My little daughter recently had a sinus infection that caused one of her eyes to swell shut. (This happened over Christmas. Of course it did.) The doctor prescribed medicinal eye drops, which we were to apply to her little eyes several times a day. I don’t know if it’s easier to rope a calf than to apply eye drops to a squirmy toddler, but I’m certain it’s more pleasant for both cowboy and calf. After dropping the clear little drops in her hair and her ears and her mouth and her nose, we decided on a different tack: bribery. “If you let me put the eyedrops in your eyes, we’ll give you some ‘choca”’. (“Choca” being her word for chocolate.) It worked. A drop was equal to a chocolate chip, and soon several times a day we were being asked for “I-jops” and “chocas”, and dispensing a fair quantity of both.

And then her prescription ran its course, the infection went away, and we no longer needed the bribe. However, like many a corrupt Third World bureaucrat, my daughter had become hooked on the hush money, and would silently sidle up to me several times a day, climb into my lap, stick her face in mine, cock her head like a crow, and earnestly ask, “I-jops? Chocas?”

Weak father though I am, I am not about to give her medicine she doesn’t need, and so I’ve been politely turning down her requests. If it were good for her, I’d refill the prescription, but it isn’t and I haven’t.

But you know what? I love it that she asks, and I hope she never stops asking me for things.

Jesus says that if human fathers like me delight in giving to our children, how much more will the one he calls our “Father in heaven” delight in giving to his children.

So, when he says in today’s Gospel reading, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”, I wonder: maybe he really means it.

What do you need to ask for today?

Today’s Scripture

Matthew 7:7-12


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[I’m reading through the Gospels this year, and every weekday I’m posting some thoughts on that day’s reading. Here’s today’s post.]

Take this Test to See if You are a Hypocrite

Are you breathing?

I’m sorry to tell you: you are a hypocrite.

Still not convinced?

Do you judge other people by their actions but yourself by your intentions?

Congratulations, you are definitely a hypocrite.

Still not persuaded? There is one final test.

Go look in the mirror.  Only hypocrites can be seen in the mirror.

I kid. But seriously. When Jesus tells us not to judge, he doesn’t mean that we should refrain from discerning between right and wrong, good and evil. He means that we should beware putting ourselves in the morally superior position of the Judge. We’re not the Judge; we’re the same as everybody else: we’re all hypocrites.

Which means we all need mercy.

Today’s Scripture

Matthew 7:1-6

In Case You Missed It

I preached a whole sermon about this passage on Sunday:

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What if Jesus meant it literally?

When talking to his followers about anxiety and stress, what if he wanted them to literally do what he said?

When he told his followers to “Consider the lilies,” what if he really meant it?

And when he says, “Seek first the kingdom,” what if he actually wants us to do it?

What if you spent time today looking at something beautiful and ordinary that God made?

What if you the first thing you did upon waking tomorrow was to spend time in quiet prayer and reflection before God?

What if this stuff actually works?

Today’s Scripture

Matthew 6:19-34

And, In Case You Missed It

I wrote a post last night about “Antidotes to Anxiety.” I also preached a sermon last week on this exact passage:

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Antidotes to Anxiety

by Andrew Forrest

I subscribe to a fascinating (free) newsletter called “The Masculinist.” It’s put out by a man named Aaron Renn, and it is broadly about “the intersection between Christianity and Masculinity.” This month’s edition is about anxiety and what practically we can do about it. Mr. Renn writes:

“In my experience today, far too many people are way too saturated with stress (cortisol) on a persistent basis. The culprit is pretty simple to identify in many cases – national politics – but there are many other possible sources.

It’s natural to be anxious about election results, but even prior to Trump, the news cycle and social media were increasingly keeping people in a perpetual state of agitation.

I see so many people today who regularly post rants on Facebook about the outrage du jour.  Even when I agree with them, I can’t help but think that some of these folks have damaged their mental and even physical health by working themselves up like this daily.

