by Matthew Stidham
“You are what you love.” That’s the title of a book by James K. A. Smith that has challenged my life, particularly my heart. I’ve learned that my heart isn’t always focused on what it should be, regardless of what my actions show. This realization led me to the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’ longest teaching passages in Matthew 5-7. Some view this passage as a checklist we need to keep to please Jesus. But viewing the Sermon on the Mount as a checklist shows you’ve missed the point.
Take a look at this summary of the teachings in this passage:
That’s a lot of topics! It seems Jesus has something to say about nearly every part of our lives. But Jesus isn’t addressing a bunch of topics here. In reality, he addresses one topic and applies it to many different areas. What’s the one topic? The heart.
In every instance, Jesus is teaching us how we should orient our heart. We can try to follow checklists all day, but without our heart being right we’ll never be the people God calls us to be. Take a look at his teaching on murder, or adultery in the passage. The issue wasn’t outward actions, rather a matter of the heart.
Let’s look at one two more statements. In Matthew 5:16 Jesus says “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Yet chapter 6 starts with “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.”
How are we supposed to keep both of these? There’s no way to check these off a list. Logic says you cannot do both, but it all boils down to what our heart is seeking. Are we honoring God and glorifying Him, or showing off and honoring ourselves? If the heart is in the right place, we are doing exactly what Jesus wants. It all boils down to 6:21- “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Smith puts it this way: “…if the heart is like a compass…then we need to regularly calibrate our hearts, turning them to be directed to the Creator, our magnetic north.” In other words, what we do shapes us into who we become. The life of a Christian should be drastically different than a non-Christian. So how are we doing? Do we have a heart seeking God, or are we chasing after the world? What you love shapes your life. So, what are you seeking?
It’s time for a heart check. If we orient our heart toward seeking God, our attitudes will be God-focused when we’re mistreated (5:1-12). If our hearts are right, we will be salt and light (both of which are elements that change every situation they enter) for God’s glory (v. 13-16). If our hearts are seeking Christ and his righteousness, we will want to be righteous in our actions (v.17-20). If our hearts are seeking the Father, we won’t mistreat our brothers and sisters (v.21-26). If our hearts are centered on the covenental Creator, we will honor our spouses by remaining pure and committed to each other (v.27-32). If our hearts are on the God of justice, we will show love and honesty, and not seek revenge when we are wronged (v.33-48). If our hearts are pure we will give generously, not for our own glory, but to honor God (6:1-4). If our hearts are right we will pray heartfelt prayers that lift up others and don’t glorify ourselves…we’ll forgive others as we’ve been forgiven (v.5-15). If our hearts are right we’ll focus on God because of our want of relationship with him, not to impress others (v.19-24). If our hearts are right we’ll rely on Him for our needs without worry (v.25-34).
“You are what you love.” What does your heart seek? Do you seek after the things of God, or chase after whatever the world calls important? Jesus reminds us to “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Keep your heart focused on God. Keep honoring Him in everything you do. Seek him first and foremost. Only then will you have the true heart of a seeker.
Matt Stidham is the Preaching Minister for the East Side congregation in Snyder, TX. He and his wife Jennifer have three beautiful children. You can connect with Matt on Facebook (@matthew.d.stidham), on Twitter (@MatthewStidham), or at his blog – www.crosseyedchristianity.wordpress.com.
By Peter Horne
Several weeks ago I was having a conversation with someone about worship. Suddenly, it dawned on me how much my thought process differed from other worshippers.
There are some people who come to church each week asking “Will they sing the songs I like?” “Will the sermon meet my needs?” “Will my friends by there?” “Will my prayers be answered?” “Will my life be improved?”
Then there’s another group of people who come wondering who God will bring this week. They’re praying for opportunities to speak encouragement into someone’s life. They’re looking around for people they can meet and serve, and hoping that some first time guests will attend this week.
At first glance I hope that #2 seems more spiritual, more godly, more mature. Generally speaking, I agree. But generalizations have exceptions. We should bear in mind that we all have times in our lives where we need to receive rather than give. We need to be served rather than serve. Additionally, at some point almost all of us walked through the doors of a church as guests with a list of questions asking whether this was the right church for us.
We were seekers seeking.
Some of us knew what we were seeking. Others found the object of our search only when we stumbled upon it. We were all seeking.
Jesus asked a crowd of people a similar question in Matthew 11:2-15. Jesus’ cousin John has been imprisoned by Herod and sends messengers to Jesus. It seems that John wants confirmation that his ministry and now suffering were for the right reason, that they were worthwhile and that they mattered.
