No Words

Todays Reading: Matthew 6:7 ; Psalm 70  

Matthew 6: 7

 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.

How many words are enough? How loud or soft, should I pray? Will He hear me?  God has not heard me, should I pray more or increase in my frequency or intensity?   I have struggled with and grown in my prayer life over these last 36 years.  I still find myself wrestling with these thoughts and others as I pray.  Through this journey, I have learned  it is not about the perfect words or phrases, but it is about the relationship.

 

Prayer can be broken down into three areas: presence, relationship, and alignment.  Over the years, I have prayed to have a better relationship and prayer life and these are the areas that have helped me to grow.

 

Presence.  We have to allow our mind, body, and spirit to become reserved and in reverence of the awesomeness of God.  We have to place ourselves actually in the presence of God.  We have to literally see Him for all that He is.  In Revelation, John states that when he saw Christ, he fell down and worshipped.

 

Revelation 1: 17-18

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”

 

May we fall down and humble ourselves each time we make a petition to God.  I don’t literally fall completely down in the streets every time I pray, but I submit my heart and soul to Him.

 

Relationship.  The relationship that we have with God is our own personal connection with him.  I have heard many pastors and clergy speak about the relationship with God should be “this” or “that”, but the relationship is up to the individual and is always a working progress.  The relationship dictates the interaction that you have with God. I have many relationships with friends and family and there are times that you can talk for hours and other times you can be silent for long periods of time.  The relationship with God can be similar, there can be times that you are in awe of all that He has given you and cannot stop thanking him with your words.  In other times, there can be times where you are so overwhelmed by His presence that you are at a lost for words.  The great thing about God is He loves the time you.  No matter if you have many words or no words.

 

Alignment.  The proper placement of our lives, attitudes, and emotions allows us to hear and interact with God better.  For example, I have a wonderful seven-year-old on who is always running around and finding things to make, play or do.  If I am inside the house and he is outside the house, when I call him, he might be able to respond. But if I am in the same area, either the house or outside and I call him, he will respond quickly.  This is the same with our Heavenly Father, if we are in the same mindset or atmosphere; we are better aligned to respond to His calling and His voice.  If we are not aligned then the slight whispers of protection and prosperity might be obscured, but He is a loving Father and will continually pursue us.

 

While being in the presence of God, and creating a relationship with God, and aligning ourselves with God we will be able to connect with him throughout the day and in the midst of daily living.  As Matthew states, we do not have give many words to God as prayers, but be earnest and sincere and connect with the Father and He already knows your desires and petitions of your heart.

 

Dear God,

Allow us to speak and hear your will. Amen

Where do we pray?

Matthew 6:5-6 highlights the importance of where we pray and why. The purpose of prayer is to communicate with God. Our concern should be what God thinks of us and not what others may think. Jesus tells us in verse 6 to pray in secret so that there would be no temptation to impress other people and so that we can receive the Father’s full reward.

Jesus gives us these directions because he saw people praying for the wrong reasons. The hypocritical Jewish leaders pretended to be something they were not. That is what a hypocrite is – someone who acts out a part that is not true in reality. They gave the appearance that they were close to God, but in reality they did not really care what God thought of them. What was important to them was what the people thought. The Scribes and Pharisees wanted the people to think they were pious and close to God, so they made it their practice to pray in such a way as to be seen by men. They made a show out of their prayers. Their prayers did not reach God because they were not meant for God.

Matthew 6:6 says, “But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father secretly. Then your Father who knows all secrets, will reward you.”
Do you have secret place that you can go to be alone with God? Mine is not too secret. It is just the corner of my couch with my Bible, my journal, and usually a cup of coffee. Secret prayer is actually not about the place where we pray. It is about praying, no matter where we are. Look at Jesus’ life of ministry. He did not have a home that he retreated to every night so that He could wake up every morning and have His prayer time on His couch. Matthew 14:23 shows us that Jesus would often withdraw from the crowds and his disciples and pray by himself; “After Jesus said goodbye to the people, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. It was late, and he was there alone”. He was always traveling and finding His secret place of prayer, up on the mountainside (as this Sermon on the Mount began), the Garden of Gethsemane, the wilderness, or a deserted place. It seems the Bible points out that Jesus had most of His alone time with God outside!!! When we are outside, we leave behind many distractions (family members, internet, phones, food, the massive list of to-dos) and we are surrounded by God’s glorious creation. Especially now that the snow is gone and the birds are singing! Jesus lived the habit of secret prayer outside.

