Drinking Deeply from Our Father in Heaven: Nine Observations about Giving, Praying, and Fasting (Matthew 6:1–18)

didin-emelu-329478-unsplashIn the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives instructions about giving (vv. 2–4), praying (vv. 5–15), and fasting (vv. 16–18). In our church we have taken one sermon per “spiritual discipline,” but really in the structure of Matthew’s Gospel, we should read these three disciplines together. And in fact, when we do there are some observations we discover that we might not find on our own.

So here are nine observations about Matthew 6:1–18 and Jesus’s instructions about these critical elements of worship, discipleship, and spiritual communion with God.

1. Giving, praying, and fasting make up the center of the Sermon.

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From the structure of the sermon, we discover verses 1–18 should be read as the center of the sermon. Even more specifically, giving (vv. 2–4) and fasting (vv. 16–18) should be seen as a concentric ring around Jesus’s instructions around prayer (vv. 5–15), which itself is centered around the Lord’s Prayer. And that pray too is shaped to put three imperatives on both sides the words “on earth as it is in heaven.”

In other words, the shape observed in the image above continues right to the summit of the mountain, where we discover that prayer in the presence of our heavenly father is the goal of the Law (5:17–48) and the Prophets (6:19–7:11), as well asthe center of Jesus teaching about discipleship (6:1–18).

Moreover, because of this intentional shaping and the balanced presentation of giving and fasting around prayer, we may find that these various disciplines are not as independent as we often think. In fact, to get the full meaning of Jesus’s words we should read them together. Continue reading

Three Wrong Ways to Read the Sermon on the Mount

jazmin-quaynor-36221-unsplash.jpgThe Sermon on the Mount is probably the most famous sermon ever preached, and for good reason. Its speaker is the Lord Jesus Christ; its location on a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee is unique; and its language is both beautiful and profound. Even non-believers are familiar with many of the words Jesus spoke in this sermon.

Yet, for as well-known as the Sermon is, it is often misunderstand and misused. Therefore, as we begin to study this passage of Scripture, we should look at three common, but misguided ways to approach the sermon. Continue reading

“As Unto the Lord”: Work with Christ at the Center (Ephesians 6:5–9)

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“As Unto the Lord”: Work with Christ at the Center

Paul is unashamedly Christ-centered. And it seems that in whatever subject he is discussing, he brings it back to the Lord who saved him and commissioned him to preach his gospel.

On this note, we see in Ephesians 6:5–9 how Paul teaches us to bring Christ to work. In five verses written to slaves and masters, he gives us at least five motivations for the workplace. While we have to think carefully about how Paul’s context is similar and different from our own, these verses give us many practical applications for doing work to the glory of God.

You can listen to the sermon online. Discussion questions and additional resources, including how to think carefully about Paul’s approach to slavery, are included below. Continue reading

Serving Two Masters: Does Ephesians 6:5 Contradict Matthew 6:24?

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No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
— Matthew 6:24 —

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, . . .
— Ephesians 6:5–6 —

Ephesians 6:5–9 calls “slaves” to obey their earthly masters, which at first sounds like it contradicts Jesus words in Matthew 6:24, where our Lord states that men are not to be divided in their allegiance and service—you can either serve God or money.

A careful reader may ask, Does Paul’s instructions contradict Jesus’ words? Or does he help the worker go further in understanding how our primary allegiance to Christ leads to improved service to earthly masters?

I believe it is the latter.  And on that point, Wolfgang Musculus, a sixteenth-century pastor-theologian, answers well: Continue reading

The Final Days of Jesus: A 40-Day Reading Guide

final daysThis week marks 40 days until Resurrection Sunday. While some celebrate with Lent and others do not, we should all prepare our hearts to celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. To help in that endeavor, let me encourage you to pick up and read The Final Days of Jesus by Andreas Köstenberger and Justin Taylor.

A few years ago I put together a 40-day reading plan for that book.  The outline lays out daily Scripture readings from the Gospels, many intra-biblical connections to the Old Testament, and the page numbers to read from The Final Days of JesusIf you are interested in that 40-day reading plan, you can find it here.

Here is the devotional guide’s introduction. Let it be an invitation to a slow, worshipful reading of the passion narratives in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Continue reading

Learning to Love One Another: The Gospel, Racial Reconciliation, and Burden-Bearing (Galatians 1–6)

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Learning to Love One Another: The Gospel, Racial Reconciliation, and Burden-Bearing (Galatians 1–6)

In recent years, it’s been hard to miss our country’s rise in racial tensions. Or maybe we are just seeing what’s been there under the surface all along. Our country seems overwhelmed by all kinds of racialized sentiments. And in the church, Christ’s multi-ethnic bride continues to bear the scars of deep-seated racial division and hurt that goes back decades and centuries.