Jesus responds by giving a list of examples from his ministry, such as “the blind can see” that can be connected to messianic prophecies in the book of Isaiah such as Is 61:1-3. But then he turns to the crowd and asks this important question:
“Who did you go out into the wilderness to see?” Who were you seeking?
Matthew 3:5 records that, “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan river.” That’s a lot of people going to see and hear John the Baptizer. Now, some years later Jesus asks, “Who did you go out into the wilderness to see?”
He gives some choices: “Was it a reed, blown in the wind, waving this way and that?” “Was it someone in fine linens who’d make your life more comfortable and prosperous?” “Or did you go to see a prophet.”
Jesus knew well that people came to see him for a variety of reasons: Entertainment, financial gain, truth seeking, overthrowing the Romans, or protecting the status quo.
This blog series challenges us to reconsider our motives as we follow Jesus.
What are you seeking? Really?
Imagine you had the opportunity to interview Jesus like you might interview the leader of a church you’re considering attending. What would you ask him?
Without putting on your holy hat, what would you ask Jesus? What are you seeking… really? Will you take 10 minutes and make your list? When you’ve done that, pray over it. Read it to Jesus and see how the Holy Spirit moves your mind.
Peter Horne moved to the United States from Australia in 1999 to pursue training for ministry. Having filled the roles of children’s minister, youth minister, and college minister in various locations around the US and Australia, he now gladly serves as the minister for the Lawson Rd Church of Christ in Rochester, NY. You can find more of his writing on his blog: www.aussiepete.wordpress.com. He also writes to equip multi-ethnic churches at www.culturalmosaic.org.
Yesterday, I was listening to a speech in which a student, a little older than the “traditional” students in the room shared that one of the reasons he joined the military was the September 11th attacks on the United States. After he was done with his speech, a very well done and passionate self introduction, we had a moment to talk about the happenings of September 11th. There was a problem, however, in the room because my class full of freshman were born in 2000 and the happenings of September 11, 2001 are not something they can remember because, well, they were just coming into the world.
So, what began as a remark from a student, started a conversation about how this day changed the lives of Americans forever. Things that they assume are a normal way of life, to those of us who lived through the shift, were debated and questioned and to this day are a pain, especially in the world of travel. I got some questions, like, where were you when this happened? What were you doing? How did you find out? What was it like to watch this unfold on the news? What were your emotions on that day, that week? (It reminded me of when I asked my parents questions about the shooting of JFK)
I also have to admit my shock at the fact that so many years have passed that our college freshman, and really any traditional student in today’s university has little memory of a day in which most of us who are older probably wish we could erase from our minds and return to the innocence that existed before the horrific attack. However, something neat happened in our conversation, those who were a little older and had memories, shared them. Others listened. One student shared that her mother was in New York at the time of the attacks and was supposed to be in the towers, and for a few days after they were afraid that she had been killed…but evidentially they heard from her and she was safe. We talked about what is was like to fly on a plane before Sept. 11th and life without the TSA.
In this conversation, I remembered. And in my remembering, I thought about how important it is to communicate to young people the stories that matter. Stories that effect their lives in such direct and powerful ways and yet they, because of their “innocence of youth” that I consider a great thing, don’t have a lens by which to see. Today, my feed is filled with pictures and memes, reminders to remember and short sayings about those we lost on Sept 11, 2001. Today, as we remember a day that most of us would like to forget, your kids are going to come home from school with questions, young people are going to see news clips, and let those of us who remember not do so in silence…but let’s give the gift of our story so that remembering is done out loud and the empty pictures of the past can be filled with understanding and emotion, purpose and meaning.
I was in Memphis, TN…we had just finished a staff meeting when the youth minister reported that something was happening in New York City. We set up a TV and watched the news coverage, glued in disbelief that this was happening. It unfolded like one of the apocalypse movies that Hollywood was producing…but those weren’t stunt devils and this wasn’t staged…it was horrifying. Personally, I couldn’t turn it off and for days I felt sick to my stomach. Like most Americans, I was filled with tears and resolve when President Bush gave his speech at ground zero. I recalled visiting the twin towers on my high school senior trip to NYC…how big they were and how afraid of heights I am. The church hosted lunch prayer vigils in the chapel, spaces that were normally locked throughout the week were open to the community as all of us were in this together. Sad, angry, confused, scared, disoriented, and devastated were just some of my responses to this event. And…I had no personal connection meaning that none of my friends or family were taken on that day, so I cannot even begin to understand what some of my brothers and sisters went through. Like other tragedies, we have moved on and adjusted life…but it was just too huge.
