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April 14, 2021

The Life of Faith 6:19 – 7:12
True Treasure vv. 19-21

The issue here is sustainability. As we live our lives we gather wealth, either earthly or heavenly. Earthly treasure is fraught with risk and always ends in total loss. Heavenly treasure, on the other hand, lasts forever. The case is not either/or but the tricky balancing act of both/and. Money is not the problem. It’s the love of it that is toxic. So how does one ¬†stick-handle through the stresses and temptations of early wealth? How to turn it to the advantage of heaven?

We’ll see in a moment that the key (v. 22) is “singleness” of vision. That is we’re to see all treasure on earth as expendable for the Kingdom of Heaven. “My money — Your money” won’t do. There should be no guilt, however, in ownership of things like clothing, food, and housing. But, if there is lack of contentment with these provisions, we flirt with covetousness, which is the only sin, other than pride, which is essentially spiritual. if our worldview sees all that we are, and all that we own, as the Lord’s, we are in synch with heaven. If, on the other hand, we see our possessions and wealth as our security, we are out of synch. Jesus would have us know that our ultimate, sustainable security is in the Lord. Our “stuff” merely is food for moths, rust, and thieves. The only thing we can take with us when we die is what we give away.

The Bible is strong on this. Far better to be “rich in good works” (1 Tim. 6:18), “rich in faith” (Ja. 2″5), and shareholders in the “unsearchable riches of Christ and his glory” (Ep. 3:8, 16), than to be rich in this world’s goods. “Laying up treasure in heaven” is the wise decision. It’s the only sustainable treasure. So if we’re going to “treasure our treasure” we had better treasure the heavenly.

How then does one lay up treasure in heaven? King Solomon gives us a starting point: “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward them for what they have done” (Pr. 19:17). Prioritize the poor, especially the orphan and the widow (Ps. 68:5). Compassion and care for the marginalized is a sure sign of the Spirit at work. It’s called “justice seeking”. And, in combination with “righteousness seeking”, it hits the sweet-spot of God’s Heart. “I am The Lord who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight” (Je. 9:24).

April 7, 2021

Alms, Prayer, & Fasting 6:1-18
Fasting vv. 16-18

There is only one fast declared in the Old Testament. On the Day of Atonement the Israelites were to fast (Le. 16:29, 31; 23:27-32; Nu. 29:7), meaning abstinence from food and drink for the twenty-four hour period from sunset to sunset. Later in Jewish history other fasts were added, mainly marking significant passages or disasters. This is why fasting expresses either/or grief and penitence.

Sometimes fasting was personal — a time of “afflicting the soul”, and often it indicated pious self-discipline (Pharisees fasted every Monday and Thursday). Fasting’s achilles heel, however, was public display.

This is what Jesus warns his disciples against. Just as was the case with almsgiving and prayer, Jesus saw both the value and the danger. Self-satisfaction, showing off, and phone contrition very easily trumped the essential spiritual quality of genuine fasting. Too easily we humans can yield to the “pride that apes humility”.

So, says Jesus, turn human display and look solely to heaven. Let God see your good work. Don’t give anyone else even a hint of what you’re up to. The Lord will “give back” (“reward”) to those who give to him. But don’t think for a minute that fasting guarantees a heavenly hearing. The Old Testament prophets made it very clear (See Is. 58:5-12) that fasting provided no smoke screen for unjust/unrighteous behavior.

March 31, 2021

Alms, Prayer, & Fasting 6:1-18

The Quid pro Quo of Forgiveness vv. 14 & 15

I’ve already referenced these verses commenting on v. 12. But to emphasize the point, take a look at Jesus’ hyperbolic parable of the unmerciful servant in ch. 18:23-35.

Here’s a guy who owes the king ten thousand (!!) bags of gold. The king wants to settle accounts, but his servant can’t repay. Under threat of being sold into slavery he throws himself on the king’s mercy and the king cancels the debt. Then, even as he’s leaving the king’s presence, he sees a fellow servant who owes him a mere hundred silver coins. He grabs him, chokes him, and demands payment. The fellow who has just been forgiven a humungous debt throws the poor wretch into debtors’ prison. The other servants report this incident to the king. And the king, in total outrage, sends the unmerciful fellow to prison and torture.

Jesus looks his audience in the eye and says, “This is how my Heavenly Father will treat each of your unless you forgive your brother and sister from your heart.” Whoa! Where do I sign?

March 24, 2021

Alms, Prayer, & Fasting 6:1-18

Temptation and The Evil One v. 13

Let’s be clear right off the top. God never entices us to do evil. Biblically and historically (until about the 17th century) “tempt” meant “test”. In the Old Testament scriptures we see God testing men and (a non-starter) men testing God. A test was meant to bring out the best (or reveal the evil if there was no best). The temptation Jesus was talking about was probably the enticement to deny God in response to persecution. If we were to paraphrase we might pray, “Lord, keep us from the rack.”

