Truth in Labeling

I need to warn you that I’m getting on my soapbox today. But hang with me because there’s a reason for it and I won’t be up there very long.

 

Here goes . . . .

 

I am totally in favor of making food manufacturers and restaurants list ALL the ingredients we are consuming when we eat their products. And they need to list the real ingredients—not the fake names the FDA allows them to use so the products “sound” healthier than they really are. Or so they sound like REAL food—which a lot of them aren’t.

 

Another way we could protect ourselves would be to make the labels list the possible outcomes of ingesting some of these “food” products regularly. For instance, a can of soda might have to list cancer, diabetes, obesity, neurological disorders among other things. It would be like cigarette labels that now have to warn consumers of the potential health hazards of smoking. And alcohol labels that warn pregnant women of the health risk to their unborn babies.

 

I may be in the minority, but I want to know what I’m eating. I don’t want to be surprised later by a health diagnosis that could have been prevented if I had only known what I was choosing to put in my body. (Soapbox dismounted.)

 

Let’s take this idea a little further . . . into our decision-making.

 

How much easier would life be if the documentation on that car you purchased had included a warning that, according to its history, this particular model was probably only going to last a few months past the warranty.

 

Or, if before you bought that house, you would have been informed that the hidden plumbing was corroded and you would soon be forking over a huge chunk of change to fix the damage from a major leak.

 

And how great would it be if relationships came with a warning?!? Yes, please. Like . . . prepare for an emotional roller coaster. Turbulence ahead! Get ready for a daily uphill battle . . . for the rest of your life!

 

And employers had to tell you—yes, we may look and sound good while we’re trying to hire you, but after you spend a little time with us, you’ll regret the day you answered our ad.

 

I think those labels would save us all a lot of heartache because I believe most people want to choose the best way. I personally don’t know anyone who makes decisions that will knowingly tear their life apart.

 

Today’s verses tell us that when it comes to our spiritual life, we definitely need to check the labels. Jesus says in today’s verses that there are only two paths to choose from—one leading to life and the other to destruction. The road that leads to life is entered through the “narrow gate” while the “wide gate” leads to destruction.

 

Since these gates and their labels are symbols and not actual objects, Jesus tells us in the next few verses in Matthew 7 how to recognize whether or not we’re on the right path so we’ll know where we’ll end up. We’ll look at these clues today and for the next couple of weeks.

 

In the verses we’re looking at today, Jesus tells us that the gate that leads to life is narrow and contracted by pressure, and the road to life is restricted, confined, narrowed and few people find it. And He tells us that the gate leading to destruction is wide and the road is spacious and broad and traveled by many.

 

To me it sounds like the road to destruction is the easy way. It’s easy to find, easy to enter, and filled with lots of companions living life on the same path. You don’t have to give up a lot of stuff, if anything, to get through the gate, and you have a lot of latitude and company as you travel the road.

 

On the other hand, it sounds like the road to life is a much more difficult journey. It’s not wide open. It requires a conscious decision to enter, possibly getting rid of any baggage or possessions or self-righteousness you were hanging on to. And the road is compressed, which could mean there’s still no room for any of that stuff. It’s so narrow there’s not a lot of leeway–it’s pretty much the “straight and narrow.” And it can seem lonely sometimes, compared to the other road.

 

One way to help determine if you’re on the road that leads to life is to make sure you can remember entering the narrow gate. It had to be a conscious decision you made and it came with a cost—letting go of anything you were trusting in besides Jesus.

 

Another clue is to see how many fellow travelers you have. If your life’s path is very popular with most of the people in today’s culture, you may want to rethink it.

 

I’m not saying to look at what the world says is the right or acceptable way and do the opposite. But, a great majority of the time, that might just work out perfectly.

 

Well, I’ve worked up an appetite. Think I’ll go read some food labels and see if there’s any REAL food in the house.

 

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Matthew 7:13-14

Amplified Bible (AMP)

13 Enter through the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and spacious and broad is the way that leads away to destruction, and many are those who are entering through it.

