Awe and Wonder

A dear friend, Bryan Keaton, was recently sharing some of his own awe and wonder over the sermon on the mount.

Bryan Keaton’s Awe and Wonder at Matthew 5
My Awe and Wonder at Matthew 5

The verse we are both talking about is:

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:48 ESV

I have seen this verse speak in so many different ways, depending on which specific word convicts us. He mentions how the word “therefore” hit him last night and sprung up praise in his heart that he shared with me. Then, I read his awe and wonder, which sprung up additional awe and wonder from me over the word “be” and what importance that holds as well.

I have also had times in my life where I needed to repent of sin or complacency and the Holy Spirit emphasized the word perfect/holy to me so that I might remember that we are to “be HOLY as He is HOLY”. We could read this sentence many times, placing emphasis on a different single word each time, and a different nuance of conviction, awe and wonder might come to light. The word “YOUR” might remind us that He isn’t just some “far away” heavenly Father and awesome Almighty God common to all of creation — but He is “mine”, He is personally close and individually mine.

Our awe and wonder over the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 together also reminds me of an interaction Jesus has with a Cannannite woman in Matthew 15.

And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Matthew 15:22‭-‬28 ESV

Thank you Lord, for your Word. Every single crumb is a delight. Thank you for giving your bread not just to the children, but even giving crumbs to the dogs. Amen.

Two Kinds of Treasures

What if there were two kinds of treasures?

What if there were short term treasures and long term treasures — but most people were only conciously aware of the short term treasures (because that’s what they were taught to chase)?

What if they fought over and chased and grumbled about not having as much of the short term treasures — while not realizing that the only way they ever got the short term treasures was when their enemies actually convinced them into trading away some of their more valuable treasures?

What if the whole way that our “enemies” marketed life to us was in convincing us that we need their short term treasures — and in selling us on the idea that they are better off because they have those things piled up?

But what if we were truly the rich ones, and they were truly poor, but they just learned how to try and convince us otherwise?

What if one of the greatest treasures was to be broke and not be able to help others or even help yourself —

So that you had to realize your complete dependence upon God —

And that even though everyone else is also still dependent upon God, you realize it and appreciate it, even while they don’t?

What if that was the greater blessing than a fat belly, a fat bank account, and a house full of expensive things that will eventually be worthless?

What if one of the greatest blessings was to lose someone truly dear to you so that you mourned and grieved strongly —

So that even while you questioned God in your pain from their absence from your life, you realized how amazing it was to have disturbed love so fully, and you had to genuinely thank Him for their part in your life —

And realize that God is able to comfort us in those hard times?

What if the greater blessing is to learn about love, the precious and unique nature of life itself, the value and unpredictable nature of time, and the faithfulness of God who holds it all in His hand?

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
Matthew 5:1‭-‬12 MSG


What if there were two kinds of treasures?

What if there were short term treasures and long term treasures — but most people were only conciously aware of the short term treasures (because that’s what they were taught to chase)?

What if they fought over and chased and grumbled about not having a much of the short term treasures — while not realizing that the only way they ever got the short term treasures was when their enemies actually convinced them into trading away some of their more valuable treasures?

What if the whole way that our “enemies” marketed life to us was in convincing us that we need their short term treasures — and in selling us on the idea that they are better off because they have those things piled up?

But what if we were truly the rich ones, and they were truly poor, but they just learned how to try and convince us otherwise?

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. “Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is! “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money. “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Matthew 6:19‭-‬34 NLT

Precepts, Essentials and a Return to the Source of Truth

I’m continuing along in video two of a series that my friend introduced me to:

Points of interest:

  • “The most important issue of life is the source of your ideas… Where did you get them from?” ~2:05
  • Religion/denomination is a “school of thought”.
  • “Faith” is not a religious word, “it simply means belief”. “Faith… simply means you believe what he said.”
  • “This seminar is not about information. It is about precepts.”
  • “The precept is more important than the law. If you know the precepts, it is easy to obey the law. Because the precepts precedes the law.”
  • “Precepts make you hate unrighteousness.”

At one point in the middle of the video, the topic shifted enough towards knowledge and gnosis, that I was paying attention to try and make sure that this didn’t head down the path of “esoteric knowledge”.

