Love at the core

Matthew 6:1-18

Imagine holding in your hand a fresh bright red apple. There is not a single blemish on it; the apple is perfect and you can’t wait to take a bite. Sinking your teeth into the fruit, you suddenly realize there is something dreadfully wrong. The inside of the apple is not nearly as appetizing as you first thought. It is actually rotten at the core. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus didn’t discuss apples, but he did address things that on the outside seemed pleasing, but were much less so at the center.

Jesus points out the difference between putting one’s self-righteousness on display in order to be seen by others, and practicing spiritual discipline in order to be seen by God. God calls people to worship, pray, give alms and practice other forms of spiritual discipline. Jesus teaches that we should do these things in such a way that we may glorify God and grow in our relationship with him. Our Savior gives clear instructions about how to live as a child of God, so that unlike the rotten apple, our outward appearance matches our core of love and commitment to God.

Prayer: Holy God; create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.

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God loves you

1 John 3:1-11

“God loves you just the way you are.” On the surface, this statement has an element of truth. God loves you. But simply thinking God loves you just the way you are does not tell the whole story. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, a barrier has existed between God and humanity. Sin is the great separation, a wedge deeply driven between God and people. Make no mistake, God hates sin and we are sinners.

When you think about it, God does not love you just the way you are. God does not love your continuous breaking of His commandments, nor does He love your sinful nature. This is a difficult message to hear and even more difficult to accept. For God to love you just the way you are, change is needed. Transformation must take place. The deeply driven wedge between God and people must be removed and the wounds of sin healed forever. This is why God sent his Son Jesus into the world.

Jesus was fully human, subject to the same temptation, hunger, and pain. Yet, Jesus did not surrender unto sin. Jesus accomplished what humans cannot; he remained obedient to God even unto death. God loved Jesus just as he was; sinless and blameless. As Christ offered his life for our sake, God made His mercy and grace available to sinners. It is only because Christians are saved by grace through faith in Christ that you can affirm this truth; God loves you just the way you are.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for the gift of your grace, and for showing me the power of your love through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Jesus said “Go”

Matthew 28:16-20

When we hear our Lord give the Great Commission, we understand finally that our response to Christ’s resurrection is to go into the world and tell others the good news of God’s salvation. Most Christians can quote this passage from memory; those who cannot certainly know where to find it in the Bible. But when congregations hear Christ’s command, the reaction can be varied.

As the remaining disciples gathered on the mountain with Jesus, Matthew tells us they worshiped him, but some doubted. Rest assured, the same condition exists within the Church today. Jesus says, “Go.” Yet, some doubt they are strong enough in their faith. Others doubt they have the necessary knowledge of the scriptures. Still others feel they lack the training and skill needed to make disciples. All this said, the command given by Jesus stands. Our Lord says, “Go.”

As followers of Christ, we are to go into the world teaching all Christ commanded. The good news is that we do not go alone. Jesus is with us just as he was with the apostles so long ago. Finally, doubt and fear are overcome with faith and love. Christ said “Go.” And so we go, remembering Christ is with us even to the end of the age.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, overcome our doubts and help us live in your peace and presence. Amen.

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Take heart

Matthew 14:23-33

At night, things are supposed to be peaceful and quiet. At the end of the day when we have settled in we look forward to rest. It’s time to sleep but, suddenly, something goes “bump.”

Day or night, so many things cause us to be afraid. But then comes real fear. The test results reveal serious illness. Your employer calls you into the office without prior notice. There are so many instances that cause us to experience real fear. “Is it treatable?” “What will I do now?”

In our text, the twelve were crossing the Sea of Galilee at night when a violent storm arose. Notice the text doesn’t say the disciples were afraid of the storm. They were fishermen; wind and waves they could handle, but then something went “bump.”