When we withdraw from the public to our private place of prayer we can be sure that God is there with us. He comes near to us when we come near to Him (James 4:8). There are benefits to be had for coming to the private place and communing with God. Hebrews 11:6 says that God “rewards those who sincerely try to find him.” When we turn to God instead of turning to anything or anyone else, He is pleased with us and rewards us.

What a blessing to set aside a time of prayer in a secluded place. A place where you can pray without being interrupted. A place where you can pour out even the secret things of your heart. Do you have a place designated that you regularly visit to pray?

We are all SO ready for spring and warm weather. Get outside this weekend and have some secret prayer in God’s creation. Go for a walk, notice the beauty around you and listen to how God speaks to you through His creation.

Psalm 69:16
“Answer my prayers, O Lord, for your unfailing love is wonderful. Turn and take care of me, for your mercy is so plentiful.”

The Lord’s Prayer

Matthew 6:5-15, Psalm 68

Why do you pray?  If you paused long enough to answer that question, take a close look.  Think about the last prayer your offered up.  What was it about?  Commonly, we pray from the worry and anxiety that fills our day.  Often, we pray because of the scarcity that shows up in our lives.  I think that it is time to consider what our prayers really say about us.  More so, what do our prayers reveal about our beliefs in God?

In his book about the Lords prayer, Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr. suggests that everything we believe about God is revealed in our prayers.  He says, “When we pray, we convey our entire theological system. Our theology is never so clearly displayed before our own eyes and before the world as in our prayers. Praying forces us to articulate our doctrines, convictions, and theological assumptions. These aspects of our Christian life come to a unique focus in prayer because when we speak to God we are explicitly revealing who we believe he is, who we believe we are, what his disposition toward us is, and why he has that disposition.”  Mohler’s comment is worth considering as we begin a deeper study of the Lord’s prayer. 

For the next several days, we get to assess our theology and see how it is revealed through our prayers.  Jesus tells us how.  As we listen, I pray, dear Holy Spirit, reveal your Truth to us.  Provide us with the courage to take an honest assessment of ourselves and equip us with a true understanding of who you are that we may exult and glorify you, as you deserve.

Mohler, Jr., R. Albert. The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution (p. 10). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

To Him Be The Glory

Today’s reading is Matthew 6:1-4 and Psalm 67.

The title of these verses in Matthew is “Giving to the Needy” in my Bible. The Bible tells us in many occasions we are called to help those in need.

“Give justice to the week and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the week and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”  

Psalm 82:3-4

“if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday soon.”

Isaiah 58:10

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

Matthew 25:40

However, I feel like the title should really read, “Whose Glory Are You Really Seeking?” Pastor J.K. Jones always says something to the effect that, “There is a God shaped hole in all of hearts.” When God fills that hole and we develop a relationship with Jesus, our hardened heart softens, and we become more like Him. Why did Jesus do what He did during His life on Earth and ultimately suffer the ultimate pain and affliction of the cross when He didn’t have to? He did it to show the love our Father in Heaven has for us..to be the reflection of His light in the world and to glorify Him. These verses in Mathew 6:1-4 clearly tell us to do the same. Every single one of us was put on this Earth to glorify Him. Many of us have read The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman which are touch, service, gifts, quality time, and words of affirmation. I believe words of affirmation are near the top for most of us. Who doesn’t like it when someone tells them “good job?” In fact, much research has shown many men in prison will admit they still yearn today to hear words they unfortunately never heard their dad say, “I love you , and I’m proud of you.” I’ll be transparent in that I like it when someone says to me “Good post today..” when writing for Bible Journal. This is my human, self-serving, and sin filled natural emotional reaction.  I then stop, think, and respond by borrowing the words of I heard author Jon Gordon say at the Christian Fellowship Breakfast for Northwestern Mutual a few years back, “God is the author. I just hold the pen.” This puts me in check, and reminds me I’m striving to live a life where truly everything I do is for His Glory..to be the reflection of the Father’s light like Jesus.

