Saturday, February 27, 2021

Sermon On The Mount - Part 6: "Judging & Discerning"

Bobservations Column
By Pastor Bob Lawrenz

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount continues; today is Part 6, The Mount of Beatitudes in Israel is located on the Korazim Plateau, overlooking the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Today, there is a church-shrine atop the hillside, because it is believed to be the place where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. It’s a bit north of Capernaum, Jesus’ home base during His ministry, and north of the village of Migdal, the home of Mary Magdalene. From the hilltop, weather permitting, one can see “The Arbel” to the southwest, a mountain that was split by a valley through which prevailing winds from the Mediterranean blow in from the west, often causing storms on the Sea. And also weather permitting, the City of Tiberius at the southern end of the Sea can be seen from the top of the Mount.

Jerusalem lays almost 75 miles to the south, a city bustling with commerce, high density housing, and the Nation’s Seat of Government. It’s no wonder that Jesus chose the Galilee as His base of operation for His ministry to the masses. The pace of life was slower, and the atmosphere of the region would naturally be more relaxed. The soil was fertile, as opposed to the rocky dry ground of the Judean Hills.

The Sermon on the Mount brings a more relaxed, and person-to-person message first to the Apostles, and later to the masses gathered around them, as we see at the end of chapter 7.

Following Jesus takes folks away from the hustle and bustle of the cities, and away from the responsibilities of home and work, at least temporarily. He literally ministers to us away from the burdens and distractions of daily living.

His words go right to the heart and bring healing.

Oh! If we could just stay in that place! While we are even yet in the world, He calls us to not be part of it.

How do we respond when we hear Him tugging at our hearts, and beckoning us to His feet? There at His feet we find peace in His presence. Lazarus’ sister Martha had a heart to serve others. But Jesus declared that Mary, her sister, had chosen the good part, at His feet, listening to her Lord.

“But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, 
which shall not be taken away from her."  - Luke 10:42

Today's Audio MessageMatthew 7:1-14

The Sermon On The Mount - Part 6:  "Judging & Discerning"

As Jesus continues teaching the disciples in what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, He is still dealing with the heart and attitude of a believer.  If our righteousness is to exceed that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, we must stop acting like them.  A prideful heart, with an outward appearance of righteousness, yet living by a double standard is the exact definition of being a hypocrite.  As a disciple of Christ we are to examine our own hearts, yield ourselves to His will, remain in the careful reading and study of His word, seek Him through prayer - as we correct our behaviors, and change our  attitudes.   

In chapter seven the Lord continues this theme.  Jesus is reproving impetuous and reckless judgment of others.  God has created us each with a godly trait, that is to know the difference between good and evil.  While we are not to run around judging others like the Pharisees, we are to apply discernment in what is right and wrong, good or evil.  He is not forbidding our “forming an opinion” of the conduct of others, it is impossible not to form an opinion of conduct that we know to be evil. What He is referring to is a the practice of forming judgment hastily, harshly, unnecessarily and wrongly.  

It is also important to remember that our Lord is teaching His disciples.  These teachings do not apply to the unbeliever.  We don’t offer godly precepts and doctrines to those who spurn, oppose, and abuse those doctrines, nor do we offer that which is precious to those who are corrupt, profane, obscene, or sensual - they do not value the gospel and will tread it down under foot. Spiritual disciplines are for those who are in Christ - those who are unbelievers need to hear the Gospel of salvation.

Jesus continues to exhort them in prayer.  Pray; pray often, be serious and sincere. Ask, seek, knock and you will find that your Father in heaven knows our needs and will provide what is good and fit for us.

Lastly, there are but two ways right and wrong, good and evil; the way to heaven and the way to hell. The way of sin and sinners is the wide gate.  It’s easy to pass through.  There are no check points, you can carry with you all of your lusts and carnal appetites.  The path is broad - everything and anything goes, but it is not the way to heaven, it is the way to destruction.  The way to eternal life is narrow. It’s a strait gate.  You cannot carry with you your baggage of sin, lusts, and carnal appetites, you must leave them behind.  The road ahead is difficult, temptations must be resisted, and we must walk with great care.  We will face much tribulation along the way - but there is great reward at the end. This is the way that leads to life, and few will find it.  

