My Neighbors are Brilliant

Cody Sleeping

Cody Napping

I love my dog. I really do. But there are times when loving him requires me to do something I hate. Like getting out of a nice warm bed in the middle of the night because he needs to go outside and take care of some business.

Thankfully this rarely happens.

But when it does, I really love my neighbors.

Yep. You read that correctly.

On those rare occasions when I have to venture outside with Cody in the wee hours of the morning, I step out the door and take about six steps down the driveway and all of a sudden that entire side of my house and yard is illuminated—thanks to my neighbors’ motion-activated floodlight on the corner of their house.

THAT’S why I love my neighbors.

Walking around outside in the dark is not the safest thing to do. But the light shows me where it’s safe to step and whether or not there are any critters Cody and I need to steer clear of.

In today’s verses (Matthew 5:14-16), Jesus tells His followers that THEY are the light of the world. Which means WE are the light of the world.

He goes on to say that light is not supposed to be hidden. And that light is positioned strategically so it helps as many people as possible.

You weren’t made to be hidden or covered up. You have a very important role to play and a big difference to make in your corner of the world—just like the motion-activated floodlight on the corner of my neighbor’s house.

Do you remember the last time the power went out and you were suddenly stuck in the dark? What happened when you lit a candle or turned on a flashlight? Did it take a while for the light to overcome the darkness? Was there a contest to see who would win?

No. Light is light. It doesn’t have to fight to be light. It naturally displaces the darkness. And the darker the darkness, the bigger the difference just one little light can make.

You don’t have to fight darkness to be light. You ARE light in your world because of Who is inside you—Holy Spirit!

Jesus goes on to tell us HOW we “shine.” You shine where God puts you through your moral excellence and your noble and praiseworthy and good deeds. That lifestyle causes people to realize that there’s something different about you. And their response is to recognize and honor and praise and glorify your Father in heaven.

The purpose of your light isn’t to make people talk about how great you are, but to capture their attention and help them realize Who’s your daddy and how great HE is! I don’t go up to the floodlight on my neighbor’s house and tell it how wonderful it is and how much I appreciate it. I know who put it there and who keeps it shining.

One of the most important characteristics of light is that it reveals truth. Just like the floodlight keeps me from falling in a hole, stepping on a snake, or slipping on ice, your light reveals things in your world for what they really are. That kind of light helps people get on the right path and find their way Home.

And that’s the mission of our lives. We are to “shine” wherever God has strategically placed us by the way we live our life. And the people who notice the difference our life makes should recognize God as our Source. Then He gets all the honor and praise and glory.

So we need to quit trying to hide our light or downplay its importance or downsize its reach or deny that we even shine! Time is short and there’s a lot of darkness that needs dispelling. And in case you need reminding—that’s part of OUR job, according to Jesus!

“YOU are the light of the world.” – Jesus

Now I need to go write a thank you note to my brilliant neighbors!

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Matthew 5:14-16 Living Bible (TLB)

You are the world’s light—a city on a hill, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father.

Oops! I did it again!

I grabbed that big bag of organic, GMO-free, blue tortilla chips that was on sale. When I got home and opened the bag and dipped a chip in my salsa and started chewing, I realized the bag also said, “No Salt Added.” Yuck! Who wants tortilla chips with no salt? Not me!

Salt is an extremely important condiment in my life. I use either pink Himalayan or gray Celtic sea salt because my doctor tells me they’re “real” salt and they’re actually good for me. And I have to say, they add a LOT more flavor.

But salt does more than just add flavor to food. It also preserves it.

Remember the saying, “He’s not worth his salt!” That comes from ancient times when Roman soldiers were paid a salary (sal is Latin for salt) to buy salt. They were responsible to provide their own food and the salt helped preserve it—since there were no refrigerators or freezers or portable Igloo coolers around. The salt method of preserving food was used for thousands of years.

Today’s verse talks about us being salt in our world.

I think this means believers are to add flavor to life. I know Jesus certainly did. People enjoyed being around him. Well, except for those stick-in-the-mud, stiff-necked religious leaders. Based on Whose child we are and how much He loves us and the abundant life He makes available to us from now through eternity, we should be the most joyful and most enjoyable people on earth. And if we are, we will attract people and add flavor to their lives.

I also think being salt means we preserve life. We know what’s really important in life and part of our job is to work to keep those things a priority in our corner of the world. Sometimes that can mean supporting things that are not popular with a lot of people. In those times, we need to remember that we are in a spiritual war and our battle is not against flesh and blood. (Ephesians 6:12) To me that means, don’t take it personal and don’t make it personal.