When we fully comprehend the love Jesus showed on the cross and the love the Father showed by sending Him to do so when He didn’t have to, and we develop a relationship with Him…our hearts will soften and we will give to the needy and do everything in our life for His glory rather than ours. This will in turn, draw others to Him through seeing His love in us. The God shaped hole in their heart will be filled, and they will in turn, do the same for others who will see the same. Then, we will be living out The Great Commission Jesus gave us in his last words in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

To Him be the Glory…

Love For Enemies

When I first heard we were going to be focusing on the Sermon on the Mount, breaking it down by topic, my reaction was oh no, I hope I don’t have to write on the “the Big D”. Luckily, my name fell next to Love For Enemies. May I start off with a big shout out to Holly for her post on “the Big D”. Great job. Not a fun topic, for you, for me, and for a lot of people unfortunately!

As I move on to my topic, Love For Enemies, I can easily relate and have honestly worked diligently on improving my focus over the years. In particular, I had two very telling examples of how to move past the anger, resentment and hatred. Today’s reading gives us good insight into how God expects us to handle our relationships with all people, even if they appear to be enemies. Not easy, but he instructs us:

Matthew 5: 43-48

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,[i] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

As we look at what is written, God is with a crowd of people. He wants to convey a message and to possibly correct some past teachings the Jews may still be following. He tells us not to hate our enemies, but to pray for them just as God does for each and every one of us, as we are all sinners. He shows us two extremes in this teaching:  Sun, glorious sun (if we ever see it here in Bloomington?), still rises on those who are good and those who are evil, and the opposite, rain, still falls on good and evil. My interpretation is that is does not matter if you are good or evil, God loves you and we are to be disciples of God, act like God, love our neighbors, and “be perfect”. His statement about “must be perfect” really hit home. No one is perfect, meaning no one is only good without any evil, and therefore we cannot condemn someone who has done evil against us, but must pause and offer pray for them.

In my world, luckily I have only had two “enemies” or people who very much distressed me. It took years for me to overcome the anger and bitterness. It took my minister father sitting down with me on many occasions asking how my forgiveness was coming along, and he would explain how his forgiveness was coming along for this same person. We would talk about how we were going to get to forgiveness first before we moved to “love”. In my lifetime, my dad has never had an enemy, never met a stranger, rarely said a harsh word and is a very kind individual. I was so thankful that he admitted he himself was struggling with my situation. He helped me understand that forgiveness and love for enemies doesn’t happen over night and that is ok.  As time progressed, we both came to a point of forgiveness for this person.   We prayed for the healing of our “enemy” and now can both talk about the goodness that came out of a deeply distressful situation.

For my second round through this process, I was on my own (although my dad knew about it). As distress hit me hard again, I was in disbelief. How could this individual claim to be my friend and yet be so super deceitful? This person turned into an enemy and wanted to cause me harm. How could she go behind my back? She really wanted to get ahead. Once I started to realize her errant ways, I started to feel sorry for her. That was how she wanted to live her life? I truly prayed for her to return to the person I once knew. I prayed for her to return to her strong faith she once displayed. I also understood it was part of God’s plan for me. In the end, I’m better off in the place I’m in. God was watching over me and I’m happier now. What else can I offer up than thanking God for his goodness and continuing to pray for her?

In both this situations, God worked in interesting ways. First, he gave me the gift of my father’s guidance. Second, he showed me that he doesn’t expect us to always respond in the first five minutes and be perfect, although that would be the best approach.  He knows we aren’t perfect. He knows we sin. He knows human nature might take us down the path of anger, bitterness and hurt. However, he loves us, all of us. He expects the same in return for all our friends, neighbors and enemies. Enemies can exist in our lives every day. There are enemies in other countries causing harm here in the US or elsewhere. Political enemies exist and cause havoc to our surroundings. We have to expect we will continue to confront enemies in our lives. We also have to continue to pray for them. Pray for their healing and hope they find God’s word.  We must show love.

As I spend one more minute on my personal situations, the other part of my learning is how much easier it is to pray for my enemies than it is to be angry.  I had to learn the hard way to just move on, no holding grudges.  Anger harms me internally more than it harms them.  Flip the situation into prayer.  If I start to go down the path of becoming angry over either of these situations, I try to say a quick prayer.  I can’t say I’m ready for another deeply distressing situation, however, I am now more prepared for how God expects me to act.