One of the students commented that one of her friends was born on September 11 and she can’t stand being born on this day because it is a day of remembrance for the nation but a day that should be celebrated in her life. You know, that young woman is right to some extent, because often out of tragedy and hurt and pain, life not only continues, but is born anew and to only focus on the tragedy is to, in a way, continue to give power to those who performed the evil acts. So, to all those who were born today I say HAPPY BIRTHDAY, and we are so glad that you have given us something to cheer about today. May you live each day knowing that you are a reminder of the good in the midst of bad days. And don’t be afraid to celebrate your birth…And to the younger generations, take our stories and our memories and be empowered to make the world something better than our experience of it. Continue to live, hope, dream, and work…and as we resolved on that day in 2001, September 11, never let a tragedy dictate who you are, allow it to influence your resolve and motivate your desire for goodness. When we tell our stories, remember the past, live on, and work for the future…well, then we are truly human beings, and let’s not settle for anything less!
Ok - So, I'm trying something new...I am doing a video of the blog, "vlogging," I think it is called or something like that. Let me know if you like this format and I will think about doing it more often! Maybe... Enjoy anyways!
We have survived another summer and it’s about time for school to start again. We have had our trips to the beach—our vacations full of more activities than our normal lives around here. We have enjoyed time with family, perhaps a reunion or two, and the driving back-and-forth to camps of all sorts. Our gardens are fitting into their jars and our yards are bursting, thanks to all of the rain. In a very short time, we will be driving to football games, going through corn mazes and trying to find the scariest experiences our kids can handle. Parents will be on homework duty again, trying to figure out why we were never taught these methods in our educational upbringing. Grandma is looking forward to the holidays, grandpa is looking forward to hunting season, and life rolls on in an endless routine of activities. Each season brings with it work to do, happenings to attend, people to visit, good times to be shared.
If my life was a simple routine then that would be one thing, but often I find myself flirting with complete chaos. Recently, I visited my uncle and he has a habit of getting up early every morning to pull weeds from his garden. So each day I was visiting, my uncle would be out in his garden pulling the few weeds that had sprung up overnight. When I returned home, the contrast of my garden and my lack of discipline could not have been more obvious. In my garden, weeds were everywhere…choking out the cucumbers, growing up through the pepper plants, blocking the sun from hitting the okra plants. I took my string trimmer in there and started going to town. And why? Because I needed to get the weeds to a manageable height so that I might have a chance at pulling them. The garden was utter chaos, and my lack of tending it resulted in my having to overwork to get it back to a manageable state…sometimes our lives can get untended and overgrown causing more work and anxiety than we really want to have.
I’m busy. Sometimes I feel more like a kid taxi driver than a minister, and at times I’m pretty sure I get so caught up in the routine of life activities, that it begins to choke out all of the good stuff life has to offer—joy, peace, love, hope—and in those moments I realize that my lack of daily attention to the things that matter create a chaos that I have to work so hard to overcome. For me, the local church is my foundation, my anchor in the chaos, the community of faith helps me think through my priorities, helps me keep the good stuff at the center of my life, and helps me navigate the hectic routines with purpose. I pray you have something that keeps you anchored reminding you of the important things. If this is lacking in your life, then please consider the importance of a community of faith.
All of this to say, there isn’t one of us who are perfect at this life thing…we get caught up in so much. Many of us suffer from hurts, habits, and hang-ups that keep us trapped in a never-ending routine of nothing but “weeds.” Some of us are addicted. Some of us are at the end of our rope. And there, in the midst of it all is the quiet presence of the Living God. God is waiting to be discovered anew in our lives. God wants our seasons, struggles, and situations brought before Him. When our lives are utter chaos, when our lack of tending our souls has resulted in all levels of depletion, God can restore us back to our intended purpose.
You local church is not interested in being another thing on your schedule, another activity to attend, another place to drop off your kids, or another boring religious ritual to endure. Jesus claimed that He has come to give life, and to give it to the fullest. There is something more to life than vacations and trips, beaches and forests, sports and activities. All of these things are great, but they are all gifts provided by God who wants us to live in gratitude for each and every season we are given on this earth. So, in the routine and craziness of our busy world, do we have time for God? Can we make time for God?
Know that God loves you so much that Jesus Christ, the son of God, was sent to repair the broken relationship between God and humanity. This involved a cross, but it also involved a resurrection from the dead and a reunion of Father and Son that we believe will one day include us. To this end we hope, and remain faithful to God. Please consider the tending of your soul, and know that for anyone who wants to have a relationship with God, God has already made the first move! Everything we do is in response to God…so, what’s your response?
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.