Today’s verse is Matthew 5:13 and the Amplified Bible says,

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste (its strength, its quality), how can its saltness be restored? It is not good for anything any longer but to be thrown out and trodden underfoot by men.”

So what happens when we lose our way. When we’re no longer adding flavor to life and we’re no longer preserving what’s important in life. When we’ve lost our strength and our quality and our “saltness.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been there. I’ve lost my “saltness.” It’s no fun. You know in your heart you were created to do more and live larger. But you don’t have the strength. And your quality of life is gone.

When salt reaches that point, this verse says the only thing left to do is to throw it out for people to walk on.

I lived in Denver for six years and I was very thankful for the salt thrown on the sidewalks and the parking lots and the roadways during the winter months. In fact, I would not have survived without it. It is essential in places that get snow and ice.

So what I see in this verse is not that there is no purpose left in your life at those times. You can still accomplish a purpose and do some good for some people. But it’s not what you were created to do—it’s not what your passion is—and you’re not going to be fulfilled.

I know that’s been true for me. During those times when I lost my “saltness,” I was still a productive individual. I provided services that were a necessary part of the places I worked. I did a good job. People appreciated me.

I just didn’t appreciate who I was—because I knew I was designed to be so much more. And I knew I wasn’t living life with the passion I was designed for.

Even though there is no way to put the “saltness” back in salt, Jesus provided a way to put the “life” back in us—by forgiveness offered through His work on the cross and by complete restoration offered through His resurrection.

I encourage you to take some time today and talk to God about your “saltness.” If you’ve lost it, ask His forgiveness and grab hold of the restoration He offers through the power working inside you—it’s the same incredible power that raised Jesus from the dead. (Ephesians 1:19-20)

Then get out there and do some preserving and some flavoring in your neck of the woods.

Look for those “No Salt Added” places. They could really use your help.

I like you. Do you like me? Circle Yes or No.

Does anybody else remember sending notes like this to a classmate you were ‘sweet’ on in elementary school? I guess Valentine’s Day this past weekend brought back some OLD memories. Ha!

 

Do you like to be liked? I know I do.

 

In fact, I used to like being liked so much that I spent decades doing whatever it took to be sure everybody liked me. The problem came when I would have to be essentially two different people in order to please two different friends.

 

To say it caused a lot of internal stress is definitely an understatement. I realized that I probably wasn’t going to have a happy, fulfilling life if I chose to keep living that way. And I finally figured out that I only had to live my life to please ONE person.

 

I learned that God is the only ONE I need to live my life for.

 

That doesn’t mean there aren’t other people I need to love and respect and obey and honor and take care of and even rescue, if necessary. (See Ex. 20:12; Eph. 2:6; Eph. 5:25; James 1:27; Ps. 82:4; I Pet. 2:17.)

 

But my main priority is to be my relationship with God. As a result of making that my #1 focus, I will finally be able to love myself and then, in turn, be able to love other people. (See Matthew 22:37-40.)

 

However, according to today’s verses, that still doesn’t mean things are always going to be rosy.

 

In fact, being a God follower can get you into serious trouble in some areas of the world. And, unfortunately, those arenas are becoming more and more vocal and active.

 

In the next few verses in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us some encouragement. Well, first He tells us the truth and then He gives us some encouragement for those times we have to live in this truth.

 

Here’s what it says in Matthew 5:10-12, NIV:

 

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

Now first let me say this. These verses aren’t giving us permission to pick a fight or be obnoxious or just be plain out rude to people we don’t agree with. The only people Jesus ever came close to getting rude with were the religious leaders who were making a mockery of His Father’s House.

 

These verses are talking about us being in a right relationship with God and, when necessary, standing up for what is right in God’s eyes, instead of caving to man’s opinions. It’s talking about being persecuted because we’re not ashamed to be affiliated with Jesus or for doing what He says is right.

 

The bad news is that if we do that, some people may insult us, some may persecute us, and some may even tell lies about us that, in certain places in the world, could get us . . . well, dead.

 

The good news Jesus gives us is that when these things happen to us,

(1) we are blessed (happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous—with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of your outward conditions),

(2) we are fulfilling our assignment from God to expand the kingdom of heaven into our corner of the earth, and

(3) our reward in heaven is going to be awesome. Not to mention we’ll be in good company with God’s prophets who were also mistreated.

 

Check out what II Chronicles 36:16 (referenced in today’s verses in the Amplified Bible) says about this mistreatment of God’s prophets.