Let us all show some extra love today, even to those who might be difficult to love!

Psalm 66

An eye for an eye…

I can’t help but think of my little boys when I read this passage. Samuel and Andrew are ages 4 and 3, respectively. When they’re playing together it is inevitable that one of them is wronged. Samuel snatches the toy that Andrew was playing with. Andrew’s first response is to strike out and hit Samuel. Samuel then hits Andrew back. You get the picture – this kind of scene is played out for parents and people who are around young children all the time. All of that is usually…well, always…followed by crying and stories of injustice, usually accompanied by pleas for punishment to the other.

Jesus is teaching us here to resist our most natural urge of striking back. Don’t be confused by the language in verse 39 though – “Do not resist the one who is evil.” Ephesians 4:27, 6:11-13, 1 Peter 5:8-9, James 4:7, all talk about resisting the devil with the “whole armor of God.” When Jesus says, “Do not resist the one who is evil,” He is talking about revenge.  He isn’t telling us to be weak and passive; He’s telling us not to be vindictive. Jesus wants us to ask the question, “If someone does something evil to me, how may I respond with only good in return?”

This is a really difficult concept to apply in every day life. My mind automatically jumps to the “big” wrongs – but what about the rest? What if, instead of getting frustrated when someone cuts in front of me in line, I offer to help them unload their groceries onto the belt for them? It sounds nice in theory – but in the heat of the moment it’s not easy to humble myself to offer help to someone that acted rudely or inconsiderately to me.

Jesus wants us to be selfless. He goes on to tell us that if someone sues us for our shirt, don’t only give that away, but our cloak as well. If someone begs, give to them. If someone asks to borrow – give to them as well. The theme here is to “disconnect” from material goods and possessions. I don’t think Jesus wants us to be penniless, but I do think that He recognizes that the things we acquire and that have importance to us can separate us from Him.

The Apostle Paul summarizes what Jesus’ teaches us here in Romans 12:17-21,

“never pay back evil for evil to anyone. respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

In Psalm 65 David writes, “When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions…We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple.” The awesome gift of forgiveness – granted while we were still sinners – needs to be contemplated daily. We need to remember that all we are, all we have, comes from God. Our financial wealth, our knowledge and abilities – they are gifts given to us to use for His glory.

Try this week to return a negative action with a loving response. Look for an opportunity to use what God has given you to help someone in need. Show compassion and grace when you feel a response of anger or frustration.

Lord, please fill my heart with the desire to serve you. Thank you for your constant forgiveness. Help me to reflect your light to those around me and give me the courage to return evil with good. Give me a generous spirit and cause me to look for ways to show generosity. 

The Truth

Today’s Reading: Matthew 5:33-37, Psalm 64

Good Morning! I’m so happy to be with you again Monday morning readers. This week, we continue our study of the Sermon on the Mount. Today’s reading focuses on oaths. When I think of the word “oath” I think of serious situations like testifying in court or taking an oath of office. In our society we view an oath as a promise to tell the truth, a promise to do no harm or a promise to do our best to protect people. When Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount sometime around 60 AD, an oath not only implied keeping one’s promise but also had significant spiritual implications. Jesus is emphasizing the importance of telling the truth. Keeping our word or oath is one of the few forms of earthly currency we have. It builds trust and makes committed human relationships possible. Jesus’ teaching on oaths has three distinct facets:

  • You must keep your promises to God. Back in 60 AD, Jews avoided using God’s personal name when taking an oath. Instead they would use a reverent sounding substitution in order to appear sincere. How often do we as Christians make a promises in the name of God whether in church, at small group or in our community. The Bible condemns making vows or taking oaths casually when you know you aren’t fully committed to keeping your word.
  • Jesus tells us not to take oaths at all. This seems counterintuitive, but Jesus’ message is that our word should be enough. He encourages us to act with integrity in all areas of our life. When we do so, we can be our authentic selves and therefore do not have to make promises in order to redeem trust. If we tell the truth all the time, we will have less pressure to back up our words with an oath or promise.
  • Do not swear by your head. What Jesus means is that we do not have the authority to create or destroy things over which God has authority. Swearing against God aligns us with the enemy. Just as he attempted to assume God’s position, so do we when we attempt to sit on a false throne.