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Sermon On The Mount - Part 5: "Wholly Owned"

Bobservations Column

By Pastor Bob Lawrenz

We are backing up just a bit, and recovering Verses 19-24 of Matthew 6 today. It is a segue between the first part of the chapter and the last half. And it’s perfectly situated to finish Jesus’ teaching on prayer with a challenge that might rock our world to its core. It is easy to overlook Jesus’ warning that in this world, believers will have tribulation.

This came up in a discussion yesterday; I can say I have all faith in Jesus, but how often does our faith get traction when severe, or dire events come? Where does the rubber of faith meet the hard pavement of tragedy?

The scriptures deal with every aspect of our relationship with God and Jesus Christ. We can have a personal relationship with Jesus, and Jesus has a personal relationship with the Father; He is therefore the perfect and only mediator of our relationship with the Father in Heaven. Jesus pleads our case with his father.

In 1 Timothy 2:5, Paul writes these encouraging words to a young Pastor Timothy. (It is easy for a young man to be intimidated by those older than himself, and Timothy’s stomach was sometimes tied in knots because he was placed in that position.) Paul wrote, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;” Intimidation is really nothing more than mild bullying, and we’ve all felt it to some degree at different times.

Simply put, Paul was telling Timothy to trust Jesus more when trials came his way: a deeper faith from stronger testings. Like with Moses, the people crossed the Red Sea on dry land, the Lord having parted the waters. And after Moses’ death Joshua lead the people over the Jordan, but the priests that carried the Ark, had to first put their feet in the water before the waters would part for them to cross (Joshua 3:13). Our own “Promised Land” requires a faith of deeper trust that the Lord will honor His Word in our lives. This is the true victory of trusting in the Lord.

Stretching our faith to actual application is the measure of the depth of our trust in Him. Trust puts action to our faith.

"Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean
not unto thine own understanding."  ~ Proverbs 3:5

Today's Audio MessageMatthew 6:19-34

The Sermon On The Mount - Part 5:  "Wholly Owned"

We live in an age of anxiety. It is as though everyone seems to be worrying about everything - from what they are having for dinner tonight, to some of the most extreme difficulties one can face: like a loss of a job, a serious illness, or a major disaster.

Worry is a by-product of putting your faith in the wrong thing, or the wrong person. It is a big deal because there is nothing in this corrupt world that can provide you with a sure foundation where upon you can stand. In an instant, we can lose everything we own. We can lose our health. We can lose our friends, or our loved ones. We can lose our freedom, or our ability of self-sufficiency. In fact in John 16:33, as Jesus was preparing His disciples for His departure, He said, “In this world you will have tribulation, but be of Good Cheer, for I have overcome the world.” While this world is full of tribulation and suffering, for the Christian there is a firm foundation upon which we are able to stand - His Name is Jesus, and His promises can be fully relied upon!

God wants our whole heart. He desires that we fully Trust Him as our heavenly Father, a loving Father. The example of how he takes care of His creation, the fouls of the air, and He feeds them. Can we not Trust Him to feed those He calls His children?

As we finish chapter 6 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus gets into the heart of this issue. Worry is non-productive and has no place in the Christian’s life. It cannot help you. It cannot comfort you. It cannot give you peace. It cannot change your situation. It cannot give you one ounce of wisdom.

Where is your heart? Where are you laying up your treasure? What are you seeking after? What are you focused on? Is your faith real? Are you fully trusting in Him?

It’s all about relationship, not religion. The most important thing we can do in this life is to develop and maintain our relationship with Him. As we seek Him and His Kingdom, our faith will grow, we will trust Him more, and He will take care of our needs according to His promise.