But I feel that the teaching focused enough on “Holy Spirit”, “discernment” and “source” rather than going toward any danger areas like us “attaining” for ourselves light/knowledge/ understanding/faith (which would have thrown up some red flags for me — see esoteric gnosticism).

So far, I’m really enjoying the videos. Please, feel free to add your comments and feedback.

Kingdom Ideology

A friend recently shared this video series with me, and I’m walking through watching them. So I’m not trying to specifically endorse or convince anyone to explicitly trust them, but I thought that I might share my thoughts and encircled you to share yours in the comments as well?

I’d like to watch through the whole series once to just get the basic concepts, and then watch back through each one again considering and contemplating each point in greater detail.

Two talking points that jumped out to me during my first time watching this were:

  • “There are no new ideas, there’s just a new generation bringing it back.”
  • “Ideas can be generational traded. That’s what we call tradition.”

Some self-examination questions that came to mind:

  • Are we drinking down a soup of tradition that is a mix of milk, bone, meat and poison that is sourced from someone else’s philosophy and theology that came from their own flawed ideology?
  • Or are we going back to God, the source of divine, original, instruction straight from the maker’s mind?

Pretty Lawns but Hard Soil

I saw a post recently on Facebook that showed a beautiful lawn with someone trying to dig into it with a piece of equipment. The picture simply said “pretty but hard soil”.  This statement struck me as something to be considered, because it stirred up in me comparisons between gardening and things of the heart. Sometimes things can look pretty on the surface, but get any deeper than surface level and there is no life.

I then wanted to better understand what “hard soil” really was, so Google search found me a great video on the subject, where I learned that hard, compacted soil “has no life in it”. Wow, if that doesn’t speak to matters of the heart, what does?

So it got me thinking about what “tilling” and adding gypsum (“the clay-breaker”) might look like from a spiritual standpoint. Maybe some heartfelt prayer and confessing ours sins to one another — revealing all of the “crap” in our lives and instead of stopping it over into a corner or just walking around the piles, we till that living material into the ground? And if our hearts have grown hard, we need to remember the chain-breaker that we have in the gospel of Christ Jesus and what He has done for us.

There is a trend catching on right now called “no mow lawns”. The idea is that instead of having sod lawns that only allow surface level growth that is regularly cut and manicured for the sake of uniform appearance — what if we had lawns that were healthy gardens, flowers and eco-systems that made for a healthier soil and reduced unnecessary consumption of resources and time for maintenance?

It isn’t a huge leap to draw parallels between a hard clay soil with expensive sod laid on top — to people who present a clean and manicured surface level mask to hide what is really underneath. It shouldn’t be surprising to realize that if we focus our efforts on “how we are seen”, we aren’t using that focus and effort to actually work on deeper matters of the heart.

There is always a new opportunity for us to till up our garden, and let all of the organic material get properly mixed in, and maybe even move towards a more healthy eco-system that is abounding in life and producing much fruit.

Work your garden—you’ll end up with plenty of food; play and party—you’ll end up with an empty plate.
Proverbs 28:19 MSG

“What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams. “Are you listening to this? Really listening?” The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?” He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward a welcome awakening. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again: Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing. Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing. The people are stupid! They stick their fingers in their ears so they won’t have to listen; They screw their eyes shut so they won’t have to look, so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face and let me heal them. “But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance. “Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road. “The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it. “The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it. “The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.” * * *

Matthew 13:3‭-‬23 MSG

Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. “The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer. “Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’ “Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ. “Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.
Matthew 23:1‭-‬12 MSG

BE so we can DO

Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.
1 Corinthians 16:13‭-‬14 NLT

The verbs here are:

Be. Stand. Be. Be. Do.

Passive. Active. Passive. Passive. Active.

Then the instructions:

On guard. Firm in the faith. Courageous. Strong. Everything with love.

So in our essence we are to BE  on guard, courageous, and strong. I matt be jumping ahead by saying this, but these are things that come from the holy spirit and not from ourselves. We aren’t to pretend or act guarded (as if we are guarded) but we are to BE on guard. We aren’t to put on a show for others and act courageous (as if we aren’t actually courageous) but we are to BE courageous.  We aren’t too make a vain effort to prove to others that we are strong (as if we aren’t actually strong) but we are to BE strong.