Oaths are needed today because we live in a sinful society. Trust is a powerful element of our ability to interact as sinners. Psalm 64 says:

Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,  from the throng of evildoers, who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows,shooting from ambush at the blameless, shooting at him suddenly and without fear. They hold fast to their evil purpose;  they talk of laying snares secretly thinking, “Who can see them?” They search out injustice, saying, “We have accomplished a diligent search.” For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep. (Psalm 64:2-6)

 Jesus calls us to be genuine in our pursuit of honesty and personal integrity. He asks us to keep our promises to God and ask for forgiveness when we fail. The grace in this lesson is that God always keeps his promises to us, no matter how many times we fall.

Peace and blessings this week

The Big D

Matthew 5:31-32 and Psalms 63

I will admit, I LAUGHED OUT LOUD when reading this month’s outline for the Bible Journal project. A deeper focus on one topic, maybe just one verse. I scroll down to my assignment: April 14th, Divorce, Matthew 5:31-32 and Psalms 63.  Lord, you really are just hysterical sometimes!

My parents are divorced, I married someone that is divorced, and my own marriage has been on the brink of divorce. I don’t know if this makes me a subject matter expert, or so completely biased that I’m the last person that should be journaling today. HA!

As Jesus addresses all of the different topics in His sermon on the mount, He explains, clarifies, and helps us find FREEDOM in living more fully focused on God. Specific to divorce, He reminds us that when separating/leaving your spouse, you need to give a legal certificate for divorce (don’t just stop living with them). He explains that without the actual certificate of divorce, you would be causing sin (adultery) if/when the person remarries. He also reinforces the acceptable grounds for divorce – adultery.

Clearly the Lord takes marriage vows seriously. They’re not only vows made to one another, but to Him. He doesn’t want them broken, and when they must be, He wants order even in the brokenness.

The topic of divorce brings a lot of controversy – today, and apparently ALWAYS – both in and outside of the church. I’m guessing it’s because divorce is the result of sin, which begets more sin, even beyond the divorcing party. Family and friends can find themselves judging, gossiping, harboring bitterness, anger and hatred. Divorce can really bring out all of our ugly. And all of our opinions and infighting.

I wish none of us ever had to study these verses or apply them to our life’s circumstances. I’m no stranger to the heartbreak and pain of divorce. It’s real, raw, and just plain awful. The wounds run deep and the healing is rarely linear. While I don’t have the answers, I will share a few general points of encouragement based on some of my experiences:

If you are a child of divorced parents, please believe, more than anything, that this is not your fault. Whatever sin was in your parent(s) lives that led to this, it’s not what you wanted and not what God wanted. I hope you know that God wants to help you heal from all of the hurts this brought you. I pray your parent(s) can repent and seek forgiveness from God and from you and relationships can be restored. Most of all, I pray that you can have a deep relationship with your heavenly Father that brings overwhelming love into your life. He loves you, and He knows every tear you have shed (Psalms 56:8).

If you are considering separation/divorce, or already in the middle of it, please, take your time.  Seek biblical counseling and cling to any amount of hope you can find. Remember, God is still in the business of making miracles!  Go to the word and pray for direction. God doesn’t contradict Himself – the Holy Spirit won’t press upon your heart to move in one direction that is contrary to Jesus’ spoken words.  Our God is a perfect way-maker – even when we can’t see a way, He goes before us.  I can’t always get my mind around the long-term picture, but I can trust Him in this moment, right now.

If you are divorced, and there are any areas you still need healing, cry out to the Lord. Regardless of the circumstances of the divorce, almost all parties harbor feelings of failure, guilt, resentment, or unrest. Seek the Lord, He is the best healer and perfect forgiver – He doesn’t want us stuck in a pit of bitterness, shame, sin, or self loathing. He wants to make you whole in Him. All of our life experiences can be used to glorify Him. Revelation 12:11 exemplifies how we can be OVERCOMERS – by Jesus’ blood + our testimony of His work in our life.

