I hear crickets. Dogs call to each other across the ridges. A turkey gobbles off in the distance. The huge leaves of the banana tree my hammock is perched in on the side of this mountain rustle with the never ending breeze. After a scorching week in the sun the coolness of the continuous flow of wind borders on miraculous.
It has been a week of weeks. Our team has been outstanding. They work and play with an energetic tenacity on par with their vivacious faith. Grace drips from these people like the sweat they have shed for seven days.
We have been to school after school playing with kids, performing skits, praying, speaking, loving. We have visited small churches, in the remote places of the Guatemalan Mountains where our people have preached the love of Jesus. We have given away food. We have built a wall. We have built a road. We’ve been busy. It’s been good.
Busy and good are not always words I like to put together—but accomplishing the work, sharing the good news, and serving my friend Greg’s ministry are both. Because busy can be good when it is purpose driven.
As I lay in my hammock staring out across the expanse of darkness at the closest ridge I can see the humble twinkle of distant village homes. The places that house the beautiful people of Guatemala.
I can rest full of faith in the one who sent us. I can sleep soundly satisfied in our pursuit of purpose. I never enjoy leaving my family behind—and under different circumstances would probably bring them—but even in my homesickness I can rest in the peace of God.
In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus declares his followers to be as a shining city on a far dark night. That’s our job. To take hope with us. We partner with powerful people of God in needed places. We are Gondor in the midst of Mordor. We are beacons among burdens—and bonfires among chilling darkness.
I have burned in my heart the desire to go to far places and far people because, as A.W. Tozer penned, “if my fire is not large it is yet real, and there may be those who can light their candle at its flame.”
Read: Matthew 5:43-48
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (Matthew 5:46 ESV)
I used to really love getting a box of CrackerJacks. Not because of the snack. But because of the prize. That little red box came with a guarantee—some reward waited inside.
In many ways that mindset never left me. Even as I stepped into ministry I found myself only investing where I was sure to get a return. I rarely poured into people that couldn’t do something for me. I rarely invested in a church that wasn’t capable of sowing into my ministry. I’m glad that about me eventually changed.
Jesus had to work on me a lot. I was, and still am, stubborn. However, over time he lead me to see the value of giving love without a secret agenda. It’s how he did it. It’s how he still does it. Jesus simply loves people. All people.
Too often we make the mistake of trying to think we can screen people before extending the love of Christ in their direction. Shame on us. There is no filtration system for the love of God. We do not have the right to make a choice for someone where love is concerned.
Read: Matthew 5:38-42
Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. (Matthew 5:42 ESV)
My bank account is not overflowing with staggering financial figures. My wife and I do not own our home. We don’t drive new vehicles. We love to give. We especially love to give to people who have no idea we are doing it. That’s the best. I’m not trying to put us up on some kind of religious pedestal. I simply want to point out a principle Jesus taught that we are embracing.
Giving is powerful. It creates in you a condition of surrender that says to God, “Ok, Lord, everything I have is in reality Yours. It can be used by You, for You, and through You. Distribute it as You please.” There is an indescribable amount of freedom that comes with a lack of attachment to your stuff.
Jesus gave EVERYTHING. To those who hated, accused, slandered, mocked, abused, and murdered him he in turn poured out his blood, sweat, tears, mercy, healing, grace, and life. Jesus gave EVERYTHING.
The overwhelming pattern of the Gospel is this. GIVE. Give your money, your time, your desires, your finances, and your life to God and to others. He will use it in better ways than you could ever hope to. If you try to keep it, you will lose it. If you let it go you will actually find that the power of the truth was hiding from you all along.
Read: Matthew 5:33-37
Let what you say be simply “Yes” or “No”; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:37 ESV)
“I swear” used to be a regularly heard phrase. Probably because of the popularity of a hit song by the same name. It spoke of the depth of the love a man had for a woman, and how he was swearing an oath based on all of these wondrous astrological things. It’s a beautiful thought, but its deceptive.
Jesus taught his followers that their words were empty when there were too many of them. People did not need to accompany all of their promises to God, or each other, with all of the wordy oaths that had become so commonplace. “Yes” or “No” was enough.