The nefarious designer/operator of the rack is none other than “the evil one”. Satan, the “adversary”, is hard at work “seeking to kill and destroy”. Jesus sees us as sheep fully vulnerable to the ravages of this predator. We need divine protection. Jesus says, “Pray for it.” Later, Jesus’ disciple John reminds us that sometimes we need protection from ourselves — “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 Jo. 2:16) are often quite capable of seeing us self-destruct. So one way or the other — form the outside or the inside — we are conscious of our weakness. In that critical self-awareness our soul cries for help. Only the divine sailor can keep our ship afloat in threatening seas.

March 17, 2021

Alms, Prayer, & Fasting 6:1-18

Forgiveness v. 12 (see also vv. 14 & 15) – Part 2

“As we forgive” is more accurately translated “as we have forgiven”. The assumption is that in invoking the forgiveness of God we’ve already swept our house clean in terms of any dustup we may have had our injustice suffered with our neighbour. Jesus won’t countenance any prayer for divine forgiveness on any other terms. Indeed in vv. 14&15 he says, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Unlike our Father in Heaven, we cannot forget sins agains us (see Is. 38:17; Mi. 7:19), but we can forgive. To forgive is an act of the will. So even while the memory of an injustice and/or a hurt remains, we can choose to forgive and move on. This is why Jesus, in 5:43, calls us to love our enemies. We can do so because love is volitional. If he had insisted that we “like” our enemies we’d all he miserable failures.

Essentially “forgive” means “to send away”. We ask the Lord to send away our missing the target, our step across the line, our slip, our lawlessness, our failure to pay the debt. He forgives because of his grace, our renewal is the product of undeserved favour. And he expects us in a “quid-pro-quo” manner to be graceful with our neighbours. This way our souls are healed.

March 10, 2021

Alms, Prayer, & Fasting 6:1-18

Forgiveness v. 12 (see also vv. 14 & 15) – Part 1

Our sinfulness is assumed in scripture, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Ro. 3:23). And as the apostle John put it, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jo. 1:18). But our sinfulness is not assumed in our twenty-first century secular culture. Indeed the word “sin” is rarely if ever used. “Mistake” maybe. But “sin”?

The thing about the word “sin” is that it implies (requires) accountability. This grates in our new millennial culture. We’re highly individualistic and independent. We “do our thing” — they “do theirs”. We stay out of each other’s hair, connect via social media, and get on with life. In our world accountability is tantamount to judgement. “Judge not that ye be not judged,” once a biblical value, has now become secularized.

So here is a short lesson on sin as it is defined by five exotic Greek words:

1. “Hamartia” means “missing the target” (at least you took aim!)
2. “Parabasis” means “stepping across the line” (on purpose or by accident)
3. “Paraptoma” means “slipping across” or “swept away”
4. “Anomia” means “lawlessness, breaking the law”
5. “Opheilema” means “failure to pay what is due, failure of duty” — This is the word used in Jesus’ prayer

The use of “opheilema” suggests that the translation “debts” is fairly accurate. And unpaid debt is seen as a “sin of omission”. Whereas “trespass” is seen as a “sin of commission”. In either case the sins are against God or neighbor, and we are accountable to both for our inaction or action. Our behavior always has a domino effect. As the old adage says, “No man is an island.”

March 3, 2021

Alms, Prayer, & Fasting 6:1-18

Our daily bread v.11

We’ve briefly looked at the first three of six petitions referencing God’s name, kingdom, and will. Now we’re going to look at our need for bread, forgiveness, and victory over evil. Daily bread comes first. If there is no bread there is no life.

I’m no Greek scholar (nor are you, probably), but with a little digging in a Greek lexicon or two one can come up with a pretty good idea of what “daily bread” referred to. First of all, bread and “physical provision” are relatively synonymous. Daily is a bit more elusive in that it could mean “sufficient bread” or “bread for sustenance”, but likely means “bread for this day and next”, enabling Christians to “be not anxious” about tomorrow. The Lord wants us to live free from worry when it comes to our physical needs.

This petition is a recognition of our vulnerability and dependency. It is not a passive request. Daily bread means daily labor — we’ve got to bend our backs. But we bend them dependent on God’s provision of life in the seed, fertility in the soil, and the faithful cycles of sun and rain. Without these we are food insecure, indeed we are in danger of death. So, as the lord incrementally metes out his provision, we declare “to God be the glory!”, and we seize the day.

February 24, 2021

Alms, Prayer, & Fasting 6:1-18

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” v. 10 (Part 2)

The Kingdom is where God’s “will” is done — “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. The omniscient Father who sees all, factors what he sees into his sovereign rule. This is why “God willing” (Deus Vult) has always been the heavenly qualifier for Christian choice. If we’re out of synch with heaven we’re out of synch with everlasting life.