If you are a friend or family member of someone in the middle of a divorce, I have found the best support can be listening and praying. Take a step beyond praying for them, and actually pray WITH them. When asked for advice, leverage the scripture on the areas surrounding divorce. Encourage biblical counseling. Be a source of hope and healing. Try to not get sucked into gossip and slander. Take time to cover yourself in the Armor of God before offering any words.

We know that all sin is unrighteousness against God, whether it’s the sin of gossip, divorce without basis, lying, etc.  On this side of heaven we may feel the consequences greater of one sin compared to another – but it’s not in our wisdom to rank them and put each others’ sins above or below our own.

Wherever this heart-pouring on divorce finds you, you can forget all of my thoughts and opinions and remember this:

God wants everything BUT divorce in His relationship with YOU. He wants us reconciled to Him in a committed relationship for eternity! People will fail. God does not fail. He won’t let you down – He’d rather die than live without you!

I shall not be greatly shaken

Psalm 62 “My Soul Waits for God Alone”

Our family is in the midst of packing up for a move across the ocean and phase one of the move (shipping our belongings to Italy) is only a few days away.

The Middle of the Night

I’ve been waking up around 3:00AM-4:00AM in a sweat almost every day these last couple weeks. Mind and heart racing. Lists growing, deadlines approaching. Fear. Panic. What ifs. Worry. Stress.

Then I pray and eventually come to repentance when I remember all this worry and fear is not Godly. It is me selfishly trying to control things.

Regardless of any earthly, human outcome, God has it. He holds you and me in his hand. He is a refuge.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
  pour out your heart before him;
  God is a refuge for us. (Psalm 64:8)

The Peace of Dawn

Then morning brings a new day, a new perspective, a new opportunity to get it right and continue to learn to lean on Jesus.

Today’s Sermon on the Mount Content… lust!

Today’s verses from the Sermon on the Mount are Matthew 5:27-30 where the topic of lust is addressed. I posted on this on February 9th, 2016. Here’s a link:

Do Not Open This Door

Substance over Form

Today’s reading:  Matthew 5:21-26, Psalm 61

Substance over form is an accounting principle used to help ensure that financial statements give a complete, relevant, and accurate picture of an organization’s transactions and events. The root of this principle is in accounting theory, but it applies to so much more than financial statements.  In fact, I challenge my team with this quite often – are we more interested in looking like we “follow the rules”, or are we truly committed making informed decisions that are in the best interest of our customer?  Almost every time, the answer is the latter.  We are responsible for looking below the surface, making sure the substance of our decision is rooted in our company mission and shared values.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he often taught through the use of parables. If his audience didn’t pay attention to the substance over simply the form of his teaching in this method, or had hardened hearts, they couldn’t understand his message.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5, was different. It was much more straightforward, as Jesus categorically outlined key principles for leading a Godly life.  Jesus began our passage for today in Matthew 5:21 by quoting the law of Moses – Do not commit murder.  If we stopped right here, most of us would walk away feeling okay about ourselves.  I have never even come close to taking the life of another person, so I’m good on this principle, right?  Not so fast.  We must stop and reflect – like the Pharisees, are we more interested looking like we “follow the rules”, or are we committed to Jesus and are we passionate about changing our hearts to look like his?  If the latter, we must go beyond the first sentence of this passage to get to the substance of this message.

In the very next verse, Jesus dug deeper and shared context on the true purpose behind God’s law against murder. “But I say to you, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the high council.  And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22).  The substance of Jesus’ message isn’t simply on the physical act of murder, it is about anger.  Hmm…that hits a little closer to home.

Jesus did not say that anger itself is sin. In fact, we can be angry without sinning, as Jesus himself demonstrated (see the story of Jesus and the money changers in John 2).  It is what we choose to do with anger and what we choose to do because of anger that makes it sinful.  Unresolved anger and bitterness eventually lead us to intentionally harm the people who made us angry, which is sin.  Even if we never get to the point of actually taking action, however, harboring anger in our heart is still sin because it draws a wedge in our relationship with others and our relationship with God.  We cannot claim to love God while we hate other people.

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen (1 John 4:20).

Do you struggle with unresolved anger? Don’t gloss over the substance of these verses thinking they don’t apply to you.  Will you consider the counsel in verses 23 and 24, and make it a priority to reconcile with the person(s) that caused your anger?  It isn’t easy, but God promises to make a way (Isaiah 43:16).