I can readily identify with this idea. It’s so easy to want to make grand proclamations in accompaniment with our promises. Still, its easy to want to make our promises more about the fact that we are making them in the first place, and less about what we are actually committing ourselves to do.
How many weddings have you been to that were absolutely breathtaking ceremonies either aesthetically or ritually? How many of them ended in disaster? None I hope, but the evidence is all around us. Hundreds and thousands of wonderfully worded weddings end abruptly every year. Forgotten are the word-filled vows to love and cherish until departure by death. What if the commitment to being together, the “Yes” was more important than the way it’s displayed for the world?
Weddings are an easy to spot example, but this principle carries over into every day life. When someone asks us to pray for their need, we don’t need to just quote them a scripture and agree to remember them later in prayer. We need to pray for them. Regularly. Right on the spot if possible. And there are many more examples we could discuss. The simple idea is that when you make an oath, when you promise, when you vow—”Yes” or “No” is enough.
Read: Matthew 5:31-32
“It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” (Matthew 5:31 ESV)
Divorce is such a terribly tragic thing. It is the unravelling, the death, of something brought together under a covenant, blessing, and vows. When a married couple divorces it is the death of not only the present state of that marriage, but also the death of all of their future together.
It seems like we see a lot of this today. Think about it for a second. How many people do you know that are divorced? How many people even in your own family have experienced its affects? Perhaps you yourself have experienced divorce first hand.
The church is not an exception, which is a terrible indictment upon our call to reflect Christ. Jesus loved the church so much that he died so it would come into being. And the bible tells us that one day he will return for his bride. What if he changed his mind? What if he decided he would rather divorce the church rather than put up with it for the rest of eternity? Thankfully he has already told us that he would never leave nor forsake us.
We live in a culture where it is too easy to walk out on stuff. Covenants and commitments mean very little. People give up on each other at home, socially, and in the church. I believe God made it possible to live a better way. A way full of commitment, covenant, and communal attachment. All we have to do to experience it is divorce our own selfishness and continually walk into his awaiting merciful grace.
Read: Matthew 5:27-30
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29 ESV)
I remember watching the press conference several years ago after a lost hiker had been found. He had been faced with a life or death situation as a result of an accident and made the decision to amputate his arm after getting it trapped. I listened as he described his situation, the decision making process, and finally the procedure he used to remove his arm. He could have kept his arm, stayed trapped, and died. Or, he could remove his arm through a terribly painful self-inflicted wound and try to make it to safety. It was a horrible dilemma, but the choice to remove his arm saved his life.
Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount about voluntarily removing body parts reminds me of that hiker. The thought of literally removing body parts to avoid hell is sobering, and admittedly a little disturbing. But what if it didn’t have to come to that?
Couldn’t the same principle Jesus is speaking of be applied to the things in our lives that lead us toward sin? Let me give you an example. If a certain type of movie caused us to think sinful thoughts or pursue sinful acts wouldn’t it be better to just stop watching movies than to cut your eye out?
In the old days people called this principle holiness. And yes, some strange things have been done in pursuit of holiness, but I would rather be found to be strange than spend an eternity in hell. In the past this meant getting rid of a lot of stuff. As I find myself striving to be more like Jesus, I find myself pursuing authentic holiness. This isn’t something made up by men with a long list of rules and how to’s. It is, however, a reverent walk with Christ. One in which I long to be both sensitive and obedient. Ridding myself of distractions and hindrances along the way.
Read: Matthew 5:21-26
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23, 24 ESV)
Have you ever had a really bad argument with someone? What about one that ended so badly you felt really distant at the end of it? Some things happen between people that drive an unhealthy wedge-like space into the relationship.
During his Sermon on the Mount Jesus told his followers that in order to worship to their fullest potential they didn’t to do so without any unreconciled relationships. Whoa! It makes sense if you think about it. Why? Because the thing that creates unreconciled hearts is sin.
Sin separated us from God. Jesus came to bring reconciliation to that relationship. But he also came so that we could be reconciled to one another. Further, he expects that of us if we are going to worship him. And while disagreement or discord may sometimes be incredibly difficult to avoid, we should always yearn for reconciliation. It might not come in the way that we would hope for, but God knows our hearts.