Tag Archives: Sermon on the Mount

Keep it Simple

What’s the most important rule in the Constitution?  What is the most important amendment?  What’s the most important law in the I.R.S. code?  How about the laws in your state: what one is the most important?  Or your city?  Those questions are almost impossibly tough to answer because there are so many laws and the issue of which is most important may seem like it depends upon who is asking and answering.  Supreme Court justices would probably have a hard time answering quickly or definitively.

And yet, when someone asked Jesus what is the greatest commandment in the whole Old Testament, He was ready with a specific answer, an answer that is profound in its simplicity.  It’s an answer that still “works.”

Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Jesus pulled out two separate laws, one from Leviticus and one from Deuteronomy.  The first one is pretty prominent and was commonly memorized.  But the other one, about loving your neighbor, is included in a list of miscellaneous commands.  But by singling out these two commands, Jesus captured the essence of what God wants for us – a deep love for God, a genuine love for the other guy.  One law focuses our attention in a vertical direction.  The other is applied horizontally.  Like the shape of the cross…

Maybe you have been puzzled by all the “thou shalts” and “begats” of the Bible.  Maybe you have wondered if this ancient book can possibly apply in this age of smartphones, 3D printers and drones.  Maybe you have tried to live by the 10 commandments or the Sermon on the Mount and have given up in discouragement.  If that’s you, then try this: live by just those 2 commands, applying them to your life, your thoughts and attitudes, according to your own level of understanding.

You will be surprised. Pleasantly.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Directly From God

What’s the deal with all those yellow books in a lawyer’s office?  Those collections of “case law,” decisions and precedents established by judges over many years, carry a lot of weight in how a new case gets decided.  A lawyer refers to those precedents to back up his case in a trial.  That is how the Bible was taught in Jesus’  day.  A priest or teacher might have said, “A long time ago, Rabbi So and So gave this passage this particular interpretation and so I tell you, based on Rabbi So and So’s reputation as a wise man, this is what it means today.”

But not Jesus.   Over and over again, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said…   But I tell you…”  It is hard for us to hear how blasphemous or heretical such a simple phrase sounded in those days.

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. “ (Matthew 7:28-29)

In effect, Jesus said, “All these opinions about what the Scripture means, all this human tradition you’ve been hearing, is misguided and weakened by ignorance.  I speak directly for God!

He still does.

That’s why the Sermon on the Mount retains its power after 2000 years.  It comes to us directly from God.  These words still challenge us, trouble us and  shake us up.  They also give us hope in the midst of life’s chaos and our own weakness.

Listen to Jesus’ teaching.  Be amazed!   Be humbled.  Be drawn to Jesus.

Ready or Not

The waters of the North and South St. Vrain are rising again.  So are the fears of the folks in Lyons, Colorado.  Last September, after 18″ of rain, those two rivers ripped through town and left little behind except twisted, mud-soaked wreckage.  The River Church building clung tenaciously to its foundations, against a 6′ surging torrent, until a telephone pole swept down and knocked the corner of its foundation out from under it.  By God’s grace, most of the rest of the building hung on.  By God’s miraculous grace, scores of volunteers from around the country have reconditioned and restored that building from the foundation up (see more below).  But now the heavy snows in the Rockies are melting.  The St. Vrain is rising.  If you are praying for rain, please be specific about where you need it!

Jesus said life on this planet would resemble the Lyons flood.  But He also gave us words to survive by – the Sermon on the Mount.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

Live by the Sermon on the Mount and you will survive the pounding floods of life.  Easier said than done.  Living with an awareness of spiritual bankruptcy, hungering for righteousness, being salt and light in the world, loving your enemies, never thinking about sex outside of marriage, avoiding the pull of materialism, …  putting the words of Jesus into practice seems impossible.  It’s like saying to a caterpillar, “Just become a butterfly and you will be able to survive life’s troubles.”

Don’t despair or quit.  Just as there is a way for a caterpillar to become a butterfly, there is a way for you and me to begin to live by the words of Jesus.  They both involve a complete transformation, from the inside out.  We cannot make it happen or pay to have it done.  The charges have already been fully paid at the Cross.  Our only part is surrendering to Jesus, confessing our bankruptcy and inability, asking for and accepting His forgiveness, and then trusting His Spirit to begin the transformation.  Our part is to humbly call out to Him for rescue.  As Jesus begins the work of transformation, your life will begin to conform to His words.  I wonder if caterpillars feel amazed to look down one day and discover they are flying.  If so, they must feel like people who trust Jesus and discover the new birth and growing influence of His Spirit in their souls.

One last note:  Jesus didn’t say that if we follow Him there would be no floods, only that we would stand.  You may not live near the St. Vrain, but know this:  the water is rising.

