Monday, November 29, 2010

Being Intentional in Bible Reading

[This entry follows a sermon preached by Glen Lockwood titled "Jesus Christ, Our Passover." Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

Today's blog entry was contributed by Glen Lockwood, who preached the sermon the entry follows. Read, and be encouraged.

This past week as I was preparing the sermon for yesterday, I couldn’t help but be impressed again by the richness of the Old Testament. The New Testament is what we study most, and that is as it should be; but there is so much in the Old Testament that can be of great profit to us. It is as much God’s Holy Word as the New. Understanding it adds a depth to the New Testament that we could never experience without it.

There is history, biography, poetry, proverbs, and prophecy in those first thirty-nine books of the Bible. I love the history and stories of the Old Testament; they all have an application to my life. I am instructed by the proverbs of Solomon and the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. (Frankly, the Proverbs have kept me from making mistakes I would have made if I had not known them.) I am blessed and encouraged by the Psalms, and challenged to holiness and understanding by the prophets. And the New Testament is the fulfillment of so much of the Old, that I need to know the Old to better understand the New. Someone has written, “The New is in the Old concealed; the Old is in the New revealed.”

Begin to read it! Make it a goal of yours to read the entire Bible through in 2011. It has been proved that those who set specific goals are much more likely to reach them than those whose goals are rather general. And those who write out their goals are the ones who most consistently achieve them. Any goals you have for 2011 should include spiritual goals; surely they should include the reading of the Bible.

How do you go about reading the Bible through in one year? First, you decide to do it. You set it as a goal. Then you develop a plan. (Luke 16:1-8 is the story of a man who set a goal, developed a plan, and then followed his plan, achieving his goal. Jesus indicates that it would be good for us to be as wise as that man.) It won’t be easy, since the world, your own nature, and Satan will oppose you. Decide what time each day you will do it. Decide where you will do your reading. Be specific in the details of your plan; it will help you to follow through.

There are 929 chapters in the Old Testament, and 260 in the New. If you read three chapters of the Old Testament every day, you will finish reading it about the first week in November. If you also read one chapter of the New Testament each day, you will complete it about the middle of September. That’s just four chapters each day for less than one year, and you will have read the Bible from cover to cover!

Another way to do it is to purchase a chronological Bible. It follows a simple plan. You just open it and read what is there for January 1st, and continue with each day’s reading. You’ll finish on December 31. There are other methods also. Some are undoubtedly available on the internet. The key is to make a decision! Then find a plan and implement it. God will bless your life, and you will certainly be glad you did! 2011 is just around the corner. Become a diligent reader of God’s Word!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sunday's On the Way

[The sermon associated with this entry is "Is It Waste or Is It Worship?" Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

In Mark 14:1-11, we read an account of what set out to be an ordinary dinner party. However, things changed when a woman's purse opened, and an alabaster flask full of expensive perfume was pulled out. The crash of the breaking flask gave away to the overwhelming scent of its contents. It had not slipped out of the woman's hand...she had not been bumped by a fellow guest. No, she brought the flask on purpose, and she broke the flask on purpose. She had done all of this because she was overwhelmed with love and devotion for One who was in attendance that night. She came prepared to worship the Lord Jesus Christ.

As we think about this woman's action, we find an example of how we should prepare for our weekly gatherings of worship. Is setting an alarm clock and ironing clothes your idea of what it means to prepare for Sunday morning worship? Is there anything more we could do to prepare this important time in our week? Is a corporate worship service meant to be an event at which we show up wondering if the people on stage will be able to coax us into "deep worship"...whatever that means? Or is corporate worship the intentional gathering of God's people to hear God's Word proclaimed, picture the gospel through baptism and the Lord's Supper, sing His praises, express dependence on Him through prayer, and honor God's place as Provider of all things through giving?

If this last question best represents what corporate worship is, then it seems that the word "intentional" should indicate some level of preparation on the part of all those involved. Of course, the one preaching will prepare. Those leading in music will prepare. The ones reading Scripture or praying publicly will prepare. Even the logistics of those serving the Lord's Supper, baptizing new believers, or collecting the offering are prepared. What about the rest of us? How are we to prepare for a Sunday morning worship service? Well, here are a few suggestions:

1. Take in the Bible regularly. Regularly taking in the Bible through reading, meditating, and studying are not just good for the soul. It will also prepare you to worship on Sunday. The Bible is God's revelation of Himself to us. It shows us the glorious attributes of God...His justice, mercy, grace, love, faithfulness, patience, omniscience, omnipotence, etc. When we arrive at corporate worship with a week's worth of reading, studying, and meditating on the Bible in our hearts, then we are more apt to come to God correctly...humbly...with a sense of awe regarding the One in whose presence we gather. If we are regularly setting our minds on things above (Col. 3:2), then our hearts are fueled by God's truth as we gather to sing God's praises.

