Background Scripture: Matthew 6:1-8,16-18
Quotes of the Week:
You can plant a church and grow a church. That's not that hard to do, but it's harder to be a viable source of transformation in a city or your time or space.
The next series of lessons deal with transformation. All of the passages for this series are taken from Matthew 6 and Matthew 7. These chapters are the second and third chapters of the Sermon on the Mount. Lessons from Matthew 5 were a couple of series ago and can be found on the Index Page. They all begin with the title "Distinct in My…. ". As you might expect, the Sermon on the Mount packs some very personal words of Jesus to each of us.
As believers, we are to be transformed. You likely have heard of the movie, The Transformers, and have also seen toys that transform from cars or trucks into robots, and then back. The transformation of Christians is not that type of transformation, however novel that might be. In all truth, I imagine there is a bit of that in each of us, not transforming in and out of being a car or a truck, but all of us tend to, at one time or another, go in and out of true Christian character, don't we? When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are changed. The Bible says that we are new creatures. As such, we are not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Hopefully in the next few lessons, we will all give some thought to our own transformation and what that means for each of us. This lesson deals with aspects of worship, but we will discuss transformation, as it relates to prayer, possessions, plans, opinions and obedience in upcoming lessons. To be transformed should impact every area of our lives.
Have you ever thought about con artists and why they are often successful? They have learned that most people act on their emotions. If a con artist can engage you emotionally, it makes getting you to believe them all that much easier. I would imagine that most of us have fallen victim to con artists at one point or another. We thought them to be one thing, but they were really something else. Have you ever felt conned at church? It is easy to see a hypocrite every way you look, including if you are looking in a mirror. If any of us try and come across as perfect, we are doing a con job. While it may not be the same as a con job, I occasionally feel like I am being conned in worship services. I enjoy corporate worship, but it can become overbearing if I feel that the music leader is trying to evoke specific emotion from the congregation. Worship is not intended to be a high school pep rally, but an intimate experience with God. Certainly, corporate worship can become very intimate and it can be very emotional, as well, but it is more about the leading of the Holy Spirit than the coercion of a leader. When it becomes all about the encouragement to be emotional, it loses something for me. However, your view may differ.
One other thought about fake transformation is that it can occur when we put on a front to make others think we are something different than we really are. As we grow, we are taught to seek the approval of others, in school and sports and in many families kids try to act in a way to please their parents. We are all taught that there is an appropriate way to act based on the circumstances. For the older folks that read this, I might term this the "Eddie Haskell" mentality. He was also kind to Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver, but he was certainly a rabble rouser. This can actually backfire when we are one way in some situations, but truly another way at other times. If everything is circumstance based, it is always like we are putting on a show. Who are we, really? On the other hand, there are others who actually go out of their way to be unlike anyone else. I believe the key is less about trying to be like or unlike any human standard, but truly becoming the people that God has called us to be, wherever we go. This truly takes transformation.
The transformation that we have is not something that we do. Anyone who thinks that it comes by doing will ultimately end up on some sort of treadmill, doing this and not doing that, pretending to be transformed. We might be able to play the part for a while, but if you are just going through the motions on the outside, you're missing something big. Being transformed is about who we become, and only then will we be able to impact our world. Others are moved by legitimacy and not by a show. I believe one of the biggest failures of many Christians is an overzealous desire to look spiritual, but to choose which area in which they desire to be changed - especially as it pertains to what will 'sell' best to those around them.
The Jewish church was great at helping the poor. In Jesus' day, there were no government programs to subsidize the community. So, it was common for people to give through the church to help those who needed it. Likewise, many churches today have benevolence programs or other named programs to help people who have needs. In Jesus day, there were likely many motives for giving, and I'm sure that some gave simply believing that it was necessary to give in order to achieve righteousness before God. (Many people give today, because they are told to give). In Mark 12:41-44, Jesus was sitting across from the temple treasury and watching the crowd drop money into the treasury. Many rich people came and gave much, and I suppose they made a show about what they gave. Jesus told the disciples that the poor widow who gave two coins put more into the treasury than the others. He made it clear that it is our attitude in giving that is more important. Giving from the heart, as opposed to giving for show was what Jesus wanted.
In this passage, Jesus said that when you give to the needy, do not do so by announcing with trumpets, as some did in the synagogues and on the streets, in order to be honored by others. Certainly when people give large amounts to a charity or even for things like a church building program, others do give them some amount of honor. Jesus said that when you give to the needy, do so in secret. Then, our Father, who knows what is done in secret, will reward us. Unfortunately, many churches today would rather receive the larger financial donations, regardless of the inward condition of the giver's heart. Often, we are guilty at looking at the wrong things ourselves, it's as if believe that the end somehow justifies the means. I know that I have been part of some stewardship campaigns in churches in the past where some people make their pledge in public. That always hit me a little wrong. When a large sum was given, people seemed to ooh and ahh. For others, it was a polite clap.