By contrast, the Bible presents a glorious vision of multi-ethnic worship, centered around the throne of God (see Revelation 5, 7, 21–22). And in Paul’s letters, there is a constant refrain for a diverse people to be unified in the work of Christ and the gift of the Spirit.  

On this point, this Sunday’s sermon focused on the gospel message in Galatians and how it relates to racial reconciliation. From Galatians’ six chapters, I drew out six gospel truths. In six points, we see that Galatians

  1. is all about the gospel;
  2. identifies a kind of division (in the church) that denies the gospel;
  3. proclaims a gospel that is international in scope and content;
  4. prioritizes faith as the fundamental community marker;
  5. teaches those who have been justified by faith alone to be passionate about justice;
  6. and calls the gospel community to seek justice in love, service, and burden-bearing to one another.

This sermon marks the second time I’ve preached on this subject. (The first was a biblical theology of race). As before, this subject is an incredibly heavy one, and one that still raises more questions than I have answers. That being said, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer that can give hope and help to the body of Christ bruised and broken by racism.

My prayer is that God would use this sermon as one small step to help our church grow as community compelled by the vision of Revelation and led by the directions of Galatians (and the rest of Scripture). May God bring healing to his church and may the power of gospel be see in multi-ethnic communities of faith. You can listen to the sermon online. Discussion questions and further resources are below.  Continue reading

True Religion Defends Life Against Abortion (James 1:19–27)

george-hiles-189441True Religion Defends Life Against Abortion (James 1:19–27)

Since 1973 60 million babies have been killed through the legal practice of abortion. Tragically, the legal nature of abortion doesn’t change its lethal nature, nor does it change the fact that abortion unfairly targets minorities in our country. In other words, abortion is not unjust, in general; abortion’s injustice specifically targets black and Hispanic babies.

Since 2010 I have preached a sanctity of human life message every January. This year, my sermon considered the historic racist aims of abortion and the deadly influence of Margaret Sanger, the found of Planned Parenthood, on our country. Sanger’s reputation has been whitewashed through the years, but her lethal ideology shows its true colors when we learn more of her history.

In this years Sanctity of Human Life sermon, I trace some of her history and explain why it pleases God, protects the image of God, and produces Christlikeness to stand for life. Please take time to listen to this important message. You can find the sermon notes here. Discussion questions and additional resources are below. Continue reading

Abortion: The Witness of the Church throughout History

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Scripture is clear on defending the life of the unborn, but so is church history. So, as we approach Sanctity of Life Sunday, here are a few quotes from church history. From the first century to the twenty-first century, care for orphans and the unborn is a priority of the church (see James 1:26–27).

(Many of these quotations listed below were collected from printed material from CARE-NET, a strategic ministry to women and children; other quotations come from Life News and Eternal Perspective Ministries). Continue reading

Ten Looks at Christ: A New Year’s Meditation on Isaiah 61:1–3

Ten Looks at Christ: A New Year’s Meditation on Isaiah 61:1–3

Robert Murray McCheyne said famously and wisely: “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Jesus.” On this last day of 2017, we spent our Sunday considering the person and work of Christ from Isaiah 61:1–3.

This sermon wraps up a three-part series on Isaiah 59–61 and encourages us to look to Christ as we enter the new year. Indeed, whether we are coming off a great 2017 or a horrible 2017, we need to remember the gospel as we enter 2018. And today’s sermon aimed to help us do that.

You can listen to the sermon here or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and additional resources can be found below. May Christ grow large in your eyes and your hear in 2018. Continue reading

Walk Worthy (pt 2): Walking in (His) Love (Ephesians 5:1–5)

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Walk Worthy (pt. 2): Walking in His Love (Ephesians 5:1–5)

After laying out the riches of God’s grace and glory in Ephesians 1–3, Paul turns to the way in which Christians are to walk in their new life. Five times in Ephesians 4–5 he uses the word “walk:— in light of Christ’s work of salvation, Paul calls us to walk worthy of our calling (4:1), to walk unlike Gentiles (4:17), to walk in love (5:1), to walk in light (5:8), and to walk in wisdom (5:15).

In this week’s sermon, I consider the third of these instructions, to walk in love. Based on a close reading of Ephesians, we learn that walking in love depends on knowing, delighting, and experiencing God’s love. Only as we walk in his love, can we express love to others—especially love to those who are unlovely.

You can listen to this message online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and additional resources are listed below. Continue reading