In Jesus’ Words: How to give and pray in secret (Matthew 6:1-8)

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It’s been an incredibly hard week.  I’m sure we’ve all had a week or two like this… It starts out normal, with the usual routines and the usual hello’s, and the promise of making plans – a party to attend, a get-together for dinner, that work project… and then wham!  Something unexpected happens.  Plans stop, you begin to remember the last conversation you had with someone, and suddenly life takes on a whole new meaning.

This week, my Bible study teacher passed away at a too-young age.  Sunday morning, I sat in my regular chair listening to him talk about Jesus with a smile on his face.  He talked about how life is a vapor and we should be spending our time and talents on the things that matter in heaven, not on the empty things which do not last, for none of us know how much time we have left on this earth…  On my way out, he asked how my family was doing, always thinking of others.  Less than 24 hours later, he was in heaven.

Though it was a complete shock with no satisfactory answer for his quick passing, I too would want my last 24 hours to be spent talking about Jesus with a smile on my face.  Jesus never promised us a long life, but he warned us many times about making our days count.  I would rather have 40 years of living for God than 80 years living without.

So as I come to the next passage on my journey of reading through Jesus’ words in the New Testament, it seems to be a very appropriate one on how we should live our lives:  Give to the poor. Give in secret, so your motives are like Jesus. Pray. Pray all the time, in secret, just between you and Jesus.  We may not always get everything we ask, but we will never walk alone and will be closer to Jesus for having done so.

~ Matthew 6:1-8  How to give. How to pray. ~

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.”

My grandfather was an old country preacher.  There aren’t many like him any more.
It’s been told that when he was on his deathbed in his old age, surrounded by family, he took his last breath and then opened his eyes from an unconscious state, looked up toward the hospital ceiling and smiled.  I believe he saw Jesus at that moment, coming down from heaven to greet him and take him home.  I cannot think of any better way to leave this life than to know you will be greeted by Jesus and that he knows you personally.  Jesus will say to God, I know him. He’s with me and he’s been forgiven.”

This is the statement of faith we proclaim: If you confess with your mouth that “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  Romans 10:9,13

In Jesus’ Words: Salt and Light (Matthew 5:13-16)

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Imagine sitting on the mountainside, perhaps a pleasant breeze is blowing and the sun shining as excitement begins to fill the air, and people are gathered around everywhere, talking with anticipation as they wait to hear what Jesus is going to say.  This is the scene as Jesus begins his preaching ministry and his most famous sermon, The Sermon on the Mount.

As I continue my journey of reading through Jesus’ words in the New Testament, I come to the next passage in Matthew after Jesus has just finished telling the crowd how to be blessed, or also known as The Beatitudes.  There is much contradiction and confusion in our world today, and I believe if we just listen to Jesus’ words, they are complete and will show us the truth.  Who else has ever said, “You are the light of the world…”?

~ Matthew 5:13-16  Salt and Light ~

“You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men.

You are the light of the world.  A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden.  No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

The best way for me to describe what Jesus is saying here is to tell a modern-day story of my youth.

Once in my younger days, I decided to go to two parties in one evening.  I was single and trying to make the most of my opportunities, I suppose.  The first party was with my church group.  The second party was with some acquaintances from work.  Both parties were in close driving distance, so I thought I could do both in one night.  I first went to the church party, enjoyed the fellowship of good friends, and then departed a little early to make the next party.  I walked into the next party, most of the people I didn’t even recognize, but I seemed to be getting some odd glances from people that I couldn’t quite explain.  I check my outfit but everything looked ok.  There was nothing unusual I could see, but the atmosphere felt very dark and I didn’t have a good feeling about the place.  Then, it was as if I heard Jesus saying to me, “You don’t belong here.  My light is still shining from you being in My presence earlier this evening, and it stands out in this place.”  I turned around and left, feeling like a fool for thinking I could be two different things.

Sometimes when we feel like we don’t fit in, it is because we’re not supposed to.  The more we try to go along with the crowd, the more diminished our salt and light becomes (“trampled on by men” – verse 13).  We begin to doubt and lose confidence.  Jesus is saying we are to stand out, in a positive way that will attract people to His presence. Jesus will do the speaking from there.

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Me and Jesus

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“For a couple of years it was just me and Jesus.  I thought we were the only two Jewish believers in the world.”

That’s what my new friend Anne said to me over coffee one day while I was visiting at her house.  Anne was on the welcoming committee for the new parents of my son’s Christian high school, so I was a little surprised that day when I showed up at her house prior to the start of school.  The living room was filled with all kinds of antique menorahs, Star of Davids, and many other Jewish symbols that looked like they had been handed down from several generations.  It did not look like what I was expecting from the welcoming committee of a new Christian high school.

After we all settled in with our coffee and dessert, I asked the question that none of the other new parents wanted to ask.  “Are you Jewish?”

“Yes, I am,” Anne answered proudly.  “I’m a Messianic Jew.”

I wanted to know more since I had never personally met a Messianic Jew and I had lots of questions.  “How did you become a Messianic Jew?” I asked.  And so she began to tell her story.

“My parents and my husband’s parents are traditional Jews.  They tolerate our beliefs but they do not believe themselves,” she began in a rather mild tone.

