READING THE RED WORDS: Matthew Chapters 3 – 7 NLT

Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?” But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him.
Matthew 3:13‭-‬15 NLT

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’” Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’ Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.” “Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’ Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus.
Matthew 4:1‭-‬11 NLT

From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near. One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people! And they left their nets at once and followed him.
Matthew 4:17‭-‬20 NLT

One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them. “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied. God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy. God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God. God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way. “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven! “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. “When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison. And if that happens, you surely won’t be free again until you have paid the last penny. “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. “You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’ But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery. “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one. “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow. “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Matthew 5:1‭-‬48 NLT

Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. “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 6:1‭-‬34 NLT

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. “Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you. “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him. “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it. “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash. When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law.
Matthew 7:1‭-‬29 NLT

Loving our Wives

I’ve “messed up big” with my wife a few times recently and caused her hurt feelings by my carelessness or thoughtless words and actions. And proving the words “I didn’t mean to” in a court of law might free a man from any “criminal intent”, but it wouldn’t excuse anyone from negligence and liability. So I can’t excuse myself from applying healing balm to her wound just because I didn’t “intend” to do harm.

Even someone who cares very little about God can understand the pragmatism in serving and loving our spouses well. Even when I was living far from God, I knew the practical rule “you don’t sh#& where you eat” to help reduce and manage the collateral damage that might come from bad decisions, unhealthy influences, and unchecked desires — let alone carelessness.

But for the children of God, there are implications that reach deep into the spiritual realm that we might not know if they are not taught to us and we aren’t reminded of them regularly. I need to be reminded regularly to love my wife exceptionally like Christ loved the church — not because I don’t love her at all, and not because I don’t love her well, but because I have not yet perfected my love for her — and that is the direction that I must continue traveling.

My friend, Brian Eshleman, shares regularly through his own blog ( https://brianesh73.livejournal.com/ ), and we keep in touch with each other for discussion, encouragement, accountability, prayer and spiritual/Biblical discussion. He recently shared 1 Peter 3:7 with me and how it specifically convicted him.

In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered.
1 Peter 3:7 NLT

He commented on the verb “hindered” and emphasized:

“This is dramatic, even violent. Our prayers are cut down, uprooted, rejected before we get started, may be the equivalent of a shot blocked in basketball. Yikes.”

And I was immediately reminded of my own blog from 5 years ago: https://hballinger.com/2017/11/28/undeserved-treasure/

I quickly admitted “I would be served best by remembering it more than every 5 years, I think?”

We continued in our discussion as we encouraged each other towards repentance in our back and forth text messages, and I read down 3 more verses in 1 Peter 3:10 to find another hidden treasure:

For the Scriptures say, “If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies.
1 Peter 3:10 NLT

Before ending my day and heading to bed, I replied:

I wonder how often this week my tongue has spoken evil of my wife and my lips may have spoken lies — based on my own assumptions about “what she meant” or what was “behind what she said” — rather than like verse 11 tells me to “search for peace, and seek to maintain it”. To realize that not only does He turn his face away from these evils that I’ve committed, but that it is genuinely the source of why I’m missing out on the “enjoy life, and see many happy days” that are the “if you want to” of verse 10.

After apologizing yet again to my wife for my carelessness, I fell asleep.

I woke up this morning, not to a wife still hurt and mending her wounds, taking a self- defensive stance, holding onto bitterness, or withholding her love — but she was as refreshing as the morning sun and as the sound of the birds announcing a new morning. Her kiss on my forehead woke me to a brand new day of God’s mercies and grace.

So I had to immediately reach out to Brian, (in my own mind like some messenger with beautiful feet trodding over the mountaintops to bring good news) that God’s promises are proven true yet again!

I’m glad that His mercies are new every morning, and that the Holy Spirit that guides and teaches my wife (much better than I might try to teach her myself) has her arising not in the bitterness that I might deserve, but in mercy and grace and invitation.

I apologize for the complexity of this letter, my friends. Because you may read through this quickly, and see a man bragging on his own repentance — or bragging on his friendship — or bragging on his wife — or bragging on his God. And while honor should be given to these things, none of those things existed for me in an honorable way until I truly met Jesus one-on-one and personally.

My point is that God the Father in heaven, by way of Jesus the perfect Lamb of God, offers you and I the gift of the Holy Spirit to make the impossible not just “possible” — but “guaranteed” by His promises.

Thank you Lord for giving me an honorable wife worthy of my praise and appreciation and honor. In contrast to warnings about making idols and giving honor to things that are not worthy of honor, you don’t just encourage us to honor our wives, you DEMAND it. Thank you for disciplining us gently in this area of our lives when we fall short and convicting us to not remain satisfied in our disobedience. Help us to be a blessing and to enjoy your blessing daily and even moment to moment. Amen.

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

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 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.

https://youtu.be/mUOfg-a616o

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.