Most of the things that get me upset fall into two categories: 1) minor indignities of daily life that quickly pass, such as getting cut off in traffic, or 2) macro events that I cannot plausibly effect.  The former tend to be self-correcting. The latter will turn me into a cortisol factory if I let them.”

He’s so right: so many of us are worked up about things over which we have no immediate control. But what can we do about it? How do we break this harmful habit? Mr. Renn continues:

“So I actively take steps to try to ensure I’m raising my “testosterone” and lowering my “cortisol.”  For example, while I did personally vote, I didn’t even watch the midterm election results roll in. I kept my computer shut and just woke up the next morning to see who had won. Similarly, I tuned out the news and social media the final week of the Kavanaugh confirmation process.

When there is something in the news that I consider “bad,” I try to tune things out. Conversely, when something happens that I see as a “win,” I spend a lot of time on Twitter….

The point is to avoid getting perpetually stressed out over things I can’t do anything about. It’s not that I don’t care, but I try to focus my engagement where I do think I can make something of a difference, even if small scale….

Another way to think about this comes from Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I’ve actually never read the book, but a mentor used an illustration from it to kick me in the butt one time. This model involves two circles, one nested inside the other. The smaller, inner circle is our “circle of influence” (or control). This is what we are responsible for or can affect in some way. The larger outside circle is our “circle of concern,” which is everything we are worried about or can affect us.


Our circle of concern should be bigger than our circle of influence, because that’s how we grow. We expand our influence into new areas this way. But if our circle of concern is too much bigger than our circle of influence, then we end up distracted from focusing on the things we can do something about or the things we are actually primarily responsible for. What’s worse, because we can’t do anything about the things that are inside our circle of concern but outside of our circle of influence, we get eaten up with useless worry, etc. This is the zone of negative energy where our cortisol levels spike up and our effectiveness decreases and our health can even be jeopardized.


This mentor told me my circle of concern was way too big – far larger than my circle of influence – and it was only going to get me in trouble. And he was right.


Because of social media and other things, our circles of concern today tend to be gigantic. We are worried about all sorts of macro things, especially national politics, far removed from our sphere of influence in our daily lives. Again, this only causes us mental and even physical health problems, and takes our focus and energy away from where it should be.” [emphasis added]

Read the whole thing, and, men, do yourself a favor and go ahead and subscribe to “The Masculinist.”

There are lots of bad things in the world, and lots of reason to be outraged. I’m just not sure, however, if our constant anxiety is really helping anything. Forgive me for quoting myself, but I think the advice Jesus gives is the best antidote I know to anxiety. Just do it every morning, and see what happens:

Try it tomorrow.

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A Terrifying Verse

by Andrew Forrest

This has got to be among the most terrifying verses in the entire Bible. After he teaches his disciples how to pray what we call “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus says this:

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 6:14-15

The context is the closing part of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” (The language is old-fashioned. What Jesus literally says is “debts,” but the sense is more like “sins” or “wrongs, etc. I personally like “trespasses,” which always makes me think of someone deliberately transgressing on someone else’s property.) I don’t totally understand, but Jesus clearly implies that there is some spiritual connection between our willingness to forgive others and our capacity to receive forgiveness from God.

Terrifying. Who do you need to forgive today?

Don’t wait.

Today’s Scripture

Matthew 6:1-18

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Read today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount and then ask yourself, “What kind of person would be able to do the things that Jesus is talking about?”

That’s exactly the point. God’s desire is to remake a person from the inside out so that he or she is actually capable of fulfilling the promise of the Sermon on the Mount. Courage, fidelity, peace, honesty, reconciliation–these are what result in a person who decides to follow Jesus and learn from him.

Are you willing?

Today’s Scripture

Matthew 5:21-48

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How to Make Salt

by Andrew Forrest

Salt has two uses in the kitchen:

  1. It enhances (brings out the flavor);
  2. It preserves (keeps from rotting).

Jesus tells his followers that they are like salt: they are to make society better, and they are to keep society from going bad.