“I was in college and my roommates were Christians.  I would argue with them about their beliefs.  One day they simply asked me, ‘Have you ever read the Bible?’  I had not, so I decided I would read it for myself.”

“I started with the Old Testament and began to read about my ancestors and how they would often turn away from God and worship idols, and then they would be punished and go through many trials.  I realized their writings must have been inspired by God because there was no way they would make themselves look that bad if they had written it by themselves,”  Anne said with a laugh as if she were thinking about her ancestors personally.

“By the time I finished the New Testament, I knew in my mind it was true about Yeshua, but I couldn’t accept it in my heart yet.  It took about two more years before I could do that.”   Anne referred to Jesus as the Hebrew name Yeshua, because that is what he would have been called by those that knew him personally at the time.

“I started going to Christian churches.  I tried all different denominations but I just couldn’t fit in.  It was all so strange to me.  I lived in a Jewish neighborhood with a traditional Jewish family.  I thought me and Jesus must be the only two Jewish believers around.  After awhile, someone told me about a Messianic Jewish synogogue so I started going there.  I couldn’t believe my eyes!  There were lots of other Jews there just like me, and I didn’t have to give up my heritage to believe.  I eventually met my husband there too.  We bought this house and a few years later a new Christian school opened up down the street.  And now I welcome other Christians into the school,” she said with a smile as she finished her story.

Thank you,” I said, “for sharing your story.  I feel like I’ve been sitting here listening to you and Jesus tell this story.”  And we all left that day with a little more knowledge of our history.
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A prophecy from the Psalm of David, written about 1000 years before Christ:

A band of evildoers has encompassed me;
They pierced My hands and My feet;
 I can count all My bones.
They look and stare at Me.
They divide My garments among them,
And for My clothing they cast lots.  

Psalm 22:16-18

Marks on a paper

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I had been helping my son John study for his algebra final exam all afternoon.  He had been doing fairly good, but after finishing that last grueling practice problem, he’d had enough. He got up from his chair and looked at the answer on his paper and exclaimed, “Algebra is useless.  That’s nothing more than a mark on a piece of paper!”

I didn’t think of it that way at all, but I began to realize how we all see things from different views.  To him, adding numbers to some obscure formula on a piece of paper had no more use than just making marks on it.  It meant nothing to him.  He couldn’t use it, hold it, or make anything with it.  I made a mental note to myself not to suggest math professor as a potential career for him.

But for myself, I did not see it as a mark on a piece of paper.  I saw it as a puzzle that challenged me to try to solve it.  It was the mental challenge that I liked, and the satisfaction of completing something.  I didn’t need to do anything with it afterwards.

We are all different in ways that are not easily detectable from the outside.  We all see the same object but think and respond to it in different ways.  To John, it was a mark on a piece of paper.  To me, it was a puzzle.  Neither of us were wrong.  I made another mental note to myself, to remember this the next time I am talking with others who may not see things in the same way as me.

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.
P
salm 133:1
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The bakery

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I love this time of year.  Autumn brings in a cornucopia of colors, enticing scents of pumpkin spice and apples, and the anticipation of good things to come.  Even the weather has an air of serenity about it.  But mostly, I love the Autumn scents.  I wandered by a candle shop the other day where they were having a sale – two candles for the price of one.  I left with an armful of candles, carrying such delightful names as Gourmet Espresso and Warm Caramel Cider.

I’ve heard that the sense of smell is the strongest of our five senses.  Just imagine… fresh-baked bread, the smell of coffee brewing in the morning, and warm scones delivered right out of the oven.  Maybe that is why I never see unhappy people in a bakery.  This thought occurred to me one evening while I was dining out in a nice restaurant.  The lighting was soothing, the food excellent, but I was stressed.  Work had been extra stressful that year.  As I sat there wallowing in my own thoughts, I had a good view of the bakery in the corner of the restaurant.  I began watching the baker as she carefully lifted the bowls of batter and poured them into the pans for baking.  Then she formed beautiful creations of art as she spread the icing on the cakes.  All the while, children and adults alike lined up at the glass counter to look at the cakes and pies she had created.  It was almost magical, and definitely mesmerizing to watch.  She did not hurry or rush the baking process.

I envied the baker a little, complete with her white coat and bakers hat.  If I ever change careers, I decided, I would love to be a baker.  But I think what appealed to me the most was the process of slowing down, and of crafting something beautiful with my own hands.  It reminded me of God, our Creator.  God created us in His own image, so we also have that same desire to create.  God also rested.  He is never rushed, and neither was Jesus during his short ministry on earth.  I don’t think we are meant to be so rushed either.

I may never become a master baker, but the image of that bakery with its smells and happy creations and slower pace has stayed with me.  I’ve learned to slow down. When I do, and put it all in God’s hands instead, it seems like God takes care of all the other busyness for me.  Work becomes less, deadlines go away, and problems are solved quicker.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

When I think about this verse, I like to think it applies to our busy schedules as much as it does our finances.  So during this Autumn and Thanksgiving season, I plan to do a lot of baking in my house.  It makes me happy, fills the air with warm scents, and teaches me to slow down.feet with waves cropped