PS – You can see pictures and find more about The River Church here.

What’s Enough?

There’s a surefire way to get backstage at a concert: know somebody and get a backstage pass. No pass? No backstage. Don’t know anyone? No pass. When I was in the sound business, I routinely saw people plead with the security guard, trying to get backstage. They always had a story. “We were in a band together in high school; I know he wants to see me…” But the stories never worked. The only thing that worked was a pass, given to those who knew someone. I think about those desperate pleas whenever I read these sobering words of Jesus:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” (Matthew 7:21-23)

It’s not enough to call Jesus Lord. It’s not enough to do miraculous things in Jesus’ Name, or to preach in a bold and prophetic tone of voice. The only thing that is enough Jesus said, is to “do the will of My Father in Heaven.”  Say what? Does Jesus mean only those who always do the will of God?   If not, then what does He mean by,  “…only he who does the will of God?”  Jesus gives a strong hint when He says, “I never knew you.”

The word, know, in Scripture frequently refers to a close, intimate and personal relationship. “Knowing” Jesus is more than knowing Who He is. It is more than wearing a Jesus T-shirt, or publicly claiming to be a Christian.  It has nothing to do with my doing amazing things for Jesus.  Knowing Jesus means entering into a close, personal relationship with the the Son of God. Because of Who He is, such a relationship begins with reverent humility and transparency.  In the words of the hymn, I come to Him “Just as I am, without one plea…”  Knowing Jesus includes a willingness for Jesus to know me.  Nothing about me is off limits in our relationship.

And that relationship, that knowing and being known by Jesus, is God’s will. And that – only that – is enough.

Don’t Trust the Herd

Just when I began to lose hope, I heard people have had enough of Lady Gaga.  Of course, soon enough, the thundering herd will head off over a different cliff.  There is no accounting for how powerful and unpredictable groupthink is.  Fads of pop culture are relatively harmless.  More serious is what happens when people cluster around social and political ideas without thinking.  How did Hitler get to be so powerful?  How did Rob Ford get elected?  How does extreme political correctness get imposed?  Groupthink about how to make money gave us the tech bubble and the housing crash.  People who broke away from the pack and followed their own ideas did better during those tough days.

As a rule of thumb, when everybody agrees about something, watch out!  Think to yourself, “Can all those people really be right?”  Jesus said:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.  (Matthew 7:13-14

Jesus was talking about how to find life, real life.  He said, when it comes to life, the thundering herd has it wrong.  It’s not happiness or money or a better job and house.  It’s not thrills or music or fame or intoxication or even great achievement in your career.  Those paths are packed hard with countless footprints of those who thought they would find life and were disappointed.  Those gates resemble the bent and trampled doors of a city Walmart on Black Friday.  But the herd is wrong.

So how do we find the “narrow gate?”  Don’t get the wrong idea: the “narrow gate” is not for the “narrow minded.”  Narrow mindedness is another form of groupthink.  That herd is wrong, too.  The narrow gate Jesus referred to “leads to life” – abundant, full, rich and satisfying life.  And He showed us how to find it:

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.  (John 10:9)

In a Nutshell

How many words would you need to summarize the Old Testament?  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus… Moses, the Ten Commandments, The Exodus, King David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah – the whole thing: how would you boil it down and how many words would you need?  Jesus needed 14 words. He said:

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.  (Matthew 7:12)

Elegant.  Golden.

Just Ask

There is a gas station (It’s the Adams 66) in Council Grove, Kansas where the owner runs out to fill your tank, wash your windshield and polish your mirrors.   Remember that?  I’ve become so accustomed to waiting in line inside a “convenience” store while a surly dropout finishes talking on the cell phone that this guy was a shock.  As I stood there, baffled by this flash from the past, he asked, “Anything else you need?  Check your oil? Tires okay?  Just ask…”

You think that’s amazing, check this out.  The Creator of the universe has said, “Just ask…”

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

It’s not that God is a genie in a bottle or a cosmic ATM.  It’s that God invites us to engage with Him in a relationship.  He invites us to ask.  He encourages us to seek and knock.  All these actions initiate a new experience in a relationship.  It’s the relationship Adam and Eve had before they hid from God in shame.  It’s the way God intended life to be.

Maybe you are reading this and thinking, “I’m not so sure there even is a God.”  I’ve been there, hiding behind a wall of suspicion, for fear of being fooled.  That is, until one day I asked and God responded.  That was an astonishing and life changing moment for me.  God knows it’s tough for us to engage with Someone we cannot see.  He knows it feels safer for us to only trust in ourselves.  That’s whats so cool about His invitation – ask, seek, knock.  You do that, He says, and you will have the door opened to an amazing, interactive, personal relationship.