2. Pray daily. One thing is for certain...if we are to worship God as He deserves, we must worship in the strength He supplies. We need God to give us the holy passion needed to sing His praises with gusto. We need God's grace to enable our cheerful giving. We need God to give clarity and power to the man who preaches His Word, and then we need God to teach us as we hear His Word proclaimed. All of this is needed if our corporate worship is to be pleasing to God, and all of this is only possible if God is at work in us to will and to do His good pleasure. So, we must call on the Lord in prayer. We must pray for God's intervention with our preachers, our musicians, and mostly, ourselves.

3. Think seriously about Sunday morning. Many things could be said here. In our congregation, we make an effort to send out a tool every week so that our members and regular attenders can know what we will be singing and studying on the coming Sunday morning. This may not happen at your church, but if your pastor is preaching through a book of the Bible, you can probably deduce what his next text might be. If so, read that text during the week, study it for yourself, and meditate on it. If your pastor doesn't preach through books of the Bible, then ask him if he would mind sending you an email once he chooses a text, and let him know what you're doing. It is encouraging for any pastor to know that he's not the only one seriously preparing for the sermon on Sunday morning.

Also, if we are to think seriously about Sunday morning, we should consider Saturday night. What do we plan for Saturday evening? Do we plan late activities that could possibly lead to a tiring battle on Sunday morning? Do we try to get to bed at a reasonable hour so that our minds are sharp on Sunday morning? I'm not trying to set your bedtime, but I am saying that we should all be mindful that exhaust effects what we do...whether it's at our job, in school, or in a Sunday morning service.

I hope none of these are new thoughts to you, but it is helpful to be reminded of the importance of what we do each Lord's day as a church. On that note, let me finish with a story. Each Thursday morning, I usually find my way to a local Starbucks, where I will drink coffee and read a lot of material pertaining to my Sunday morning sermon. Recently, I sat in a corner reading away, and I could not help but hear a man sitting near me talking on his phone. I couldn't help it because he was speaking so loudly. By the content of his conversation, I could tell he was deeply involved in a fantasy football league. For those who don't know, a fantasy football league is where a bunch of football fans pick certain offensive players, a defense, etc., at the beginning of the year. They do this as if they were running their own team. Each fantasy owner's players will earn him/her points based on their performance in real NFL games. The owner with the most points at the end of the year wins.

Anyway, back to my story. The man talking on his cell phone was speaking of injuries to key players. He talked about trades he made the week before. He was making predictions about the coming week. I won't bore you with any more specific details, but needless to say, this man's conversation went on for about an hour and a half! read that hour and a half. He was obviously deeply committed to fantasy football. He had spent hours on the internet and on the phone. He spent a lot of time thinking about his team, making trades, and positioning himself for the best Sunday possible. He aimed his whole week at those Sunday afternoon games.

I recall this story to encourage us all to consider how our services might be different if we spent as much time preparing for Sunday morning as this man does preparing for Sunday afternoon. The content of the service may not necessarily change, but I think our hearts would be more engaged and affected if we took our preparation seriously. Wouldn't that be wonderful?

Now, let's start getting ready for Sunday.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Holiness of God, Chapter 6

As I read this week's chapter, my most striking takeaway centers on a sentence found on page 124: "What amazes us is justice, not grace." This is absolutely true. It wasn't until I was in seminary that God began to show me the folly of asking, "Why doesn't God save everyone?" it was then, as I was immersed in my studies, that I came to ask, "Why does God save anyone?" I was part of that group that was seeking to put myself and my fallen, warped view of justice and fairness above God's view of justice. I picture myself foolishly shaking a finger toward the heavens saying, "God, now you know my way is the only fair way to hand out salvation." What a horrible perspective I had! I am so thankful God showed me that He is not obliged to treat all people equally.

With that said, I think there is something lacking in this chapter. I think Sproul is right on the mark about God's justice and our not deserving even the breaths we take as we write/read this blog entry. Justice means we are cut off from the moment of conception, but mercy allows us to live. However, as a pastor, I've walked into the tragic living rooms of life, and while this truth is in my mind, it's not coming out of my mouth in the times of pain and loss. I'm not putting my arm around the woman who lost her husband saying, "Well, this was just justice...he didn't deserve to live the way, you don't either."