I’m sure that many of us are familiar with people trying to overcompensate in life in order to hide their shortcomings — and I’m sure if we are honest with ourselves, we can admit that we have been prone to do this ourselves as well. In unstable and unhealthy lives, what is put on display most prominently (portrayed as being courageous and strong) is actually the area of life where the mask hides and guards what is real underneath from being seen. This is NOT what this verse is talking about. It doesn’t say “strive to be seen as” or “be sure people think you are” or anything like that — it instructs with a passive verb “to be”. And if we “are” truly at our core those things, it is because God has made us so — and if we “are not” it is because God has made us so. If we need a change to our “being”, striving is just hiding — so we must rely on God to be the one acting to change these or we are just pretending, lying, and putting on a show.

We are called to activity — stand firm in our faith, and do everything in love. So when we stand — we do this in faith. When we wait (because there are no actions we can take that are living and that will help) — we do this in faith. And when we do (when we are active) — we do everything in love. If what we might do is not going to help and isn’t in love — we should stand, we should wait, firm in faith. But when there is a need, we should act, we should do — and every time and with every thing it should be in love.

If this seems like an impossibly tall place to set the bar for us to follow, it might be because you are looking at this as a law for us to measure up to — a way for us to act enough the part as to prove that we are worthy of being considered worthy. But this is completely the wrong perspective.

“BE”-ing proceeds ACTION. And “ACTING” is NOT the same as “BEING”.

This is The Way. It is not “of ourselves” that gains us the reward. It is the free gift of God that changes us at our very BEING and that will be revealed genuinely and transparently to the world — in our waiting in faith and acting in love.

And if we can’t take credit for ourselves, how much less can we judge and demand of others?

Lord, change our hearts. Do not let us put on a show of pretense in order to entertain or satisfy others — or in order to inflate our own egos. If we ARE NOT what we should be, humble us so that we might surrender those areas to your healing hands. If WE ARE what we should be — guide us by your holy spirit to wait when we should wait, pray what we should pray, say what we should say, and do what we should do — all in love. Amen.

Capture and Destroy

We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:5 NLT

Social media provides us with a wealth of opportunities where proud obstacles are keeping people from knowing God and where rebellious thoughts are contradicting obedience to Christ. Most of us do not have to look very far to find people ranting and complaining about things not going their way and only seeing what they believe is wrong, unfair and only harming them. Most of us don’t have to look very far to find people glamorizing and promoting things that are harmful, disobedient, unloving, selfish or disobedient.

What about our own influence — what are we pouring out in our household, in our workplace, in our social life?

But what are we doing to “destroy” such things?

You may have found that arguing against someone who immediately sees you as an enemy doesn’t destroy the proud obstacles, but it just inflates the pride and entrenches the obstacle, and creates more division between you and them. In most of these situations, you can’t just PREACH AT the proud obstacle — you usually can’t just judge the person’s faults and weaknesses and call them out in public like you’re the smart “fixer”. This is because you can’t destroy pride with pride — or just inflates.

We destroy proud obstacles with humility.

Teaching someone to obey Christ many times looks like — sharing our own weaknesses — giving testimony about how our belief in Christ and the cross impacts our perspective and life — and finding common ground to come alongside others as available for friendship.

Lord, open our eyes to see the tactics of the enemy so that we might avoid the traps for ourselves and also be equipped to help others. Teach us so that our life is full of testimony of your love, your grace, your holiness, the Cross, the Blood, the Word, and The Way. Amen.

Today is a Work Day

Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is [indeed] plentiful, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”
Matthew 9:37‭-‬38 AMP

Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, I’ve repeatedly existing businesses being impacted by staffing shortages. In each case, there is plenty of work that needs to be done, but positions remain open and unfilled. I’m not going to get into the political opinions behind “why” people think this is happening or “who” they have decided to blame for this situation. But I’m guessing that unless you’ve been holed up inside your house for the last 3 years, that you’ve probably noticed some type of impact to businesses around you where it seems they are at times short staffed and having a pretty rough time maintaining the quality and efficiency they would hope for. The work might still all get done with fewer workers, but it takes longer or the quality suffers, or the workers get burned out, etc. Clearly in those situations, things are not running in the midst optimal way.

A similar perspective can be appreciated when it comes to God’s Kingdom harvest. I don’t want to get mired up in whether your doctrine would have you looking at a set number of “elected” who will be harvested by fewer workers — or would have you considering the increased numbers of possibly unreached souls if workers aren’t fulfilling their call to evangelize. I will say that a healthy balance is to consider both perspectives with a healthy fear of God and sense of purpose — in order to not be complacent in our walk and in our calling.