 

“But they kept mocking the messengers of God and despising His words and scoffing at His prophets till the wrath of the Lord rose against His people, till there was no remedy or healing.”

 

This verse isn’t talking about the world mocking God’s messengers and despising His words and scoffing at His prophets. It’s talking about the Israelites. Which makes me think the same can be true today.

 

Believers can also mock God’s messengers, possibly when they’re “different” than they’re used to hearing from. And we might even despise His words when they make us uncomfortable or aren’t socially and politically acceptable. And some believers may scoff at God’s prophets that He still sends to His people today—if that method of God speaking to us doesn’t fit in our denomination’s mindset.

 

So while it sounds easy on paper—just follow God and do what He says is right—the choices we may have to make in the near future—or choices you’ve possibly already made—could have side effects that can’t be altered. Some friends and family may shun you. Some people who stand up for what is right may lose their job or career. And in some situations, it has already cost people their lives—starting way back in the Old Testament and continuing to today.

 

But the other choice (spelled out in the II Chronicles verse) sounds even worse to me. Choosing to NOT listen to what God is saying to us can cause the Lord to be against us. And that’s definitely NOT something I want.

 

Whew! Following God is not for people pleasers or sissies.

 

So I’ve changed my mind. I like you. But it really doesn’t matter if you like me or not. I need to focus on God and what He’s saying to me. Then when I do what’s right, He’s more than capable of taking care of any fallout.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” Matthew 5:9 The Message (MSG)

 

I love the wording of this verse in The Message: “show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight.”

 

That is such a powerful way to live—finding common ground instead of always looking for our differences and then arguing about them.

 

When Jesus is talking about peace in this verse, I don’t believe He is talking about peace at any cost—making an agreement that causes you to compromise your core values or core beliefs.

 

Later on in Matthew 10, Jesus says that He Himself didn’t come to bring peace to the earth. Instead, He says He came to bring a sword.

 

Now Jesus didn’t go around swinging a sword and dividing people into two groups. But He was the catalyst for such a division. He still is.

 

So I don’t believe today’s verse is talking about doing whatever it takes in order to get along with anybody and everybody.

 

Instead I believe it’s saying that peace is available to Jesus’s true followers in any situation. Personal peace with God is always available to believers, no matter what’s going on. And I believe true Christ followers can have peace among themselves.

 

Even among believers who disagree about the meaning of some scriptures.

 

Even among believers who disagree about the best way to worship corporately.

 

Even among believers who have a hard time finding anything they agree on—except when it comes to Jesus. And who He is. And what He’s done for them.

 

I believe that’s enough to keep the peace in our “family”—instead of acting like our brother is the enemy.

O Say, Can You See?

Has this ever happened to you?

 

You’re shopping for a new car and decide on a model you’ve rarely seen on the road. But as soon as you drive it off the lot, you start seeing cars just like it everywhere you turn!

 

Life is funny that way. Whatever we start focusing on is what we’ll start seeing.

 

If we focus on all the bad things happening in the world, we’re going to see bad things happening. Everywhere.

 

If we focus on the good things that are happening, then that’s what will start standing out to us.

 

If we focus on how Satan is ruining lives and we decide the whole world is going to hell in a hand basket, then we’re going to see evil and destruction everywhere we turn. And we will feel hopeless.

 

If, on the other hand, we focus on how God is working in our lives and in our world, then guess what we’ll see as we go through life!

 

Yes, bad things happen. And, yes, we need to be aware and cautious. But that doesn’t mean they should consume our thoughts–or even take up much of our time, energy or emotions. There are a lot more important things God wants us to focus on.

 

Today’s verse says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Matthew 5:8 New International Version (NIV)

 

So how can you have a pure heart . . . so you can see God?

 

I believe one meaning of this is that when we surrender our lives to Jesus, He gives us a new heart. And that’s good news because we could never clean up our act enough to have a clean, pure heart on our own. And since we’ve surrendered our lives to Jesus and now have a pure heart, we will see God in Heaven.

 

But I also think there’s another meaning and that’s what I’ve been talking about.

 

Our outward life is a great reflection of what’s going on inside. We can’t hide it. We can change our behavior by sheer willpower only so much and for only so long. Then we go back to being our ‘true’ selves—living out what’s in our hearts and minds.

 

And if our heart and our thoughts are focused on negatives or evil or selfishness or lack, then that is what we will see around us and that is the atmosphere we will project around us.

 

That’s a scary thought!

 

But if we choose to keep our heart and our thoughts focused on . . . Wait! I think I saw a list of these somewhere!