That's why I say something is 'lacking' and not 'wrong.' I actually don't think R.C., who is pastoring a church in Florida now, would enter a living room and say something as insensitive as that either. He would weep with those who weep, as he ought. This doesn't mean that the idea of God's "fairness" never gets discussed through the grieving process, but we must remember that "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver" (Prov. 25:11). It's like always having "all things work together for the good" on the tip of your tongue walking into a tragedy. It is always true, but it is not always a "word fitly spoken."

Overall, this chapter does serve to give a lofty view of our holy God and a low view of man, which is good and right. When I read about our sin bearing false witness against the image of God we are meant to bear as humans, I had to set the book down and just chew on that tasty morsel of an idea. I was especially thought-provoked when Sproul was talking about Uzzah and the ox cart, and he drew the conclusion that the filth of the ground would not pollute the ark nearly as much as the filth of Uzzah the sinner. I'll close by quoting the passage I highlighted here:

Was Uzzah's act "an act of holy heroism? No! It was an act of arrogance, a sin of presumption. Uzzah assumed that his hand was less polluted than the earth. But it wasn't the ground or the mud that would desecrate the ark; it was the touch of man. The earth is an obedient creature. It does what God tells it to do. It brings forth its yield in its season. It obeys the laws of nature that God has established. When a temperature falls to a certain point, the ground freezes. When water is added to the dust, it becomes mud, just as God designed it. The ground doesn't commit cosmic treason. There is nothing polluted about the ground."

The ground we walk on is more fit for the holy things of God than our hearts and lives. It's not just that sin negated all our is that we are positively depraved! Our depravity cursed the ground Adam and his descendants worked...the universe was an innocent by-stander...sharing in the effects of sin's curse because of our rebellion against a holy God. This is why the creation longs for the revelation of the sons of God (Rom. 8:19). When that glory is revealed, then the groaning of creation and the groaning of our souls will be answered by God graciously giving birth to a new in which creation will be redeemed and so will our sin-ridden bodies. Maranatha...come Lord, Jesus!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Living with the End in Mind

[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church, titled "Living with the End in Mind". Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

In Mark 13, Jesus speaks about two ends...the end of the temple, and the end of the age. His prophecy would be fulfilled about 4 decades after His death and resurrection, as the Romans finish a prolonged siege on the city of Jerusalem by destroying the temple. This judgment in time points us to the judgment that will come at the end of time. As Jesus instructed His disciples how to live as they awaited the end of the temple, so we should heed His instruction as we await the end of the age.

There are four phrases that summarize Jesus' teaching that we should keep in mind as we seek to be the good servants waiting for the master of the house to return (v. 33-36).

1. Do not be deceived (v. 5-8). As we wait for God to bring this age to its rightful end, we must stay clear-headed and refuse to be deceived. We live in a confusing age in which the nature of the gospel is twisted. We live in a culture in which sound doctrine is seen as if it were opposed to love. Clear thinking does not mark the church today, but it must mark us if we are to avoid deception. And...not being deceived is directly linked to the other three instructions.

2. You will suffer opposition (v. 9, 11-12). This is particularly true in light of the need to be clear in our thinking about Christ and the gospel. It seems that the clearer we are, the more fierce the opposition will be. It will come from outside the church, as those who openly hate Christianity. It will come from inside the church...from those say that Christians should "lighten up" with their gospel preaching. For many, it will even come from within the home. This opposition may be felt in some measure in American culture, but it is especially serious for of our brothers and sisters in other cultures. Whenever you need to be reminded of this, just visit the Voice of the Martyrs website, read their stories, pray for our brothers/sisters, and remember that the world hates them (& us) because the world hates Jesus.

3. You must preach the gospel (v. 10). Clearly, if we are to preach the right gospel, we must not be deceived about the gospel. We must think clearly about man's real problem. The real, eternal problem that man faces is that while we are sinful, we will be judged by a holy God. Our holy God created everything, and because He is the Creator, He has authority to judge all of mankind. His justice is thorough, and our eternal sin against our eternal God has earned the wage of eternal death. Yet, our of sheer grace, God has sent Christ to bear the punishment of sin. All who turn from their sin and trust in Christ will enjoy the benefit of Christ's death and resurrection, be forgiven of their sin, and rather than bearing their sin before God, they will bear the righteousness of Christ. This message rightly exalts and glorifies God as holy, just, merciful, and gracious. This message is also the only hope of salvation we have, and it is the only hope that any man or woman has as the end of the age approaches. So, we must continue to preach the gospel.