14 But the gate is narrow (contracted by pressure) and the way is straitened and compressed that leads away to life, and few are those who find it.

 

The Message (MSG)

“Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.

Simply Brilliant

One of the biggest trends in today’s crazy busy world is simplification.

 

The recent bestseller Essentialism talks about how doing less rather than more gives you more time and energy to do what you do even better and results in you making a bigger difference in your world.

 

One of my favorite blogs is “becoming minimalist” which shares inspiration and tips for living with less while enjoying life more.

 

I also love Andy Stanley’s teaching that the ultimate goal for leaders should be to “only do what only you can do.” My paraphrase: determine what is essential, delete what’s not, do what only you can do, and delegate the rest.

 

Simplification sounds real good . . . until you start looking at each individual detail on your to-do list and every appointment in your day timer. The thought of deleting some of those items may feel brutal and uncaring, even though, at the same time, you may resent the time and energy they require.

 

Maybe we should take a cue about our priorities from Jesus.

 

I love the way Jesus lived His life. He was never in a hurry. He ministered to whoever crossed His path each day. He shared His wisdom with them, met their needs, and gave them His undivided attention.

 

Jesus also simplified the rules and regulations that were such a burden on the Jews in His time. Through the centuries, the religious leaders had added hundreds of laws to the ones handed down by God. It had reached the point where the law was no longer making their lives better and bringing them closer to God. Instead, trying to keep all the rules was now making everyday life more difficult.

 

Today’s verse is one of the most popular ones in the Bible. In fact, it’s frequently quoted, not only in churches, but also in secular arenas. A lot of companies even include the phrase in their name.

 

It’s located in Matthew 7:12 and it’s known as the “Golden Rule.”

 

The NIV translation says, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you . . . .”

 

It’s such a simple yet brilliant concept. And a great way to live life.

 

And what is equally brilliant is the phrase that completes this verse: “. . . for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

 

In one fell swoop, Jesus took hundreds of Jewish rules and regulations and reduced them down to one sentence.

 

One lone truth.

 

A single moral code that encompasses all the law and the prophets.

 

Now that’s what I call simplified.

What Are You A.S.K.ing For?

Most parents love to give gifts to their children—and a lot of them excel at it.

 

Gifts that parents give their kids come in a variety of packages.

 

A lot of parents give their children new cars on their 16th birthday. But one set of parents I know gave their son a riding lawn mower and an edger and a blower so he could build a lawn business that will help him pay for college. They also helped him purchase a used pick-up truck to carry the lawn equipment to his clients.

 

Most parents take their children clothes shopping several times a year, buying them their basic wardrobe needs, plus clothes for special occasions, as well as whatever latest trends their friends are wearing. Other parents give their older children an annual or seasonal amount of money for their wardrobe and help them learn to budget while they are still at home.

 

If the children were given a choice, I’m sure they would always choose the easy way—like the new car and the shopping trips paid for by their parents. But if they could see the wisdom they would acquire and how it would serve them the rest of their life by taking the other route . . . I STILL think most of them would choose the easy route.

 

Because they’re children. And that’s why they need parents who know what’s best for them—whether it’s the easy way in one particular situation or the more indirect route in another.

 

As Jesus followers, we have THE BEST DADDY. Our Heavenly Father knows exactly what we need—and He’s not looking at just today. He has the unique perspective that allows Him to know what we need NOW that will give us the best advantage in the future.

 

Have you ever asked God for something and He gave you something totally different? I know I have. And at the time, I wondered why He didn’t give me what I asked for. I wasn’t asking for anything evil. In fact, it was what I considered the best answer for the situation.

 

But later on—to be honest it was YEARS down the road—I looked back and saw what He did and why. The wisdom I gained by not getting the “easy” answer has given me the advantage in many situations in my life.

 

The Amplified Bible says “keep on” asking, seeking, and knocking. And it says to knock “reverently.” Jesus isn’t telling us to “name it and claim it” here.

 

I think He’s saying that if you’re not getting your answer as quickly as you think you need it, don’t give up.