It should be said the “Thy will be done” is a great safeguard against getting our own way. Why? Because we are self-absorbed. We want wealth, ease, recognition, and flawless health. One theologian suggests that, “if God were a devil, perhaps the most devilish torment he would plan for us would be to give us our own wish.” Often our prayers are an exercise in manipulation, “finessing” God to our will, which of course is tantamount to making God in our own image. Jesus, himself, in his most trying moment, prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but thine be done.” That sentence captures the essence of prayer. Our personal agenda must yield to that of our Maker. And whit is his agenda? “The Kingdom of God is…righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Ro. 14:17).

February 17, 2021

Alms, Prayer, & Fasting 6:1-18

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” v. 10 (Part 1)

Jesus couldn’t have been clearer in expressing there purpose of his ministry: “I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God…because that is why I was sent.” (Lk. 4:43). The “Kingdom” was everything.

In one sense this terminology was readily understood by his audience — they all expected a future “Day of the Lord” where Messiah would establish his kingdom and rule from his throne in Jerusalem. This was their “eschatological” hope.

But in another sense the Kingdom was an abstraction. It represented the rule of God in the eternal realm. As such it was (and is) beyond the reach of human comprehension. The only grip the people could make on it was philosophical. And, philosophy has its limits.

But time and again Jesus stressed the nearness of the Kingdom, even declaring that the Kingdom was “within” his disciples and “among” them, personified in himself (check out the scores of Kingdom references in a concordance, or on the internet). Yet, they didn’t get it. Even after his resurrection Jesus’ disciples were asking, “Lord, will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?” (Ac. 1:6).

Their nationalistic prejudice trumped their grasp of the vast kingdom horizon. The power and scope of culture very easily dims the eyes.

February 10, 2021

Alms, Prayer, & Fasting 6:1-18

Our Father in Heaven v. 9 (Part 3)

“Your name” is a subject all of itself. I’m tempted to write an essay here, but space won’t permit. Rather I’ll make a few summary observations.

In the biblical view there is nothing more holy on this space/time spaceship we call earth than the name of the “Holy one of Israel”. His name evokes his presence. So much so that Orthodox Jews to this day will not pronounce it. One cannot pronounce YHWH and live. So, when reading the Torah aloud in synagogue, YHWH is pronounced ADONAI, which means “Lord”. If, in everyday conversation one refers to the Lord, one employs HASHEM, which means “The Name”. Even in script one writes G-D rather than GOD. The Name is everything, and it is holy. Indeed, this is why Jerusalem is called “The Holy City”. God has placed his name — “The city that bears my Name” (Je. 25:29).

Language limits us. Our descriptive efforts are stigmatized due to our “dark glasses” (1 Co. 13:12). Here, in this prayer, Jesus hints at the mystery engaged by our words. The apostle John captures that mysterious adventure with the words, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 Jo. 4:10). Our hallowed Father has our backs. Blessed be his Name!

February 3, 2021

Alms, Prayer, & Fasting 6:1-18

Our Father in Heaven v. 9 (Part 2)

Jesus’ reference to God as Father would not have surprised his audience. In the Jewish scriptures God had claimed “Israel as his son…” (Ex. 4:22) and had blessed and chastened him time and again through out a tumultuous history. The use of the term was common in Jewish prayers, and even though these prayers and liturgies were usually expressed in the synagogues, the everyday Israelite had a sense that a Heavenly Father overshadowed his people with protective wings.

“In Heaven” might just as easily be read as “perfect”. In an imperfect world there was hope on the part of some in Israel that an unblemished moral order and place of rest existed beyond the grave. This was a place free of sorrow, sickness, and alienation. It was a place of perfection, a place where God dwelt.

“Hallowed” meant “let your name be held holy”, or, “glorify your name”. Holy, of course, referred to that which in its perfection was apart or separate from a fallen world. It suggest transcendence, awe, respectful fear, and even a touch of dread. God is not to be approached casually. He is the Creator of heaven and earth. He has the keys of life and death. He builds and tears down by a word from his mouth. When approaching him in prayer we are to do so with humility and caution. Our lives are in his hands.

January 27, 2021

Alms, Prayer, & Fasting 6:1-18

Our Father in Heaven v.9

Right off the top the pronoun puts things in perspective. There is no “I, me, or mine” . Rather it’s “we, us, and ours”. God is the Father of all, not a household deity.

“Our” reminds us that we have no inside track to God peculiar to us but our access is shared by every man and woman of faith throughout history. Ours is a family faith. And, as his children’s we have the right to address our Heavenly Father as “Abba” (Hebrew). This is the equivalent of “Daddy” in English. To this day, my three children, even though adults, call me “Abba”. Growing up in Jerusalem, attending Israeli schools, they naturally referred to me that way. It’s an endearing term. I like it.