4. You must endure to the end (v. 13). The only way we will endure is if we continue to think clearly and continue to avoid deception. We must not allow our minds to be clouded by the ideals of the world. The writer of Hebrews encourages us on: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (12:1-3, NIV).

There was nothing worse in school than dozing off in class because I lost sleep the night before. Ok...there was something worse. It was made worse when my teacher would notice my dozing and ask me a question about whatever he/she just said. That was the worst. It was embarrassing. Much as I might try, my ignorance of the information in question was clear.

Dozing off in our responsibilities as Christians is not an option. The end is coming...that is certainly one truth about which we should not be deceived. As Christians, we must continue to work until the master of the house (i.e.- the Lord Jesus) returns. We must not fall asleep on the job. And what Jesus said to His disciples, He says to all...even all of us, "Stay awake!" (Mk. 12:37)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Holiness of God, Chapter 5

As I began this chapter of Sproul's book, I was hoping for a rebound from what I saw as an Of Mice and Men fiasco. I was met with a chapter that I truly appreciated. I have never read a biography of Luther, and so I found the narrative of his story fascinating. After all, it's good and comforting to know that flatulence even plagues monks. I'm not sure about recommending it to my congregation as "a most effective device to repel the attacks of the devil" (p. 78), but it sure did make me giggle.

Of course, the thing which captivated me most was the reason Sproul included all this information...namely, Luther's pre-conversion response to the holiness of God. He was terrified...he was speechless. It is challenging and humbling to read of an unbeliever's fear-filled view of approaching God. My only inability to be in front of a group and not produce sound came in the ninth grade, when I tried to sing my first duet (with a girl I had a crush on, no less). I stood in front, the music began, I opened my mouth, and nothing came out. All my practice ended with embarrassment and the crushing of my naive delusion of potentially dating a senior!

That's not the case with Luther. What made him silent in front of others was the palpable sense of the One he was approaching in worship. As Sproul recounts, "He was supposed to say the words, 'We offer unto thee, the living, the true, the eternal God.'" However, that's not what happened, and his reflection on that moment is what really pierced me. Luther wrote, "At these words I was utterly stupefied and terror-stricken. I thought to myself, 'With what tongue shall I address majesty, seeing that all men ought to tremble in the presence of an earthly prince? Who am I, that I should life up mine eyes or raise my hands to the divine Majesty? The angels surround him. At his nod the earth trembles. And shall I, a miserable little pygmy, say, "I want this, I ask for that"? For I am dust and ashes and full of sin and I am speaking to the living, eternal and true God'" (p. 80).

I suppose I could go on a rant about how "evangelicalism" has made approaching God too casual, but that's the easy way out. "They" are out there as undefined group of people with whom I don't interact. I'm sure "they" are out there, but again, it seems that God wouldn't have me focus there. It seems that I ought to re-evaluate how I approach God. The King James Version of Romans 2:11 says, "For there is no respect of persons with God." God need not be a respecter of persons, for He is God, and we are not. However, it seems that it is all too easy to reverse the verse...for there is no respect of God with persons.

God graced Martin Luther, as an unregenerate man, with an appropriate fear of God...not simply a fear of hell or of consequences, but a fear of God. That fear of God silenced him, it enraged him, and it confounded him until God graciously opened his eyes to see "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor. 4:4b).

Now, I understand that I can come boldly to the throne of grace seeking mercy and grace, and I think it's inappropriate for a child of God (i.e.- an object of mercy) to have the same kind of fear as an object of wrath. However, the overwhelming sense of holiness that Luther experienced is needed more in this heart of mine.

Monday, November 08, 2010

A Few Resources to Keep in Mind

[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church, titled "Important Questions About Orphan Care". Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

Yesterday was Orphan Sunday, so it was appropriate to preach on orphan care. In two weeks, the congregation I serve will be taking a special offering, part of which will be used to begin intentionally promoting and supporting orphan care. So, it was doubly appropriate to preach on orphan care. I won't go through all that was said in the sermon...that's what the audio is for.