Giving is a key part of worship. In fact, true worship involves giving of ourselves, as opposed to simply giving monetarily. We shouldn't be doing any part of worship as a show. I don't believe that there are many people that are guilty of trying to put on a show in worship (at least in the congregation). Certainly, in some places, there may be some who tend to stand out, and whether that is because they want to stand out, or they have some other issue, we don't know, but they can indeed be a distraction to others. We should never do what we do to be seen. Again, we may be seen while we are doing, but we shouldn't do to be seen. We shouldn't seek the approval of others for doing the right thing, ever.
In Acts 5:1-11, there was a couple named Ananias and Sapphira. They were part of a church that was growing and was meeting the needs of those in their church and the community. Many people sold possessions and gave of what they had to the church. Perhaps those who had sold their property and given it to the church were honored among the church members. Ananias and Sapphira had some property and they decided to sell it and give the proceeds to the church. However, they decided to save back part of the proceeds for their own use. What they did was not necessarily wrong, but you get the impression that they implied that they gave everything to the church. They met a very fateful ending, as they both ended up dying when their deeds were exposed. This always seemed quite harsh to me, as we all have done things much worse, but perhaps that was used in some way in the church at the time to refocus on what was really important.
When do you think we will really get it through our heads? Most of us would agree that God knows everything about us, our motives and thoughts. However, in so many parts of our lives, we act as if our actions are hidden from Him. We may do good things with the wrong motives. We may choose to sin in ways that we think will never be found out or we may try and justify our sin. We may gossip and lie about others and say things that we know to be dishonoring, but at the same time espouse the greatness of God. In James, it says from the same mouth comes both blessing and cursing, it should not be so. Can both fresh water and bitter water flow from the same spring? I know that we all will fail from time to time, but are there harmful attitudes, actions or thoughts that have become so prevalent in your life that you have gotten to the point of forgetting that God sees them? This is a dangerous place to be, for any of us. Part of our transformation is to make the changes necessary so that when we have sinned, we acknowledge our sin and turn back to Him.
In Jesus' day, the Jewish temple involved much public prayer. Public prayer was a given part of the Jewish life. Some people always sought the spotlight when they prayed. I can see how public prayer can be good, as it is helps to voice concerns of different people in a manner that others can also pray for them. It isn't intended to be a form of gossip, although some seem to want to get a point across in their prayers. Public prayer can become a problem when the one doing the praying is trying to satisfy the wrong audience. Rather than seeking God, the prayer can become more of an oratory and a grammatical masterpiece. Jesus said that when people are praying to be seen (or heard), to be seen (or heard) is their reward, and that is all.
Jesus said that when they prayed, they were to go into their own room, close the door and pray to their Father, who is unseen. Certainly prayer in a group can be good and Jesus is not speaking against it, but we should be truly seeking God. The reward comes from seeking God, and not from the prayer to end all prayers. Jesus continued to say that when they prayed, they were not to keep babbling as many in pagan religions. We know that God hears us and rather than giving information to God about our situation, we are showing a desire to be aligned with Him.
There are a few things that we can discuss in regards to prayer. First, it is assumed that we are praying. Are we praying? If you looked back at your last week, how much time did you spend before God in prayer? Be honest with yourself. Some are religious with their meal prayers and bedtime prayers. These prayers often become ritualized and hold little to no meaning Berkley and I have been places with others and have often spent just a few seconds in prayer before a meal. On more than one occasion, I've had people come up and say how much they appreciated that they saw us praying. So, just because a prayer (like before a meal) may be something you always do, it doesn't mean it is a 'ritual prayer', unless you are doing it to impress others. If your heart's desire is to truly thank God for the meal you are about to eat, it is a genuine and heartfelt prayer that you happen to pray on a regular basis. The difference between a prayer you pray out of habit vs one you do because you think you have to or do it to impress others is all about the 'why' you are doing what you are doing. Although if that is all you ever pay, you are missing a key component of your faith.
There are many reasons why people pray. For some, it is a habit. For some, it is what they are 'supposed' to do. I remember one time at church, when the deacons were supposed to call all of the members in the church to share some church news. I got a call from my deacon, and his words were something like they "told me that I was supposed to call you". I got the intention that there was no other reason than he was told to do it. On the receiving end, that doesn't make you feel all that wanted. How do you think God feels when we only pray because we are supposed to?
