One Pursuit (Matthew 5:16-18)

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I believe this next decade will be significant for us personally, but also globally. The last 20’s decade was known as the “Roaring Twenties.” It was a decade of rare economic prosperity and distinctive cultural edge socially, politically, and spiritually. Advancement of technology (cars, flight, electricity, moving pictures, radio, telephone, machinery, not to mention music style and social changes, etc.) promised a great life but resulted in a roaring crash known as the “Great Depression.” There is some evidence suggesting similar experiences for our present 20’s decade.

  • Current economy is booming with historic low unemployment, stocks are soaring… but debt is accumulating with $23+ trillion, not to mention unfunded plans for social security, medicare, and other liabilities. A nation with such fiscal recklessness must face a payday.
  • Social change and cultural norms change within a month due to the viral pace of information transfer through technology.
  • Spiritually our moral compass is broken. A nation that kills on average 2K babies each day and our world kills 125K each day is narcissistic and evil. Our moral standards lessen and decline each passing year, where a previous generation would condemn certain actions is presently celebrated in courts, in leaders, and even in many churches. Human depravity is on display every day, just turn on a screen.
    • Liberal theology leads to liberal morality. When we believe God promotes only love and acceptance and rarely corrects, instructs, and condemns, then we have misunderstood Christianity. A God without punishment of deviant and duplicitous behavior is Christianity without a cross. Grace and forgiveness are unnecessary when we believe we are the masters of our body and life, and therefore the death of Jesus will mean very little.
    • However, if God does punish sin with earthly consequences and eternal condemnation, then we must be humbled. It is only the humble who receive grace. Those who recognize their need of God’s forgiveness for wrongs and God’s wisdom for life will be people who joyfully pray.
    • So, while one decade gave us The Great Depression, we are praying (and fasting) for this present decade to give us The Next Great Awakening.
  • Many Christians know we need/should pray, but if you look at our lives there is not necessarily a vibrant prayer life. Today and in the weeks ahead, we will be seeking to encourage everyone to take one step forward toward a more vibrant prayer life.
    • “God is not bothered by our constant coming and asking. The way to trouble God is not to come at all.” D.L. Moody
    • Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.” – Max Lucado
    • We cannot be perfect but we can be prayerful; our need for God is great.

one pursuit

EXAMINE        Matthew 6:16-18

Matthew 6:16-18
16  “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
17  But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,
18  that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Christ is central to all of life.

Jesus is the center of all creation; He’s the Creator, the Savior who reverses the curse, and the Lord. He has authority, and there is not one square inch in creation that He does not say, “Mine!” (Kuyper). Jesus is the teacher/preacher of the Sermon On The Mount (SOM; perhaps the quintessential description of Christianity).

  • Jesus went up on the mountain. This is symbolic of Israel’s forefathers meeting with God and fighting great battles (Abraham on Moriah, Moses on Sinai, David with Goliath). Jesus frequented mountains to meet with the Father and will sacrifice Himself on Calvary’s hill.
  • Jesus sits while teaching. This is symbolic of His authority (like a professor’s “chair.”).
  • Jesus called disciples to him to teach. His words and ways were not just authoritative but attractive. There is freedom, hope, life, and power in the words of Jesus.

 

  • If we affirm Jesus is Lord, then we must promote Jesus with our life and lips.
    • Is there anything in your life that needs confessed and repented?
    • When a brother/sister offers critique or correction, do you receive or rebuff?
      • Too often the church is an army that shoots its own soldiers. Why? Christians, let us understand that we are in a war and we need every soldier with whom we can lock arms, regardless if they have some differences. We are not in competition with gospel affirming churches, nor should Christians divide over issues that are non-essential.
        • BTW: 2020 is an election year, and while we encourage good citizenship on earth by voting values, we also encourage the church to be set apart in character. We should/will not disparage individuals of either party. Regardless which party “wins,” we will not lose hope or lose our dignity. Let us prepare to promote God’s kingdom above all.

 

Christianity is a responsibility.