In the midst of the storm they saw a human figure walking toward them. They became terrified; people don’t walk on water, let alone during a violent storm. Yet, Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid, it is I.” Hearing his voice, Peter begs his Lord, “Command me to come out on the water.” There comes a point when fear must give way to faith, and faith leads us to trust and belief.

Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water with Jesus. Only when fear took his eyes away from his Lord did Peter begin to sink. It is the same for people today. Through faith, God equips us to face our fears. Trusting in Jesus we can walk with our Lord through adversity. Only when fear takes our focus away from God will we begin to sink. Still, Jesus says, “Take heart; it is I. Don’t be afraid.”

Prayer: Lord God, Rescue me from the things that go “bump” in my life. Help me to take heart and know you are with me always. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

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Faithful in relationships

Exodus 20:17

God invites us to live a life of fullness. God also knows we are covetous people wanting more than what is healthy and good. Sometimes our desire for material possessions leads us scheme against our neighbor to satisfy our wants at our neighbor’s expense. Yet, not only are we consumers and competitive beings, we are also sexual beings. The desire for conquest often invades our relationships. Thus, God said, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

The tenth commandment teaches that we are not to covet our neighbor’s spouse, yet all too often we learn of extra marital affairs between friends and fellow co-workers. There are endless examples and instances of what is considered “innocent flirtation.” Tragically, such behavior might lead to preoccupation, desire, and ultimately divorce. Because of sin, we are covetous people even in our relationships. So, what do we do? There can be but one response; love God.

In his explanation of these commandments against coveting, Martin Luther restates that we are to fear and love God above all things, above our desire for status, our desire for material goods and especially our desire for another’s spouse. We are to remain steadfast in our relationships and loyal to our neighbor. When we love God above all else, we also remain steadfast in the relationships we share with one another.

Prayer: Lord God, keep us steadfast in our relationships, that we may live with fullness and joy as you continue to provide all we need. Amen.

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You shall not covet

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. Exodus 20:17

It happens with the latest gadgets. It also happens when a friend purchases a new car, boat or other extravagance. They become the envy of others and sometimes, those who are envious become downright jealous. We want what they have. Keeping up with our neighbors is something we have all experienced. In the worst of instances, some have gone to great lengths to cheat their neighbor out of what is rightfully theirs.

The ninth commandment warns us concerning such behavior. God said, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.” Coveting our neighbor’s property, desiring what is not ours, or seeking to gain control of another’s property can only lead to discontent and emptiness. Luther explains the commandment more fully. We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.

In all aspects of life, God must be at the center of our wants, for it is God who fulfills our need.  As we remember Jesus’ example of love for his neighbor and self-giving sacrifice, we are afforded the proper perspective. When we see our neighbor through the eyes of Christ, we realize the joy of serving, and the blessing of our God who provides for us life in abundance.

Prayer: Give me a thankful heart, O God, that I might realize the full joy of your blessing. Amen.

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Sticks and stones

Matthew 7:1-5, Exodus 20:16.

All too often, the words we use harm others. When we engage in gossip or innuendo, it often comes at another’s expense. It is no simple task to undo the harm that results. The sad truth is that our words hurt others, and try as we might we cannot take them back. In this sense, the old saying about sticks and stones can’t be farther from the truth; words do in fact hurt others.

God said, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Yet we continue to offend, wrongly accuse, or simply pass along rumors. We point out the sins of others, judging them according to our own standard. So many build themselves up by tearing another down. All too often with mere words.

The commandment against false witness means that we are to fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, or lie about our neighbors, but defend them, speak well of them, and explain their actions in the kindest way. We are all sinners and fall short of God’s glory. We all have used words to harm others whether we realize it or not. We also have the opportunity to confess this sin and receive God’s forgiveness. Living as forgiven people, we are free to seek stronger relationships with our neighbor, and resist the temptations of harming others with our words.

Prayer: Holy God, give us the power to resist temptation, to forgive as we are forgiven and to love our neighbor as we are loved. Amen.

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