 

Here it is:

 

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 New International Version (NIV)

 

You can even use the bad stuff you see as a reminder to pray for the situation and to declare that God is working in it. Then thank Him and praise Him for what He is going to do and start looking for evidence of it.

 

Do this and everywhere you turn, you will see God.

 

 

How Good is YOUR Memory?

Forgiveness is difficult. At times it can feel almost impossible.

 

But as Christ followers, we really don’t have a choice. Jesus made that abundantly clear. In case you have any doubts, check out the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 19:21-35. God is serious about us forgiving people.

 

He has every right to be. And not just because He’s God, but because He has forgiven us. Of all our sin. And it cost Him a lot.

 

Sometimes we find it hard to forgive a person because of what their actions cost us.

 

Other times it really has very little to do with them and almost everything to do with us. Our arrogance or self-focus or hard heart.

 

Or bad memory.

 

I think most of the time it has to do with a bad memory. At least that’s true for me.

 

Remember in the Old Testament when God would have the Israelites create a ‘memorial’ after some dramatic episode in their history? He told them that when their children asked what it was, they were to tell them that particular story about how God came through for them.

 

This retelling not only taught their children about their nation’s history, it also kept those stories alive in their own memories.

 

In the New Testament, the night before His crucifixion, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. He told His disciples to do it to remember Him–and what He was about to do for them on the cross.

 

Participating in the Lord’s Supper once a month at church always reminds me how much I’ve been forgiven and what it cost God. But that’s not always the first thing that comes to mind when I’ve been hurt by someone.

 

Building a memorial that I would have to pass by every day is a good idea. But I’m not sure my roommate or the neighbors would appreciate it.

 

Now I definitely don’t think we need to keep our focus on our past or our past sin. But we do need to remind ourselves—especially when we’ve been hurt—that whatever someone’s actions cost us, it will never be more than our actions cost God.

 

And instead of giving other people what they deserve—or what we think they deserve—He expects us to be merciful to them.

 

Just like He is merciful to us.

 

God wants us to make it a point to remember all the times He’s come through for us—especially how He came through for us on the cross. And then use those memories as the foundation for our life today.

 

And here’s the kind of life we’re promised when we decide to be merciful:

 

Blessed (happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous—with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy! Matthew 5:7 Amplified Version (AMP)

 

Sounds like an awesome life to me.

 

Now where did I lay those car keys?

 

What are YOU hungry for?

Do you ever get hungry for something particular? Like your favorite take-out? Or maybe something your Mom used to make for you when you were a kid? Or if you’re like me, every once in a while, do you get hungry for a steak? Seasoned and cooked just right on the grill?

 

It’s not very often I crave a steak, but there are times when nothing else will do. And when those times hit and I eat one, I am satisfied. Full. Content. Happy.

 

When I’m craving a steak and the hunger pangs hit, that is all that’s on my mind. And when I eat something besides a steak, I may get full, but I am not satisfied. Even though I feed my body calories and protein and fat, it’s not what my body wanted and, apparently, needed.

 

In Matthew 5:6, Jesus tells us that making our relationship with God the focus of our life, hungering and thirsting for right-standing with God, will bring us complete satisfaction.

 

I love what the Amplified Bible says in Isaiah 55:1 about this subject:

 

“Wait and listen, everyone who is thirsty! Come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Yes, come, buy [priceless, spiritual] wine and milk without money and without price [simply for the self-surrender that accepts the blessing].”

 

“Simply for the self-surrender that accepts the blessing.” I love that. All we have to do to be blessed beyond measure is to surrender our “self”—our self-centeredness, our selfishness, our self-promotion, our self-seeking, our self-focus—and surrender ourselves to the One who knows exactly what we need, has everything we need, and loves us enough to give us what we need.

 

But there is a catch. We have to admit we have a need we can’t fill on our own. And we have to want God to provide it His way in His time more than anything else. Anything.

 

A little later in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:33, AMP), Jesus tells us not to worry about food or clothes, or even our life. He says,

 

“But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides.”

 

This “blessed” life that Jesus offers won’t cost you a dime. But it will cost you a lot. In fact, it will cost you everything. Everything else will need to be in second place behind your number one focus of striving after God’s kingdom and His way of doing right and being right.

 

And what results can you expect from living that kind of life? Well, I’ll let you read them for yourself.

 

“Blessed and fortunate and happy and spiritually prosperous (in that state in which the born-again child of God enjoys His favor and salvation) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (uprightness and right standing with God), for they shall be completely satisfied!” – Matthew 5:6 Amplified Bible (AMP)

 

Completely satisfied!

 

I think somebody’s grilling steaks!