  • Keep going to God and asking Him because He is the source of all good gifts.
  • Keep looking for His answer because it’s going to show up. It may not show up when or where you expect it and it may look totally different than you thought it would. But it will show up.
  • Keep reverently knocking on that closed door. Not demanding, but expecting it to open.

 

And then KNOW that your Heavenly Daddy is going to give you the absolute BEST gift. He knows what’s best for you and He has the power to bring it about in your life.

 

Your gift from God may not be wrapped like you expect. It may not be the gift you think you asked for. In fact, it may be the exact opposite of what you were expecting Him to give you.

 

But you can trust that God doesn’t make mistakes and He doesn’t give His children anything but the best.

 

So say, “Thank You, Daddy.” And then smile, because this gift is going to work to your advantage for years to come.

 

 

Matthew 7:7-11 (AMP)

Keep on asking and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking [reverently] and [the door] will be opened to you.

For everyone who keeps on asking receives; and he who keeps on seeking finds; and to him who keeps on knocking, [the door] will be opened.

Or what man is there of you, if his son asks him for a loaf of bread, will hand him a stone?

10 Or if he asks for a fish, will hand him a serpent?

11 If you then, evil as you are, know how to give good and advantageous gifts to your children, how much more will your Father Who is in heaven [perfect as He is] give good and advantageous things to those who keep on asking Him!

 

 

Pearls in the Pigpen

Matthew 7:1-6 Amplified Version (AMP)

 

Today’s passage deals with an important aspect of our relationships with other people. It talks about what to do—or better yet what NOT to do—when you see someone who has made a mistake or is living with a fault or an issue.

 

1 Do not judge and criticize and condemn others, so that you may not be judged and criticized and condemned yourselves.

For just as you judge and criticize and condemn others, you will be judged and criticized and condemned, and in accordance with the measure you [use to] deal out to others, it will be dealt out again to you.

 

These first two verses talk about the law of the harvest. Not per se. But here Jesus says if you have a critical spirit and are in the habit of criticizing other people, you will reap what you sow. And you will reap in the same way and in the same ‘measure’ that you sow.

 

He doesn’t spell out who will be returning your criticism back to you, but He says it will be returned.

 

So what we’re NOT supposed to do when we see someone who’s made a mistake is to criticize them for making the mistake . . . or for having the fault . . . or for dealing with their particular issue.

 

The next two verses give us a good reason why we should keep our mouth shut.

 

Why do you stare from without at the very small particle that is in your brother’s eye but do not become aware of and consider the beam of timber that is in your own eye?

Or how can you say to your brother, Let me get the tiny particle out of your eye, when there is the beam of timber in your own eye?

 

In these verses, Jesus reminds us that we have no room to talk about anyone else’s problems. We’re not perfect either. I know. At least we don’t have THEIR problem. Yeah. I think that’s what Jesus is talking about in verses 1-2.

 

It’s so easy to see everyone else’s faults and mistakes and issues. And sometimes it’s very difficult to see our own. And when we do admit we have a problem, it comes very natural to minimize our problem.

 

But apparently it’s not as minimal as we like to think.

 

I love Jesus’s word pictures. Here He paints the scene where one person with a log sticking out of his eye is pointing out a speck in his brother’s eye and volunteering to remove it.

 

That’s laughable.

 

Which is apparently how Jesus feels about us continuously focusing on the faults in everyone else and excusing the things that aren’t right in our own life.

 

But He doesn’t say we’re to ignore our brother’s faults. Check out the next verse.

 

You hypocrite, first get the beam of timber out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the tiny particle out of your brother’s eye.

 

I believe He’s talking about fellow believers here. Not earth’s general population.

 

And I believe Jesus is saying there is a time to help your brother or sister recognize the speck in their eye and help them remove it. But I think He’s saying this should take place after spending time in His presence asking Him to show you anything in your life you need to repent of—and dealing with it—BEFORE you go in humility and ask if you can help your brother or sister.

 

This is something that needs to be done after LOTS of prayer and repentance and in deep love and humility.

 

And when God is leading you to do it.

 

And that’s where I think the next verse comes in.

