Friday, May 14, 2021

What's Fasting All About?

“It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes fromthe mouth of God.’”
  
– Matthew 4:4

Skipped any meals lately? Some people skip meals to lose weight. Others fast as part of an internal detox. Still others do it just because they feel like they’re too busy to stop and eat.

But for Christians, there’s the practice of Biblical fasting—something a lot of us may be missing out on. You see, a biblical fast isn’t just about simply not eating. Biblical fasting involves replacing the food with something else—namely, prayer and a deeper study of God’s word. So, if we’re skipping meals, but we aren’t praying and reading God’s word more, that’s not biblical fasting. That’s dieting. You can pray without fasting, but you can’t fast biblically without praying.

If you do a Bible study on fasting, you’ll discover that it’s mentioned dozens of times in the Old Testaments and over 20 times in the New Testament. And God’s followers fast and pray for a variety of reasons. Here are three quick examples:

Example #1: Jesus fasted and prayed before he began his public ministry (Luke 4:2). Jesus set us a great example. Fasting and prayer focus us and empower us for what’s up ahead. When we are at a crossroads in our life and we’re about to begin something new and important, it’s a really good idea to spend some time fasting and praying. Before you begin a new job, it’s a good idea to fast and pray. Before you begin a new school year, it’s a good idea to fast and pray. Before your wedding day, before your child is born, before you have surgery—fast and pray. 

Example #2: Jesus urged his disciples to pray and fast for spiritual breakthrough (Mark 9:29). In Mark 9 we read about a boy who was demon-possessed. The demon made him mute, thrash around on the ground and foam at the mouth. Nine of Jesus’ disciples had tried to drive the demon out but they had failed. So, Jesus stepped in and drove out the demon. Later that day Jesus’ disciples asked, “Why couldn’t we drive out the demon?” Jesus answered, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” And some Biblical manuscripts include the two extra words “and fasting.” So, Biblical fasting can intensify our prayers to bring about spiritual deliverance when nothing else works.

This is such an important benefit of fasting and prayer. There are times when Christians get caught up in an addiction. Willpower doesn’t work, self-help methods don’t work, and the tear-filled pleas of loved ones don’t work. Even normal prayers don’t work. Oftentimes, when nothing else works, a season of fasting and prayer will work. And underneath many other physical, psychological and relationship problems, there are root spiritual problems. Seasons of prayer and fasting can address these root spiritual problems like nothing else can.

Example #3: The Church at Antioch prayed and fasted for God’s clear guidance and direction (Acts 13:2-3). As the Christians sought God through worship, prayer and fasting, God told them to set aside Barnabas and Saul for the mission field. And as a result, the single greatest Christian missionary of all time, the Apostle Paul, began the first of his three missionary journeys. Fasting and prayer tune our ears to God’s voice and prepare us to obey His clear guidance and direction.

As we’ve seen in these three examples, fasting and prayer can focus us and empower us for what’s up ahead. It can usher in spiritual breakthrough. And fasting and prayer can reveal God’s guidance and direction. But I believe it all boils down to this: Biblical fasting is a necessary part of a radical reorientation toward God.

In Isaiah 58:6-9, God laid into the people of Israel when their fasting had become meaningless. God told them, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: Here am I.”

God is saying that fasting has ALWAYS been about giving up something GOOD to gain something that is infinitely BETTER. Giving up food has never been the end goal. It’s just the starting line. As we give up some good food in order to reorient ourselves to God, who is much better and more fulfilling than the greatest meal we’ve ever eaten, He leads us to give up other good things for what is even better. As we fast from food, God also leads us to fast from injustice and oppression. He leads us to fast from hoarding our food while others around us go hungry. He leads us to fast from a closet full of clothes when the homeless around us need some of those clothes.

In short, as we fast and pray, God helps us take our eyes OFF ourselves and the temporary things of this world, so we can experience a radical reorientation to God. Food is good, but God is infinitely better. So, we fast and pray.

Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our in-person worship service Sundays at 9 a.m. at 17746 George Blvd. in Victorville. Or, join us online at 10 a.m. on the Impact Christian Church YouTube channel or Facebook page. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.