What I want to do here is supply you with a few resources to help you think more our charge to care for orphans as believers. First, I want to recommend a book. It is called Adopted for Life by Russell Moore. The book is not a theological treatise on adoption...the author says so in the introduction. However, it is a powerful book about adoption...specifically about the distinctly Christian nature of adoption. Moore also deals with a wide variety of issues surrounding adoption. Whether you are considering adopting or just want to better support those who do, you will benefit from Russell Moore's knowledge as a theologian, his experience in adopting two boys from Russia, and his passionate heart for the orphan. You can order the book here.

In addition to this book, I want to pass along four others that are recommended by Jedd Medefind, president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans. I have not personally read them yet, bu I think they'll be worth your time. If you want to order any of these books, just click on the title. First, he recommends The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis, David Cross, and Wendy Lyons Sunshine. This book is particularly geared for those who adopt children from different cultures/countries, with physical/emotional needs, or from troubled backgrounds. Another recommendation is There is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene. This book "opens unforgettable windows into the plight of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS."

The third book from Medefind's recommendations is Fields of the Fatherless by Tom Davis. "Davis paints a simple yet powerful picture of what it looks like when Christians come to share God's passion for orphans"...including practical steps to getting involved. One final recommendation from Medefind is The One Factor by Doug Sauder, and it includes real stories of children in foster care. We may be overly familiar with the idea that one person can make a big difference, but Sauder turns this "tired adage" into a "vibrant, vivifying confidence."

Now that I'm done recommending books, another resource I want to share is a website: This is a fantastic site with all kinds of information to keep the orphan's need and our responsibility in front of us. Take some time to check it out, make it one of your favorites, and go back often!

The last resource I want to share is a video. It lasts about five minutes, and it is from John Piper. It's called "Adoption is Greater than the Universe." Piper uses Ephesians 1 to justify making this kind of strong statement. I hope you are encouraged by it!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Holiness of God, Chapter 4

I have to make a confession right out of the engagement with the chapter began to fade once Sproul began to relay the plot of Of Mice and Men. I understood the point of all of just didn't strike me like I think it was designed to do. Maybe it was the length of the illustration...I don't know. That was one drawback of the chapter. [My desire is to stay humble in giving even slight criticism.]

So, after reading chapter four of this book, I realized that I not only have something in common with R.C. Sproul. I have something in common with Billy Graham, as well. I, too, have been playing golf, watching a sporting event, and getting my haircut when I have had the same experience. I get asked, "What do you do?" The answer is that I am a pastor. I have received apologies on the golf course for behavior displayed prior to that revelation. I have also heard what seems to be the obligatory "Didn't the Lord give us a great day?" in the bleachers. Of course, the strangest response was when I told the woman cutting my hair that I am a pastor...all she could say was, "Awwwww!" The written word fails here...imagine she just saw a newborn baby cooing and smiling because he has gas...that was the "Awwwww" I heard.

After these initial reactions, silence and focus on the task at hand ruled the day. The words of Sproul were definitely proved true. "People have an appreciation for moral excellence, as long as it is removed a safe distance from them. The Jews honored the prophets, from a distance. The world honors Christ, from a distance" (p. 59). I do not claim moral excellence for myself, but the title "pastor" is associated with it. I assume that the silence comes because our conversation could turn to the holy, and when the holy comes into contact with the unholy (especially through the vehicle of the ears), there can be a violent reaction.

I love the story from Mark 4 of Jesus calming the storm, and I am glad that Sproul focused on the greater fright caused by a display of Jesus' power. The Holy God is the only One who can control the uncontrollable sea (Ps. 77:16; Ps. 89:8-9; Job 38:8, 10-11; Amos 4:13). "It is one thing to fall victim to the flood or to fall prey to cancer; it is another thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (p. 53). I am actually preaching through the gospel of Mark on Sunday mornings at this time, and I decided to look back on my notes for this text. Seven months ago, I preached this text under two main points. They were (1) Jesus calms a storm, (2) Jesus causes a storm. As I was studying for that Sunday, I ran across this from Sinclair Ferguson: "The message is not that Jesus calms the storm in people's hearts but that Jesus causes a storm in people's hearts." Wow!

One last thought about man's reaction to holiness. Thinking about the calming of the storm in connection with this, it is interesting that the nature of the sea submits to the Holy One in Mark 4, yet the nature of man slaughters the Holy One in Mark 15. This is yet more evidence of our desperately wicked hearts and our need of redemption.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Scary Words from Jesus

[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church called "A Tale of Two Religions". Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

While our study this past Sunday was on Mark 12:35-44, I would like to focus on the last four verses. Here, there is a distinction drawn between the rich people and the poor widow. It is a stark contrast. Jesus has just finished condemning the superficial, hypocritical religious activity of the scribes...activity that would earn them "the greater condemnation" (v. 40b).