 

Do not give that which is holy (the sacred thing) to the dogs, and do not throw your pearls before hogs, lest they trample upon them with their feet and turn and tear you in pieces.

 

I often wondered why this verse was placed here. I understood its meaning. I just didn’t get how it connected to this passage until I studied it this time.

 

And this is just my opinion.

 

I believe Jesus is saying that helping someone with the speck in their eye is only for fellow believers. And even then, I believe it’s for believers who are actively seeking Him and His best for their life.

 

Those people will be open to help. They will appreciate all the prayer and repentance and humility required in preparing to help them see the speck in their eye and then helping them remove it.

 

Sharing all of that with unbelievers and holier-than-thou believers is just like giving something precious to a wild dog or throwing your expensive pearls into the pigpen for the hogs to play dress-up with.

 

Neither will appreciate it. In fact, they’ll probably do what comes natural to them—turn on you and tear you to shreds.

 

That would not be any fun.

 

And you probably wouldn’t get your pearls back.

Middle Names

My middle name is Jane. Not real exciting, but it goes well with Rhonda. And Tarzan.

 

I’m usually just called Rhonda, but have been called Rhonda Jane by a few people. And as a child, when I was not minding very well, all three names would sometimes come out of my mother’s mouth in order to get my attention. It usually worked.

 

However, for a long time, my REAL middle name was “Worry.” You know what I mean. Like someone who says “Football” is his middle name, meaning he “eats, sleeps, and breathes football.”

 

That’s how I was with “Worry.” I remember waking every morning and enjoying peace for a few seconds—until whatever item was currently on top of my “worry list” popped into my brain. And if nothing showed up, I would quickly think back to what I went to bed worrying about. Soon my “worrier” would shift into overdrive and I was stuck in fear for the rest of the day, wondering what was going to happen and how I was going to survive it.

 

Worry ruled my life. I spent a lot of time imagining future events turning out catastrophically for me. I talked about what I was worrying about. I continuously thought about what I was worried about.

 

Life was not fun.

 

Then I was confronted with truth. It happened in a Bible study I attended after college. I’m not sure how we ended up studying Philippians 4:6-7, but I know it was by God’s design.

 

The truth in those verses hit me square in the face. Suddenly I knew the worry that was ruling my life was not necessary. I didn’t have to continue living life like that. And these verses showed exactly how to stop worry in its tracks.

 

It was such a life-changer for me that I immediately memorized the passage and can still quote it today. I memorized the Living Bible (1970’s) version which is so clear. It says,

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank Him for His answers. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can comprehend. His peace will keep your thoughts and your heart quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

 

It is literally a recipe for peace that I still use today.

 

The last several verses in Matthew 6 also talk about worry, going into detail about some of the major items we don’t need to worry about, like food and clothing. We’re told we don’t need to worry because our heavenly Father already knows what we need.

 

Instead of worrying, we’re told to seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness first and “all these things will be given to you as well.” That’s a powerful promise. About as powerful as having a peace in your life so wonderful you can’t even comprehend it.

 

Both of these passages remind me of a triangle. We’re sitting in one ‘corner’ looking at the opposite corner that represents WHAT we’re lacking or WHAT we’re worried will happen. But what we need to do is look up—move our focus from WHAT to WHO. Pray about everything, tell God our needs, thank Him for His answers, seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.

 

In other words, we are to change our perspective by focusing on our relationship with God, on how good he is, how much He loves us, and how well He takes care of His children. Get our eyes off our problems and onto our Provider. Move our focus to the top of the triangle. And keep it there.

 

What’s your middle name?

 

If it’s “Worry,” you can change it. I can tell you from personal experience that life is much better as Rhonda Jane.

 

 

 

Matthew 6:25-34 New International Version (NIV)

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

This Little Light of Mine

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! Matthew 6:22-23 New International Version (NIV)

 

 

I’ve heard a few sermons about these verses in my lifetime. And in each message, the preacher talked about FOCUS.

 

Whatever you spend your time focused on will determine whether your life is full of light or full of darkness.

 

That’s a good word.