Trust is faith in action. It is trusting God, and His promises for us no matter the circumstances. God wants His children to fully trust in Him!

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Sermon On The Mount - Part 4: 'Attention Seekers'

Bobservations Column

By Pastor Bob Lawrenz

Matthew 6 opens with several lessons in humility, and selflessness. This is a lesson that is contrary to the natural man. This is a lesson that comes up in the face of a salvation based in works. It is also a teaching that brings into question the ministry of Jesus as He traveled around the Galilee Sea, teaching, healing, and feeding throngs of people and innumerable crowds.

A few weeks ago in Matthew 4:23-25 that we read that His ministry touched many, and His fame went throughout Syria, and huge crowds followed Him from the Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond Jordan. In the modern world, these people would be fans, or “groupies.” It doesn’t sound very humble, does it? Yet...

Philippians 2:7 says, “But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:” The passage goes on further to say, “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

Jesus continues in ministry even today, allowing His Words to be spread abroad in the hearts of mankind by those that love Him. He still does not bolster His own reputation, but believers exalt Him anyways because of the reputation garnered from His followers. Movie stars and music artists, small companies and large corporations all have Public Relations agents or departments. 

Jesus needs none of them; His message and His works strike deep in the hearts of His own creation. Those that are His believers and His children laud His greatness, even as He Himself continues to be the humble servant He was when He walked this Earth with us.

When we speak of Jesus to others, who receives the attention? Who gets the glory? To whom are people drawn to? Unless it’s Jesus, there is something wrong with our message. There are many who follow Jesus’ teachings, but in reality do not follow Him in their faith-walk. These are false professors and teachers, gleaning from the wisdom of God, and ignoring Jesus’ true message which applies to them as well as those that hear them.

Personal pride is one of the pitfalls we share in this life. To humble ourselves is contrary to our human nature, but Jesus overcame His human side, and now sits at the right hand of the Father. He has shown us the way.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” ~ John 14:6

Today's Audio MessageMatthew 6:1-24

The Sermon On The Mount - Part 4:  "Attention Seekers"

Most believers want to serve God, but many of them do so for the wrong reasons. As we begin chapter 6 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus addresses these particular issues directly. He warns his disciples about the pitfalls of the flesh. There is a way that seems right (to us), but it is the wrong way. We must be on guard against the temptation to show off our spiritual abilities or accomplishments, or desire the praise of man. The Lord does not want us to be like the Pharisees who were self righteous, full of pride, and concerned only with the outward show of ritual and appearances of holiness. God is concerned with our hearts. He desires transformed lives that mirror Jesus - this is a true disciple.

Whatever we do, we do fully and wholeheartedly for the Lord, bringing Him the glory and honor that is due His name. God’s standards are higher than ours, and once again Jesus raises the bar.

By contrasting true spiritual service against hypocrisy and false piety, our Lord instructs His disciples about the motivation of the heart in giving, prayer, fasting, and what our true focus is, what we value or treasure most.

The title of today’s message, “Attention Seekers” is heart provoking causing us to question why we do the things we do? Our motivation and attitude become fundamental tests for us. God desires our whole heart. He wants us to serve Him with a pure heart - not for our own vain glory, but for His glory. He is preparing His children for His kingdom.

This is a great lesson to gauge where we are in our relationship with Him.

How and why do we give? What kind of a prayer life do we have? What is it that we treasure most? What we are focused on truly dictates our every action. We are to treasure our Lord above all else, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Matthew 6:21

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Sermon On The Mount - Part 3

Bobservations Column

By Pastor Bob Lawrenz

Many authors today offer their books in audio form. It’s a blessing to those that travel and those that cannot get to a library or a book store. And when it is the author that is reading his own words, something amazing happens. Their words are put together with the right inflection and correct context, and a much richer meaning is supplied to the listener.