When Jesus taught the SOM, He described the responsibilities of a Christian. The duties of a Christian are giving (Mat 6:1-4), praying (Mat 6:5-13), and fasting (Mat 6:16-18). The assumption was “when” not “if” the Christian would practice these duties and disciplines. Discipline makes the Christian different. A previous sermon series described the teaching of Jesus as rogue and counter-cultural.[1] The responsibility of a Christian is to live in right relationship with God and allow His grace to work through relating to others. These 3 disciplines are vital to a healthy diagnosis for the Christian and the church.

  • Giving
    • Self in your time.
      • Spontaneous with divine encounters.
        • Commit to being present in your day to day.
          • At home: minimize screen time.
          • Around people: empty your hands of your stuff… generosity & focus.
        • Systematic with committed contributions.
          • You will be contributor somewhere… your legacy started yesterday and you can add to it. Where are you contributing in God’s church (family) and God’s kingdom?
        • Steward of resources. What you have does not belong to you. Until we realize this principle, we will hoard earthly things and miss out on eternal treasure.
          • God owns 100% and permits us to steward ~90%, but stats tell us < 20% actually give 10% and most give at best 3%.
          • Whereas previous years SP had a faith budget advanced of its reg giving, this year we’ll have a focused budget… with aims of celebration, addition, and multiplication. Your giving matters and will make a difference.

 

  • Praying
    • Your prayer life reveals your faith relationship with Jesus.
    • P.R.A.Y. Tip: Praise. Repent. Ask. Yield.
    • We are not called just to pray personally, but to pray with others. So, where do you practice that? Church opportunities are far too often and too widely neglected.
      • Sunday 9am / Sunday last of month 6pm / Groups bi-monthly or quarterly
  •  Fasting
      • It’s likely not many have a pattern of fasting (Muslims do, how sad many Christians do not). Yet, Jesus said fasting should be as basic as praying and giving for his followers.
      • Fasting is feasting on God. When a person fasts, they voluntary refrain from selected items that typically have their attention, and they replace that time with a focus on God. Usually, fasting involves abstaining from food. However, it is not uncommon to abstain from other items or luxuries such as watching television, listening to or involvement with various entertainment media, other pleasures, or really anything from which one chooses to abstain. And no, fasting from brussel sprouts or doing laundry doesn’t count!
        • Eating is often our way of escape – sadness, sobriety of reality (manifested with anxiety, anger, fear, flight). Fasting teaches us to put God first priority not last resort. In contrast, prayerlessness and non-fasting implies we do not rely on God for our daily needs. My friend, nothing can be further than the truth, whether breathing or dealing with burdens, we need more of God than we could ever express. Further, fasting reminds us that prayer is not limited to merely asking God for stuff, but teaches us God is more satisfying that stuff. The primary purpose of prayer is not to get something but to know Someone. Prayer and fasting combined create a closeness to God unlike any other disciplines.
      • There are many biblical examples of persons fasting…
        • Moses receiving 10 Commandments (Exodus 34:28)
        • Samuel and Israelites for renewal and revival (1 Samuel 7:1-8)
        • King David for his son (2 Samuel 12:15-25)
        • Jehoshaphat during battle (2 Chronicles 20:3)
        • Ezra for spiritual renewal and protection of people (Ezra 8:21-23)
        • Nehemiah brokenhearted for his nation (Nehemiah 1:4)
        • Mordecai brokenhearted for his nation (Esther 4:3)
        • Esther for protection and deliverance of her nation (Esther 4:16)
        • Righteous fasting for injustice to be corrected (Isaiah 58)
        • Daniel fast of meat and sugar for physical well-being (Daniel 1:12)
        • King Darius for protection of a friend (Daniel 6:18)
        • Daniel for national renewal and insight (Daniel 9:3)
        • Joel for national renewal (Joel 1:14, 2:13-16)
        • Ninevites to escape judgment (Jonah 3:7)
        • Anna for national deliverance and seeing the Messiah (Luke 2:37)
        • John Baptizer for spiritual distinction (Matthew 3:4; Luke 1:15)
        • Disciples’ for extraordinary healing and effectiveness in prayer
          (Matthew 17:21; Mark 9:29).
        • Saul-Paul after his conversion for God’s revelation on what next to do (Acts 9:9).
        • Paul & Barnabas for missionary work (Acts 13:2, 14:23)
        • Identifying idols of the flesh (1 Corinthians 6:12-13).
        • Supremely, Jesus modeled the practice of fasting (Matthew 4:2) and expected His followers to fast as a regular development of their spiritual growth (Matthew 6:16, 9:15).
          The only question was “when,” not “if” Christians would fast, until our
          union with God in the new kingdom. So, if Christians are not feasting in heaven, then there should be moments of fasting on earth.
        • Fasting isn’t merely self-deprivation but spiritual discipline; using the time and energy to seek God in prayer and His word.
          • If we only fast without focusing on God, then we’ll be cranky and tempted toward conflict.
          • When the Christian isn’t in fellowship with other Christians, the devil smiles.
            When the Christian isn’t reading the Bible, the devil laughs.
            When the Christian isn’t praying, the devil dances.
            But when the Christian fasts with a focus on prayer, the word, and the community of saints, the devil flees.
          • Fasting has been behind almost every great move of God in  RoaringTwentiesFasthistory. If you want to impact the future, then biblical fasting should be part of your life rhythm.
          • Join us in prayer & fasting focus the next 40-days to see God’s favor for personal and communal breakthrough. You’ll be joining thousands/million others with #RoaringTwentiesFast
          • F.A.S.T. Tip: Focus with a plan. Abstain from consuming habits. Substitute with Scripture & Prayer. Thorns will appear – be ready.

