couldn’t do it without the other guys”. “If it wasn’t for the coach drawing up plays, or the trainers that kept us in top shape”. Whether the athlete is sincere or not is not the concern at the moment. As Jim Rohn once said, “we must weigh sincerity on sincerity scales, and weigh truth on truth scales”.  So in taking the words of the athlete alone apart from whether they sincerely meant what they said, and weighing the words so to speak on truth scales, it turns out indeed to be truth! It turns out that without the lineman to protect him or the wide receivers to catch the ball, the quarterback couldn’t win a game on his own.

People have always admired and respected the person willing to defer credit. In contrast, people have always been put off by the one who basks in and takes all the glory.  It is a curious thing that we often make the mistake of not deferring glory to God, but rather take credit for ourselves. We often put our accomplishments, talents, and abilities to ourselves. In Isaiah 42:8 God says “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else, nor share my praise with carved idols”. “Cosmic plagiarism” is a unique term I once came across listening to a sermon by Timothy Keller. Plagiarism in a strict sense is taking credit for another’s work. Cosmic plagiarism is taking credit for God’s work. God says in Jeremiah 1:5 “I knew you before I FORMED you in your mother’s womb”. All our graceful talents, our charming personalities, our cheerful dispositions, our good looks, all that which makes up who we are was formed by God. This is why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:10 “by the grace of God I am what I am”. Yet still we continue to commit the crime of “cosmic plagiarism”. We often steal God’s glory, taking credit for our ability to awe an audience with a song, or dazzle others with graceful fingers on the keys of a piano; forgetting the basic truth that who we are and what we can do was not a result of anything we did, but was all a result of what God has done.

In Matthew 3, we see John deferring glory to Jesus. John says in Matthew 14 “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” Jesus deflects the glory in return saying “suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness”.  When we read the New Testament we see several instances of Jesus deferring glory to God. He says in John 5:19 “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does”. A few verses later, he puts it yet another way in John 5:30 “by myself I can do nothing”. Let us get one thing straight. God does not want us to defer glory to Him as though He craves to always be in the spotlight. He wants us to defer glory to Him in order to point others to the only One who can save them and who can meet their deepest needs. “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven”.