It is important that we spend time in prayer. You will come across many people who have prayer needs. Have you ever heard of others who have needs and you said that you would pray for them. Did you really pray for them? Those are such easy words to say and they are so appreciated, but we so often don't follow through. Life happens and we forget what we said we would pray for. Take the time to look around you and find things to pray for. I have found that when I have things to pray for that are beyond my own situation, I am more likely to pray consistently. The more time you spend in prayer, the more life becomes transformed.
I know in my own life, I have seen churches that grew in great depth when the people prayed. Often, it takes a tragedy to bring people to their knees. I know there have been accidents involving church members, where people most certainly started praying in earnest. I also know that many of you are praying for us, as we deal with ALS. Hopefully, as you seek God in prayer, even lifting us up, you will sense His presence. And, thank you for your prayers.
Do you need a set time and place to pray? Certainly, we can pray at any time, at any place. Some of my most precious prayers have come while I have been driving. Others have come at church. Some have come from different places in my house. Some have come on mission trips or different retreats. Some people have set times that they spend in prayer. They may have a set room that they go to. One advantage of doing this is you can collect the prayer requests that you have and put them in one place, so that you can be sure to pray for them. If setting a time and place is beneficial to you, why not try that?
The last point on prayer that I will touch on is the idea of repetition. Some religions are all about their repetitive prayers. You pray these words at this time. Some religions are based on saying the words over and over and over. You will find times where you have the same need for a long time. When you deal with a serious illness; that might be a major part of your prayers for many months, or even years. You may have similar issues with family matters or something else in your life. God knows what you are dealing with, and while you don't need to 'convince' God over and over, you do need to share your heart in prayer. At times, we don't know what to pray, and the Bible tells us that the spirit will intercede for us. But, it assumes that we are praying.
Does Satan object to prayers? Actually, as long as our prayers are canned and as long as it misses the mark that God would have us meet, he would encourage us to pray. Anything that he can get you and I to do that 'seems' religious, but is of no value, is something that he will let you do all day long. I believe that Satan thrives upon those who are close to God doing things that take them further away, or do not bring them closer to God. Would Satan be happy with your prayer life today?
Fasting is still done by some people, although it is much less widely done these days. To fast means to give up something that you normally do and need. For example, both Berkley and I could give up many vegetables for months, but that wouldn't' be fasting for either of us, because we don't normally eat a lot of veggies. It is good to spend time at different points in your life, giving up things, so that you can show reliance upon God. While you may tell those close to you that you are fasting, it seems obvious that we should not be advertising our fast, because in doing so, we may be playing ourselves as more spiritual than everyone else.
While it may not be fasting, there are some Christians that seem to relish in being publically miserable. When you find yourself trying to seek the pity of others, or trying to make others feel sorry for you, or trying to garner spiritual respect by your misery, you've missed the boat. Some people seem to thrive in the martyr syndrome, getting others to feel sorry for them. Certainly, there will be times where life becomes difficult. And there is a time where sharing what you're going through is good, as long as you are not doing it to lift yourself up or to gain pity. Social media shows us the good and bad of this exact scenario. In one case we hear how people only post about their 'good' life and not about the bad times, but others seem to thrive on posting all the 'poor me' posts they can. I think there is a balance to this. It's important to be seen as being authentic and real, but we need to use our brains and filter before we share what we want to. I know Berkley has jokingly said that she has learned not to post anything before 9:30am and before having a cup of coffee, something to eat and has prayed. But in all seriousness, she does post updates about things we are dealing with, and while people generally say very encouraging things, her goal in sharing what she does, is not to get more 'likes' or comments, but to truly share with those we know are interested to learn how we are doing, and to be able to pray more specifically for us. I have heard others say to her that they appreciate her being honest and willing to be candid about the good days and the less than good days, and how we are being impacted by them all. There again, the motive is the driving force and the sole reason as to whether or not God is being glorified or if self is being promoted.
When you give, give freely. Make your giving to be part of your worship. Give personally and privately, as you try to help where there are needs. Giving may very well be your part in achieving God's will at a point in time. But, don't give to be seen. When you pray, do so deliberately and continuously. When you find yourself spiritually hungry, find the time to pray, focusing your prayers toward God and pray for the needs of others. There are always others with needs - those who have lost loved ones, those who are ill or those who are seeking Godly wisdom for their lives. When you are burdened to grow, fast and show true reliance upon God. Do it between yourself and God. Don't do it to garner sympathy from others.
It comes down to the question of who you are living your life for. Are your living for yourself? Are you living for others? Or, are you living for God? While God is concerned about what you do, He is more concerned about your attitude and your motives. God knows your heart, and as we are transformed, the goal is to make the things we do reflect the inner being that we are. Don't put on a show, but allow God to show you where you need to make a change.