Christian discipline is not about earning divine favor or public approval but confirming sincerity of faith.

The gospel of Jesus is spelled DONE not DO. No amount of human giving, praying, fasting earns a way into heaven or manipulates miraculous intervention.

Luke 18:12-14
10  “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
12  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
13  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
14  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The aim of spiritual disciplines, such as fasting, is exercising sincerity of faith. Jesus tells us not to fast to be seen by others. The example Jesus gave was the Pharisees who disfigured their appearance to publicly promote their spirituality. Disfigurement was likely an exaggerated appearance of hunger to indicate fasting, accompanied by such things as weeping, wearing sackcloth, placing ashes or dirt on their face, and tearing their clothing.[2] On the surface they appeared to be spiritual but inwardly they were empty. Their reward was the attention of the crowd and fell far short of the reward of having God’s face.

Jesus instructs our faith to be God-focused. We shouldn’t give in order to impress people, we shouldn’t pray in a way that highlights our supposed holiness, and we shouldn’t fast so that others applaud our humility. Instead, Jesus tells us to anoint our head and wash our face; in other words, look our best so that our reward is not earthly but eternal. God rewards the secret sincerity of our hearts.

Some may ask, why do a corporate fast if others will know about our actions? Jesus reminds us the motivation of our actions are primary. Previously, Jesus said let your light shine before others so that God may be glorified (Mat 5:16). “Being seen fasting and fasting to be seen are not the same.”[3]

So, while we do not fast for public recognition or to receive personal gain, we do fast for the purpose of knowing God, which positions ourselves for reward. The Father is exhilarated and generously ready to reward those who seek Him in sincerity. God is a rewarder, a giver, a blesser, and the world’s greatest benefactor and philanthropist!

Psalm 84:12 “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.”

Psalm 37:4-6
4  Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5  Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.
6  He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.

Prayer and fasting is like raising the sail in our boat to receive the wind from heaven to fuel us forward. God’s means of grace (Scripture, Prayer, People) place us on the path to see Jesus; like Zacchaeus or Bartimaeus, and so many others. Don’t let Jesus pass you by without reaching out (Voelp).[4] Our greatest ability is availability with sincerity before God.

  • What is your plan of availability before God in Scripture, Prayer, and God’s people?
  • God is not convenient… there’s never a convenient time to fast.[5]

 

APPLY/THINK

C.S. Lewis quote: (Lucy) Aslan, you’re bigger. (Aslan) “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.

God, send a revival: If not us, then who? If not here, then where? If not now, then when? Start with me, let a spark turn into a flame, and a flame into a fire with one pursuit of God in His glory.

——-

[1] https://growinggodlygenerations.com/2017/08/23/beatitudes-series-links-matthew-51-12/

[2] 2 Sa. 1:11-12; Neh. 9:1; Ps. 35:13-14; Dn. 9:3.

[3] John Piper, A Hunger For God, p.74.ZZ

[4] See David Mathis, Habits Of Grace, pp. 29 ff.

[5] Jentezen Franklin, Fasting, p. 26.

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