There is work for you and I. There is no profit on our complaining or blaming whatever easy “they” we pick to point our fingers at — but there is a lot of value in our looking at our own life and being honest with ourselves about what we are doing as our part in the harvest.

What Kingdom work are we doing today?

We can’t remain satisfied living off of memories of the work we once did in the name of God, nor can we put off until tomorrow the work than can and should be done today.

Believer, are you a worker? Because the words Christian, believer, worker, and disciple should be one and the same! How can we say we believe, yet ignore the very things we say we believe in how we live and how we serve God?

Isn’t the worst heresy and most blasphemous thing that a “christian” could do be to say that the Holy Spirit of Almighty God lives within me — but prove to the world by our life’s testimony that we are dead, empty, complacent about God’s Word — that we are half as loving, and twice as wicked as they are themselves!

Lord, whatever we have to bring in the way of your Kingdom work today, don’t let us hide it away — but help us to be effective so that our work is multiplied for your glory and honor. Help us remember the joy in the working alongside you — the joy in a life lived in worship. You know the dangers and the traps we are prone to fall into when walking on our own, so lead us hand in hand today in what you have for us. And if we have grown complacent, stir us and wake us from our weariness and the hardness of our hearts. Heal us, prepare us, and use us — even as we repent, surrender, and step out in faith. Your grace is sufficient. Send us out to be your workers today, and every day until the harvest is complete. Amen.

The “Why” Matters

Today, as we drove home, I asked Mia, “There is no right or wrong answer to this, but I want to hear what you think. Why do you think that daddy goes to church?”

It’s a great question to ask when your child knows that they can be perfectly honest with no risk of consequences.

And in my case, her answer to my question let me know that I had not been making it clear why it is truly important to me.

If there is no “why” behind it that she can understand and make sense of, or if it is just “that’s what people do on Sundays around here”, or if it is just “that’s what my parents taught us to do”, or if it is anything less than the whole truth about what it truly means to me — how can I expect her to not set it aside like so many other habits and traditions when she moves out to make a life of her own.

I’m going to side track for a moment for clarification…

And don’t read me wrong here, I’m not looking to just indoctrinate her into blindly trusting men that put on a religious show in order to oppress and take advantage of others and grow fat and lazy off of the money of those they are supposedly serving. What I’m talking about is having a transparent and open conversation with my daughter about “why” it is important to me. There is no pressure or expectation that she must make the same type of decision in order to “be like me” or to “make me proud”, nor should SHE have to be responsible for quenching any FEARS OF MINE about her future or eternity. We’ve always made this clear to her.

Back to the topic at hand…

If I’m not sure that my answers about why I go to church are good enough — it isn’t that it isn’t good enough for her — because she doesn’t ask those types of detailed questions about “why” behind the restaurants or theme parks or other places that we go together. That answer definitely matters to me, though — shouldn’t it?

I shared with her my reason why, and explained that I don’t pressure her because I want her to eventually end up with her own reason, not just mimic what she sees me doing. And Mandee shared with her that she had her own reason too — and that for both of us, it was meeting with God and Him revealing to us how our old life was tempting us with bait and handing us costly consequences over and over again — and that we had been blind to it for so long but we now knew a new Way, a better Way.

Why does this matter?

When I was young, I went to church because that is what my grandparents and my parents did. I heard about scary hell, and heaven with streets of gold — but they also told me about the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus, and I saw them every day and knew they didn’t live perfect examples of Jesus Christ in front of me. So, when I left home, I completely abandoned their religious traditions and struck out on my own into a life of hard lessons.

So what am I doing?

I have talked with God about my little girl, and even a lot of you, my friends. Not because I think that yall need prayer more than me, or that I think that I’ve got it all right and yall have it all wrong. But because I’ve seen Him take someone like I’ve been and touch my life and change me — and I know He can sure do even more with you. I trust Him, I don’t have to manipulate my daughter. But I do need to be honest and up front with her (and with myself) about my personal “why”.

My point is… the “why” really matters.

Why was I where I was this morning?

Why was I not somewhere else instead?

Am I satisfied with my “why”?

Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.

1 Peter 3:15‭-‬16 NLT