Friday, May 7, 2021

3 More Prayer Requests from Jesus

 “Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” – Matthew 6:11-13

I think most of us understand that there’s a wrong way to pray. For example, this year’s Super Bowl was an absolute slaughter. At halftime the Chiefs were down 21-6 to the underdog Buccaneers. And by that time, you can guess what many Chiefs fans were doing, especially those who had bet on the game: They began praying for a miracle. After all, they had a lot riding on that game: money, pride and bragging rights. Do I even need to say it? That’s the wrong way to pray.

Another wrong use of prayer is to take someone else on a guilt trip. Instead of confronting them face-to-face, we choose the passive-aggressive approach and pray in front of them. “Lord, thank you for Jennifer. But I pray that she’ll stop being late all the time.” Or, “Father in heaven, help John to stop being so rude to me.” Most of us parents, at one time or another, have performed some guilt-trip prayers in front of our kids. After all, why confront them with their bad behavior when we can just pray for them at the dinner table? Friends, that’s another wrong way to pray.

But in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins teaching us the right way to pray. He says, “This, then, is how you should pray” (Matthew 6:9). And He proceeds to teach us The Lord’s Prayer. There are six prayer requests in this short prayer. Many Christians assume the first three requests in The Lord’s Prayer are focused on God’s needs and wants—“Hallowed by Your name,” “Your Kingdom come,” and “Your will be done”—while the last three requests focus on our needs and wants. But that’s only partly true. The last three prayer requests are very personal and practical, but each one still stems from a desire to see God’s name honored, God’s kingdom come and God’s will be done. Let’s take a look.

Jesus’ 4th Prayer Request (v. 11): “Give us today our daily bread.” Many ask, “What does Jesus mean by ‘daily bread’?” Well, we know that “bread” is a common symbol in the Bible, usually used as a synonym for food. So, Jesus’ 4th request in The Lord’s Prayer most likely boils down to this: “Our Father in heaven, give us the food we need today for our sustenance and support.” Or, as the New Living Translation puts it: “Give us today the food we need.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “Give us this month the food we need.” Or even “Give us over the next few days the food we need.” Jesus wants us to express our dependence on God every day. 

Jesus’ 5th Prayer Request (v. 12): “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” In Jesus’ day, Jewish teachers used the word “debts” as a synonym for “sins.” So, Jesus is teaching us to pray that God will “forgive us for our sins, as we also have forgiven those who have sinned against us.” And if you’re wondering if Jesus is actually saying what you think He’s saying, the answer is YES … HE IS. Jesus is teaching us to basically pray, “Father in heaven, please forgive me for my sins. But only forgive me to the extent that I have already forgiven others who have sinned against me.” And all God’s children say, “Uh-oh!!!”

In case we miss what Jesus is saying here, He clarifies this 5th prayer request later on, in verses 14 and 15: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Is Jesus actually saying that God will refuse to forgive us if we refuse to forgive others? Bingo! That’s exactly what He’s saying. Think about it: How can we possibly expect God to forgive us for a sin that we fully intend to commit again and again--tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that?

So, according to Jesus, this is the right way to pray: “Our Father in heaven, You are a God of great mercy and forgiveness. So, as we follow in Your footsteps, we have shown mercy and forgiveness to those who have sinned against us. Now, that we ourselves aren’t holding on to any unforgiveness, please forgive us for the sins we’ve committed against You.”

Jesus’ 6th Prayer Request (v. 13): “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” The Bible teaches us, “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone” (James 1:13b). So what does this prayer request mean? Here’s a great insight that I learned from Pastor John Piper: “All our experiences are tests from God and are temptations from Satan.” He goes on to explain, “Pleasant Experiences – God wants us to thank Him. Satan wants us to idolize the pleasure. Painful Experiences – God wants us to trust Him. Satan wants us to curse God.” Learn to think of everything that you go through in life—whether it’s good, bad or ugly—as a test from God and as a temptation from Satan.

I pray that you’ll take these prayer requests to heart and pray them daily, alone AND with your family. Express to God your complete dependence upon Him to meet your needs today. Forgive others first, and ask God for forgiveness second. And finally, ask God to deliver you from anything—even blessings—that might pull you and your family away from God.

Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our in-person worship service Sundays at 9 a.m. at 17746 George Blvd. in Victorville. Or, join us online at 10 a.m. on the Impact Christian Church YouTube channel or Facebook page. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Friday, April 23, 2021

3 Prayer Requests from Jesus

This, then, is how you should pray.” – Matthew 6:9

The Sermon on the Mount is the greatest sermon of all time, delivered by the greatest preacher of all time—Jesus Christ. And right in the middle of this ground-breaking message, Jesus gives us a model prayer to follow when we’re speaking with our heavenly Father. It includes six prayer requests in all, and today, I’d like to take a look at His first three prayer requests with you.

Jesus’ 1st Prayer Request (v. 9): “Hallowed be Your name.” Now, “hallowed” isn’t a word that we use every day. The closest word to it in everyday English is Halloween, which has absolutely nothing to do with what Jesus has in mind here. The word hallowed comes from the same Greek word as holy, which means “to be set apart.” So, to be hallowed means to be regarded as holy or to be set apart from everything else. But if we draw the conclusion that hallowing God’s name is just a matter of regarding God as holy in our minds, we have missed Jesus’ point. God is not interested in hearing us say with our mouths, “Hallowed be Your name” unless we really mean it in our hearts. If our hearts don’t mean it, then God’s ears don’t want to hear it.

Here are a few synonyms for “hallow” as Jesus uses the word in The Lord’s Prayer: revere, honor; esteem, value, treasure and love. With that in mind, what is Jesus’ first petition in this great prayer model? It’s this: “Our Father in heaven, we want Your name be revered here on earth. We want Your name to be honored among us. We desire to esteem and value Your name more than any other name. We want to treasure You as the highest priority in our lives and love You will all our hearts.”

If we’re just praying with our mouths and not with our hearts, our prayers will always be shallow and weak. But our prayers come alive when they are prayed from a heart that truly desires for God to be honored, valued, treasured and loved here on earth just as He is in heaven. Once you understand what it means to truly pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name,” Jesus’ next two prayer requests make perfect sense.

Jesus’ 2nd Prayer Request (v. 10a): “Your Kingdom come.” This second petition touches on two key things. First, it focuses on Jesus’ present Kingdom expanding now. As Jesus walked this earth, wherever He went, He took some of the best parts of heaven with Him—mercy, grace, kindness, truth, compassion, and unconditional love. And if you and I are followers of Jesus Christ with the His Holy Spirit living inside us, we also take some those parts of heaven with us wherever we go.

So, when we pray, “Your Kingdom Come” what we should mean is this: “Father in heaven, because our hearts long for You to be revered, valued, treasured and loved, we ask that You expand Your kingdom wherever we go. This world we live in has pushed You away long enough! So, Father, won’t You expand Your kingdom in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our schools, and in our church. Everywhere we go, loving Father, grow Your kingdom through us.”

This second petition also touches on Jesus’ future kingdom covering the earth. Jesus is urging us to be forward thinking, to say as John says at the end of the Book of Revelation: “Come, Lord Jesus.” As Christ’s disciples, we are determined to expand Jesus’ kingdom today in our corner of the world. But at the same time, we long for the day when Jesus Christ will come down once again and restore complete order, peace and righteousness to this old earth—as it is in heaven.

Jesus’ 3rd Prayer Request (v. 10b): “Your will be done.” This petition goes hand-in-hand with the prior one. As God’s kingdom is established, His will must be done. As with the first two petitions, when we pray this prayer, we must be ready and willing to live it out. Yes, we want God’s will to be done in the White House, but first God’s will must be done right here in our house. Yes, we want God’s will to be done in our neighbor’s backyard, but first God’s will must be done in our own backyard.

With each of these petitions, we are asking God to partner with us to hallow His name, to usher in His kingdom and carry out His will. If you’re like many Christians, you’ve probably wondered at times why God doesn’t seem to answer your prayers. Why is that? Well, if you and I aren’t willing to roll up our sleeves and make it so in our own lives, the words of our prayers are empty. But when we’re willing to surrender our treasuring of ourselves to our treasuring of God; when we’re ready to scap our own kingdom in order to expand God’s kingdom; and when we’re prepared to push aside our will in order to carry out God’s will—you’d better believe that God will answer our prayers.

Try this in the coming week: Pray every day. And when you do, pray for God’s name to be treasured and loved  by you and by those around you. Pray for God’s Kingdom to come. And pray for His will to be done in your little corner of the world.

Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our in-person worship service tomorrow at 9 a.m. at 17746 George Blvd. in Victorville. Or, join us online at 10 a.m. on the Impact Christian Church YouTube channel or Facebook page. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Pray Like Jesus

“When you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private.Matthew 6:6 

When you were a child, you may have been taught a short prayer.  It might have been this one: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” That’s a pretty scary prayer, for kids, don’t you think? It made kids want to sleep with one eye open: “Oh, no! If I fall asleep I’m gonna die!” Here’s another familiar one: “God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. Amen.” But that 10-second prayer was evidently too long for some kids, so they shortened it to: “Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub. Yay, God!”

For a 3-year-old, memorizing a simple prayer is a good way to learn to pray. But if you’re 15, 25 or 65 years old, and you’re still praying canned prayers that sound like a broken record, then you haven’t really started to pray. This is nothing new; it was going on in Jesus’ time as well. That’s why, in His great Sermon on the Mount, He set out to teach us the RIGHT way and the WRONG way to pray.

In Matthew 6:5, Jesus begins telling us the wrong way to pray: “Do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.” In those days, when Jewish men prayed in the synagogue, they would often pray standing with their arms lifted in the air. That was a common prayer position in a worship service and in private prayer as well. But on a public street corner, it stood out like a sore thumb. It was a position that screamed out, “Look at me! If you want to hear a prayer that will knock your socks off, listen to me pray!” And Jesus says plainly, “I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”

In other words, the “attaboys” that flashy pray-ers get from other people are all the reward they’ll ever get. They won’t receive any reward from God. The wrong way to pray is to pray in a way that makes YOU the center of attention.

In verse 6, Jesus explains the RIGHT way to pray. As the New Living Translation puts it: “But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” Simply put, the right way to pray is to pray discreetly and privately—motivated by a heartfelt desire to spend quality time with your Father in heaven. In other words … pray like Jesus. 

In Matthew 7, Jesus continues: “When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” In those days, pagan worshipers would string together long, unintelligible phrases and repeat them over and over as a mantra. Jesus says, “Many hypocrites’ prayers are like that! Their prayers are full of words, and some of those words sound really impressive. But their prayers are meaningless. They claim to be talking to God, but they’re actually just putting on a dog and pony show for people. They’re just … babbling.”

Now, you and I can babble almost as badly as the pagans. Before lunch on Sunday: “Dear God, bless this food that we are about to receive to the nourishment of our bodies. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” And the same thing before lunch on Monday. Then, before bed on Sunday: “Dear God, thank You for this day. Help us to get a good night’s sleep and wake up refreshed in the morning. Forgive us for our sins. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”  And the same thing before bed on Monday. It becomes meaningless babbling!

Why on earth do we pray the same tired old prayers? We could never get away with saying the same tired old lines to people we're in a deep relationship with. If you spoke to your spouse every day with the same tired old language that you speak to God every day, would they think your words had any meaning whatsoever? Parents, if you spoke to your kids every day with the same tired old language that you speak to God, do you think your kids would feel loved?  

At times in our lives, we’ve all heard Christians stand up in church and pray beautiful, eloquent prayers. And we’ve thought to ourselves, “Wow! I wish I could pray like that!” But Jesus turns to us and says, “No! I don’t want you to pray like that. You are a unique child of mine, and our relationship is special. So, your prayers to Your Father in Heaven should be special. They shouldn’t sound like anyone else’s. Don’t worry about using the right words. Just talk with God like you’re talking to your Daddy who loves you more than anything in the world.”

Your Father knows what you need, and He is waiting for you to bring that need to Him. He wants to listen to your needs and meet them. He wants to hear you praise Him for who He is to you, and He wants you to thank Him for the unique blessings that He’s sent your way. And He wants to share His heart and thoughts with you as well.

You need to spend quality time with God—every day—just the two of you. He is waiting for you to come to Him. He is waiting for you to pray like Jesus.

Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our in-person worship service tomorrow at 9 a.m. at 17746 George Blvd. in Victorville. Or, join us online at 10 a.m. on the Impact Christian Church YouTube channel or Facebook page. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Easter Isn’t Over!