What about if the Church loses its saltiness, what if it loses what makes it distinct? Jesus says that then

“It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

Matthew 5:13b

We can all cite multiple examples over these last 2,000 years when the Church abandoned what made it distinct and went along with the wider culture–it’s always disaster and ruin, both for the Church and the world. (Think of slavery in the New World, e.g.)

So, it is crucial that we stay salty and thereby have something to offer the world. But how? Here’s one quick thought.

The Sermon on the Mount is a seamless garment, all woven together, and so I think part of the way that the Church keeps its saltiness is to pay attention to what Jesus says later on in today’s passage:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Matthew 5:17

In other words, the message of Jesus is connected to the Scriptures. I think one of the ways we can ensure our saltiness is by doing exactly what we’re doing: reading and poring over the Scriptures.

May God use his Word to make you salty today.

Today’s Scripture

Matthew 5:13-20

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The opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount are among the most famous words of Jesus, and the most difficult to understand.

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.'”

Matthew 5:1-12

What does that mean? Am I supposed to be poor in spirit? Does Jesus want me to be in mourning?

The Key to Understanding the Beatitudes

It’s always important to pay attention to context, and I heard Tim Mackie say something about this passage’s context that has completely changed my understanding of the Beatitudes. He made the point that the crowds Matthew mentions in v.1 are described in the previous verses at the end of chapter 4:

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.”

Matthew 4:23-25

The crowd to which Jesus is speaking the Beatitudes is made up of the sick, the broken, the down-trodden, the unimportant, etc. And it is to those people that Jesus says, “you are blessed.” Why? Because Jesus has brought the Kingdom to them!

That insight has made all the difference to me. All of those people–the poor in spirit, the mourning, the ones who hunger for righteousness–all of those people find the answer in Jesus, who is ushering in the Kingdom.

And you know what? It’s still the same today.

Today’s Scripture

Matthew 5:1-12

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I received the following in the mail on Monday, the day of the College Football National Championship game between Alabama and Clemson:

Now, am I claiming that part of the Clemson coaching staff’s visit to Munger on Christmas Eve resulted in their National Championship win over Alabama on Monday evening? No, I would never be that arrogant.

On the other hand, the facts don’t lie….

 

If That’s What They Do, No Wonder They Win

But seriously, if that’s how the coaching staff at Clemson normally behaves, no wonder they are killing it on the football field. Coach Richardson:

  • Made a point to search out and attend church while away from home on Christmas Eve;
  • Looked up my work address;
  • Wrote a hand-written note (my colleague Kate also received one);
  • And mailed it all while preparing for the most important game of the season.

Wow!

This has reminded me again of how important it is to do things like this to encourage and bless others.

 

P.S.  Nick Saban and the Media

Remember a few weeks ago how I mentioned how frustrated I was of our media’s obsession with focusing on failure?  Well, we have another example this week with Nick Saban, head football coach for the University of Alabama.  Coach Saban is far and away the most successful coach in college football, and it’s not even close.  He’s won 6 National Championships (5 since 2009), and played in the national title game every year for the past four straight years.  Rather than saying “the Clemson team was better, and the Alabama team had some struggles on their way to their first loss of the season,” I’ve seen lots of stories like this one:

Crazy.

Also a good reminder: I don’t want to be someone who focuses on others’ failures–I want to be someone who sends handwritten notes of encouragement in the mail instead.

 

 

 

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“Immediately”

by Andrew Forrest

I’ve always thought that the calling of Andrew and Peter, James and John was a strange story, but recently I read something somewhere that made a lot of sense to me. Twice, Matthew tells us that the brothers left their nets “immediately,” i.e., when Jesus calls, they respond totally: they don’t hedge their bets or halfway follow him. What’s Matthew trying to tell us?

Either we follow Jesus, or we don’t: there is no place for a half-hearted discipleship.3

Jesus says, “Follow me.” In response, what do you need to “immediately” leave, drop, or do today?

Today’s Scripture

Matthew 4:12-25

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