Similarly, with our Deuteronomy 24 reading today, we read what the Lord has written to the Israelites in the Levitical Law. It left much room for embellishment by teachers and scribes who would come later on to teach the people. But then in today’s Matthew 5 teaching, Jesus speaks as the Word of God, the original source of the words in Deuteronomy 24, and He gives us a more accurate and richer meaning to the passage. Jesus’ instruction leaves no room for embellishment.

In the past week, I have had three occasions to be reminded of Psalm 89:34:
“My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that has gone out of my lips.”

Embellishment alters the meaning of what has been written or spoken. And if you have never noticed, every case heard by the US Supreme Court has one purpose: to alter the meaning of previous legislation, in essence negating the original law by creating exceptions to the law. Today. Our laws are so vaguely written, that anyone can argue most any meaning they want to read into a law. We can no longer say that we are a nation that follows the Rule of Law.

The First Amendment to the US Constitution states:
“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of
religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof:…”

In the 1960’s, the Supreme Court heard a case and determined that these first two phrases of the First Amendment implied that there was to be a separation of Church and State. In fact, the Amendment says no such thing. It prohibits legislators from establishing a religion, or interfering with the free exercise of religion, period. It does not say that religion cannot influence the Congress; indeed our laws were established on Biblical Principles!

Jesus frees us from embellishments like this, in Colossians 2:14 ~
“Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against
us, which was contrary to us, nailing it to His cross.”

Those confusing ordinances are already fulfilled by Christ Jesus.

Today's Audio Message: Matthew 5:31-48

The Sermon On The Mount - Part 3

This week we are still in the midst of Jesus’ first sermon – the Sermon on the Mount. In review, remember how Jesus started off by speaking about the type of life that is blessed by God?  His values are quite the opposite of what our world values. Jesus taught the disciples things like, “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit…Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are the meek.” Jesus went on to teach them that when we live according to His values, rather than the values of this world, we become as light and salt in this world of darkness, and in doing so we point the way to Him. Others are drawn to Him when they see the evidence of Him in our lives. We are to point others to Him, not ourselves. Jesus' teachings were much different than any they had heard before. While the Pharisees were interested in outward appearances and works, with a great emphasis on the letter of the law, Jesus was interested in our hearts.

The Jews lived by the Law, it was their rule of life. The Law was given to them by God, and handed down from the fathers. It was how they gauged a right relationship with God.

Jesus had no desire to abolish the Law, in fact, He came to fulfill it. He taught His disciples that righteousness doesn’t come from the outward action of obeying the Law.  In fact true righteousness isn't even possible in ourselves, nor can we obtain it on our own.  Righteousness is obtained by the blood of Christ, the cleansing of our sin, and the indwelling of His Spirit in our hearts.  We must be changed from within.  Just a quick overview of the Beatitudes, reveals that these things are not natural to us. 

Jesus affirmed this idea in verse 20 by saying, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  For the Jew, no one obeyed the law better than the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. If their righteousness had to surpass that of their religious leaders in order to enter heaven,  then it was impossible for them to attain. This is exactly the point of what Jesus was teaching.  He is teaching spiritual truths, not works of the flesh.  

The only way we can become righteous is to be made righteous by God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Romans 5:18-19 says, “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 reiterates this by saying, “ For he (God the Father) hath made him (Jesus) to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

I am sure His disciples wrestled a bit with this, and probably wondered how they should live in a way to please God if not by ritual and works.

As we finish chapter 5, Jesus continues to expound on examples of the Law and uses them to illustrate and explain exactly how we are to relate to it. Jesus is making clear that He is dealing with attitudes, the thoughts and intents of the heart.  Observing the Law was not a matter of adhering to external codes of conduct, but truly involves a rigorous self-examination of heart and soul.  Only God has the power to change the heart.

Jeremiah 3:17 states, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"

The moral aspect of the Law is holy, just and good, but it is powerless to change the heart.  We need a Savior!

Interesting how Jesus is displaying His authority. Six times over Jesus says, “You have heard it said…But I tell you.” By expounding on the requirements of the Law, Jesus is revealing equal authority with God, the Father. 

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