We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.1 Thessalonians 4:14

If your household is anything like mine, by now all the chocolate bunnies have been eaten and all the Peeps have given their last Peep. Maybe your kids’ Easter baskets have a few stray green jelly beans lurking down there in the fake grass, but that’s about it. After all, Easter was over a week ago. Right?

Right. But there’s something about Easter that ISN’T over—not today, not next week, not six months or six thousand years from now. You see, that first Easter changed the world … forever. So today, I’d like to share with you five reasons why Jesus’ death and resurrection changes your world:

#1: Jesus’ death and resurrection confirm that the Bible is true. There are dozens of Old Testament verses that prophesied that the Jesus Christ would suffer, be killed, be buried and rise from the dead. Concerning Jesus’ crucifixion, King David wrote in Psalm 22:16-17: “A band of evil men has encircled Me, they have pierced My hands and My feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over Me.” Concerning Jesus’ burial and resurrection, we read in Isaiah 53:9 and 11: “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death…. After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life, and be satisfied.” And Psalm 16:10 says: “You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.”

Every one of these prophecies was written hundreds of years before Jesus was born. Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection prove to you that even the seemingly-impossible Bible prophesies are all fulfilled in Christ.

#2: Jesus’ death and resurrection prove that Jesus is God. In John 10:18 Jesus told his followers, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” What a remarkable thing for Jesus to say! Any martyr could claim to have the authority to lay down his or her life for someone else. But none of us has the authority or power to raise ourselves from the dead. No one can do that. Not even an angel can do that. Only GOD can do that. Therefore, Jesus’ resurrection proves that He is—in fact—God in the flesh.

#3: Jesus’ death and resurrection pave the way for your own future resurrection, giving you great hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-16 says, “We do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him…. For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven … with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” 1 Cor. 15:14-22 reads: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

Bottom line: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead blazed a trail for YOUR resurrection from the dead. Jesus has paved the way for you to live forever. So, whenever you’re sitting next to a loved one’s bed in ICU or attending a family member’s funeral, you can have hope. Because Christ conquered death, you and I have this unshakable hope: This life is not all there is. The best is yet to come.

#4: Jesus’ death and resurrection prove that your Judgment Day is coming. The Apostle Paul says in Acts 17:30-31, “In the past God overlooked ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent. For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Jesus’ resurrection isn’t great news for everyone. Because Jesus is alive, He will hold us accountable for our sin. That’s the purpose of Judgment Day—to declare our innocence or guilt before our holy God. And for those of us who are found guilty of rejecting Jesus Christ during our lifetimes and breaking God’s laws, there WILL be Hell to pay. Because Jesus is alive, Judgment Day is coming. So, you had better make sure you’re ready.

#5: Jesus’ death and resurrection empower you to live a life that pleases God. What do you think the chances are of you—on your own—living a life that pleases God? Slim to none? No! Just plain—NONE. The Bible reveals that on our own, our good deeds are like filthy rags compared to God’s holiness. So, on your own, you CANNOT live a life that pleases God. It’s impossible. But with Christ…all things are possible. You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength.

Easter changed your world forever. So, I’ve got to ask you: What are you going to do about it? Jesus Christ suffered and died … for you. Jesus Christ had his broken and bloody body placed in a tomb … for you. Jesus Christ busted out of that tomb on the third day … for you. So…what are you going to do about it? I hope that if you haven’t done it already, you’ll do it today: admit that like all of us, you’re a sinner who needs the Savior; believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins; and choose to follow Jesus as your Savior and Lord.

Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our in-person worship service tomorrow at 9 a.m. at 17746 George Blvd. in Victorville. Or, join us online at 10 a.m. on the Impact Christian Church YouTube channel or Facebook page. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Give Like God

“When you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your charitable giving will be in secret.” Matthew 6:3-4

There’s a story about an Eastern holy man who used to sit at a prominent street corner in his city. Every day he would cover himself with sackcloth and sit there on a pile of ashes to show his humility. Often, tourists would stop at the corner and ask to take a picture with him. He always agreed—but before the picture was taken, he would quickly rearrange the ashes to make himself look more humble.

That makes me stop and think. I’ve been a follower of Christ for over 40 years, and during that time I’ve done my best to do good deeds. But I wonder: How many of those good deeds did I do while I was rearranging the ashes to make myself look good for the picture?