Next, He sits down to watch people put their money in the offering box in the temple. While this text will ultimately be about the condition of the heart, do not be mistaken...Jesus sees how much is given. He sees the "rich people put in large sums" (v. 41b), and He sees a poor widow who "put in two small copper coins" (v. 42a). Then, Jesus judges what He has seen. He exalts the giving of the widow rather over the giving of the rich. Jesus concludes that she is generous, giving "more than all those who are contributing to the offering box" (v. 43). As we hear these words and we see this scene, we nod in agreement. Jesus is right; He is perfectly wise and has assessed this situation accurately.

What we see here is that Jesus is assessing the heart condition of the woman giving, not just calculating her gift as a % of income. External matters, like % of income, can be deceiving...but Jesus sees the heart. That was the whole problem Jesus had with the scribes...they appeared spiritually together on the exterior, but beneath the surface was the clear stench of depravity. We should take heed to Jesus warning and "beware of the scribes." We shouldn't just beware of the scribes "out there" somewhere...we should beware of the scribal tendency in our own flesh. Let's take a couple of minutes to think about this warning.

To do that, take your Bible, turn to Matthew 6, and take time to read verses 1-18 (I'll be writing under the assumption that you have your Bible open...just so you know). Here, we find the warning to "beware" applied to three areas of spiritual life. These areas are important spiritual disciplines...they are giving, praying, and fasting. Each warning follows the general statement in verse 1: "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven."

Let's walk through these one by one:
1. Beware in your giving. Read verse 2 again...can you imagine something like this actually happening? Say you get off the interstate, see a homeless man without legs begging for money, and you give him some cash. Then, before driving off, you lay on the horn for a few seconds and yell out the window, "Lord, I sure hope some other people will show this same kind of generosity!" That's about as ridiculous as what Jesus describes here. Of course, being seen in giving is often much more subtle and deceiving than that...and we must avoid drawing attention to our giving.
2. Beware in your praying. Verses 5-6 deal with our prayer lives. Have you ever bowed your head to pray at a restaurant because you figured other people were watching and you wanted them to see you praying? After all, it's Sunday afternoon, and you're in "church clothes." Well, while there's nothing wrong with giving thanks for God's provision of food in a public restaurant...we should receive all food with thankfulness (1 Tim. 4:3-5). However, praying to be seen praying is exactly what Jesus says we must avoid!
3. Beware in your fasting. Fasting, especially fasting for an extended period of time, is a difficult discipline. Some can't do it for health reasons...that's because fasting isn't the normal way of life. Normal life means eating on a regular basis; eating is a God-given means of sustaining life. So, when one sacrifices this in order to seek the Lord, it can be hard. You may feel weak, get headaches, etc. The temptation is to wear that feeling on your sleeve so someone will say, "Is everything okay?" Then, you can respond, "Well, I've been fasting for four days now. It's been really hard, and I'm just feeling a bit tired...don't worry about me." Jesus says beware of this.

Rather than "blowing our own horn" when we give, we should do so in secret. Rather than praying to be seen and heard as "pray-ers", we must make sure our heart is aimed toward the Father and not toward others. Rather than dramatizing our spiritual disciplines so they are recognized, we should simply act as we would any other day.

Why? Why should our giving, praying, and fasting be hidden rather than displayed? Well, the answer is in the scary words of Jesus. These are found in verses 2, 5, and 16. When we make a show of our spiritual lives...hoping that people recognize us for least give their approval of it...Jesus looks at us and says, "they have received their reward." In other words, the "wow"s, the accolades, the plaques, and any other human recognition are our only reward.

So, when we look back at Mark 12, we remember that the spiritual lives of the scribes were on display for all to see. We see that they loved the honor of men...they loved the special seats at feasts and in the synagogue...they loved the titles. And Jesus would say, "they have received their reward." For while they may be greatly rewarded in this life, when they stand before God, "they will receive the greater condemnation" (Mk. 12:40). That is scary!

Now, let's look at our own lives...why do we do what we do? Why did we give what we gave this last Sunday? Why did we pray at lunch today? Do we want to be seen? Are we looking for reward from men, or are we looking for reward from God? Let us constantly be testing our hearts, testing our motives, so that we can look forward to the reward from our Father, who sees in secret and rewards what He sees.