Questions?  Just ask…

Beware of the Dog

According to Jesus, some folks act like dogs and pigs.  He said, give ’em a wide berth:

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.  (Matthew 7:6)

Maybe that doesn’t sound like Jesus to you.  What does He mean?  The first principle in figuring that out is to ask, what has He been talking about?  What is the context of what He said?  In this case, Jesus had just taught us not to condemn others (Matthew 7:1-2) but rather, to approach them to help with compassion and humility, fully aware of our own faults (Matthew 7:3-5).  If this is a continuation of that topic, then He means, realize that there are some people who are not ready or able to receive your help.  Trying to help those people may truly make it worse.

The dogs of Jesus’ day were not domesticated; they were wild and dangerous.  Pigs, too – and they were also considered unclean for the observant Jew.  We’ve all encountered people who, at least for the moment, were acting like dogs and pigs.  The best and most compassionate help, as valuable as it may otherwise be, will have no value to a person in that condition.  Don’t try to force it on him.

When Jesus refers to something sacred or holy, it is important to recognize that things we do in obedience to Him are sacred and holy.  Water to the thirsty, clothes for the needy – these are sacred acts when motivated by an appreciation for Jesus’ teachings about reality and about God.  So too, would be a genuinely compassionate and humble attempt to help someone stuck in destructive behavior.  So too, would be an attempt to explain the amazing truth about Jesus and the wonderful life that awaits those who comprehend it.  But, as sacred as they are, those acts only have value – they only really help – if they are received by the person to whom they are offered.  When that person reacts with hostility and anger, it is time to back off, for your own well being and to preserve the value and effectiveness of what has been offered.  There may be a better time.

As I write, I recall in my own life, the many times I acted as a wild dog and an irreverent pig.  Those who tried to shove “help” down my throat were angrily turned away.  I also humbly recall that God did not give up on me.

Eye Test

Bill O’Reilly really makes me mad because he interrupts so much.  I get so frustrated with people that constantly interrupt – people like me.   The things things that bug me most in other people tend to be the things I don’t like about myself.  You too?  Perhaps that’s because our own struggles make us more sensitive to these same faults in others.  Plus, it is way more fun to correct those faults in others than to address them in ourselves, right?   It’s human nature.  That’s why Jesus said:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  (Matthew 7:3-5)

Jesus didn’t say we should pretend not to see our brother’s faults.  He told us how to prepare so we are able to help “remove the speck from our brother’s eye.”  Such help begins with an honest assessment of our own similar faults.  “Seeing clearly” includes humility and compassion, attitudes that flow from honesty about our own struggles.  Most people resent criticism from on high but respond well to someone who comes alongside with understanding and encouragement.

Not to Worry

Terry Bolter escaped from the Gestapo by jumping across 6 feet of space to the roof of the adjacent building and then dropping down through a skylight.  He was a British WWII pilot, downed behind Nazi lines, who eventually made it back.  His journey ( It’s a hair raising tale; I’ll include the link below) was made possible by following guides from the Belgian resistance.  Throughout this perilous escape, Terry was constantly faced with a choice: worry or trust.  Worry would have paralyzed him.  Putting aside worry and trusting his guide gave him the ability to make it through each day’s dangerous obstacles.  Jesus taught the same principle in the Sermon on the Mount: Don’t worry; Trust.  He said:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  (Matthew 6:25-34)

Worry, stressing over having enough food, clothing or money, can prevent us from entering into life – real life.  Instead of worrying, Jesus said, trust Him and follow His guidance.  Bobby McFerrin had it wrong when he sang “Don’t Worry; Be Happy,” which is a potentially dangerous exercise in wishful thinking.  Jesus said, “Don’t worry; trust God and follow Me, your guide.”  There is a big difference.

So, what did Jesus, our guide, tell us to do?  “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.”  He didn’t say, “Clean up your act and do righteous things.”  He said, “Seek God’s righteousness, given to those who respond to Him as their King.”  It’s not the self-righteous who enter the kingdom of God, but rather, Jesus taught, it is the “poor in spirit,” who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:3&6).  In other words, it is those who know they cannot make it on their own, those who are ready to trust Him to guide them (“blessed are the meek” – Matthew 5:5).  Terry Bolter couldn’t rescue himself.  He was trapped in a building with the Gestapo hammering on the door.  His only hope for safety was to put aside worry and trust his guide.  That’s the situation we are in.  Jesus says, “Don’t worry; follow me, seeking God’s Kingdom and righteousness.”

Here’s the link to the rest of Terry’s story:  click here