 

If you spend a lot of your waking hours focused on negativity—whether it involves the media or the people you spend time with—you’re going to have a lot of very negative thoughts, which will color your attitude, which dramatically affects your life.

 

On the other hand, if you spend your day focused on positivity—like communing with God and singing praises to Him and speaking into people’s lives in a positive way—you’re going to have very different thoughts, which will help you keep a good attitude, which will also dramatically affect your life. In a good way.

 

But I just learned of a different way to look at these verses.

 

The NIV has a couple of footnotes. Here’s what they say:

 

Matthew 6:22 The Greek for healthy here implies generous.

Matthew 6:23 The Greek for unhealthy here implies stingy.

 

Wow! I had no idea.

 

So what does that mean?

 

I’m not sure, but I think having “generous eyes” could mean having eyes that look for and see opportunities for generosity. Opportunities to invest resources in people and programs that further God’s Kingdom here on earth. Opportunities to share what God has entrusted to us with individuals who have a need we can fill. Opportunities to spend our life on a purpose more important and longer lasting than our brief time on earth.

 

“Generous eyes” could mean looking for and seeing the positive instead of the negative. The right instead of the wrong. Giving people the benefit of the doubt. Being generous with our love and grace and forgiveness—just like God is with us.

 

The opposite mindset—“stingy eyes”—could mean we look for and see opportunities for ‘stinginess.’ Opportunities to hoard our resources based on fearful predictions. Seeing the needs of people based on their failures and poor decisions. Seeing needs too big for us to fill as an excuse for walking away instead of investing what we can.

 

“Stingy eyes” could mean always looking for and seeing the negative, never the positive. All the wrong that’s happening and never the right. Jumping to conclusions based on appearances. Assuming we know people’s hearts and motives. Acting the exact opposite of how God acts toward us by being stingy with our love, grace and forgiveness.

 

Whichever way we apply these verses—focus or generous/stingy mindset—the results are life-changing.

 

We will either be full of light or we’ll be full of darkness.

 

And it’s our choice.

 

This little light of mine—I’m wanna let it shine. How about you?

Minimalism

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)

 

 

Minimalism is becoming very popular. People are starting to choose to live in smaller houses with fewer clothes in their closets and opting to spend their money and energy on experiences rather than possessions.

 

I think it’s a wonderful trend. And I hope it lasts.

 

I have a feeling Jesus probably likes this trend, too, based on today’s verses.

 

In this passage, Jesus is encouraging His followers to not focus their lives on collecting things here on earth. Money. Possessions. Position. Power.

 

One of His reasons is because all of our earthly treasures can be gone in a moment. Money can be stolen or can disappear overnight in the stock market. Possessions can be destroyed instantly by fire, flood, or tornado. And position and power can easily be hijacked by a change in leadership, ownership, or in an election.

 

Nothing on earth is stable.

 

Everything in Heaven is eternal.

 

You do not have to worry about any of your heavenly treasures disappearing. Ever.

 

But that isn’t the main reason Jesus gives for focusing your efforts on accumulating heavenly versus earthly treasures.

 

Check out the last sentence. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

 

Jesus is always focused on your heart. Not on your outward appearance. Not on your bank account. Not on your reputation. Not on your past. Not on your behavior.

 

He wants your heart. He wants it because when He has your heart, it is safe, it is loved and cared for, and it overflows with His love onto everyone around you.

 

And Jesus knows that your heart is ‘owned’ by whatever you value the most. He wants that to be Him and His Kingdom. Not for selfish reasons, but because that is what will last. Forever. And He wants you with Him forever.

 

It is so easy to get caught up in continually going after more and bigger and better and newer. But Jesus warns us in these verses that your heart—the essence of who you are—is strongly connected to your treasures—what you focus most of your time, money and energy on.

 

You’ve probably heard a pastor say, “Show me your day-timer and your checkbook and I’ll tell you what you value the most.”

 

I think that’s essentially what Jesus is saying here.

 

 

  • What do you value above all else?
  • What story is being told by your day-timer and checkbook?
  • Where are you storing your most-valued treasures?