I believe Jesus wants you to ask yourself the same question. In Matthew 6:1, as He continues His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Jesus speaks this truth as He’s getting ready to teach about giving to the poor, prayer and fasting. He counts all of these as acts of righteousness; in other words, they are good and necessary expressions of our Christian faith. God expects us to give to the poor, to pray and to fast. And He promises to reward us for these acts of righteousness—if we do them in the right way. 

In verse 1, Jesus points out that we shouldn’t give in order “to be seen” by people. And in verse 2, He points out that we shouldn’t give in order to be “honored” by people: “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”

When we give to people in need, we shouldn’t announce it with trumpets: “Hey, everyone! Look at me! Who’s God’s gift to the poor? I am!” You might think Jesus is exaggerating when he talks about someone blowing trumpets, but sadly, He’s not. The Pharisees often blew trumpets on the street corners when they were about to help out poor people. If you asked why, they would have said they did it to spread the word around town that the giveaway was about to begin. But Jesus knew the REAL reason that the Pharisees blew the trumpets. It was to draw attention to themselves.

In verse 2, Jesus calls such givers “hypocrites.” In ancient Greece, a hypocrite was an actor who wore a mask in a play. In other words, he was pretending to be someone else. Now, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God—but hypocrites use religion to disguise their own sins. They pretend to be good and righteous on the outside, but they are dishonest and corrupt on the inside. And Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that the hypocrites’ way of giving is the wrong way to give.

God holds no reward for followers who shine the spotlight on themselves when they give. The praise they get from the people around them is all the reward they’ll ever get. I like the way the The Message paraphrases these verses: “Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get.”

So, the WRONG way to give is to give like a hypocrite—only giving when people are watching you. In verses 3 and 4, Jesus teaches us the RIGHT way to give: “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your charitable giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

The left hand/right hand illustration has a story behind it. In Jesus’ day, there was an offering box at the temple where people could deposit alms for the poor. That box was in the doorway to the temple—on the right side. So, Jesus seems to be saying, “When you walk into the temple and place your gift for the poor into the offering box, be so discreet about it that even your left hand doesn’t see what you’re doing.” The right way to give is discreetly and privately, motivated by a heartfelt desire to bless someone in need. As Matthew Henry puts it, “When we take least notice of our good deeds ourselves, God takes most notice of them.”

So, is Jesus teaching us that we should never give or serve when people are watching? No. But when you have the option to do a good deed either publicly or privately, do it privately. Most importantly, when it comes to your motive for giving, make sure it’s to truly help people in need—not to help yourself. God loves to give good gifts to us, not primarily for what HE gets out of it, but because of what WE get out of it. He is a loving Father who loves to give good gifts, especially to His children who follow Christ. So when you can, give privately, and give out of a sincere love for people. In other words, give like God.

Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our Palm Sunday service Sunday, March 28th, and our Easter service next Sunday, April 4th, 9 a.m. at 17746 George Blvd. in Victorville. Or, join us online at 10 a.m. on the Impact Christian Church YouTube channel or Facebook page. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Friday, March 19, 2021

An Eye For an Eye?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person.” Matthew 5:38-39

Over the course of human history, many countries around the world have had some version of the Law of Retribution, also known as the Law of Retaliation. Retaliation comes from a Latin word that means “pay back in kind.” The earliest known version was in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, which dates back more than 3,750 years. And when God gave ancient Israel the 613 Laws of Moses, the Law of Retaliation was included in those laws: “But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (Exodus 22:23-25).

So, was the Law of Retaliation carried out literally? It seems clear that in ancient Babylon, the answer was “Yes!” Under Hammurabi’s Code, it seems that eyes were literally gouged out, and stealing hands were literally cut off. However, I’ve found no evidence that ancient Israel ever carried out the Law of Retaliation literally. Although murderers were routinely put to death for taking a human life, there is no record of local magistrates gouging out eyes or breaking teeth or bones in retaliation for a man’s crimes.

God gave the Law of Retaliation to Jewish courts as a guide for handing down just punishments on lawbreakers. But in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were using the Law of Retaliation, which was designed to be used in a court of law, to justify private retaliation in their personal relationships. They used it to justify revenge—in their homes, in their neighborhoods, in their workplaces. Every time someone offended them, criticized them or accidentally tripped them on the street, they believed that they could take the law into their own hands and get some payback. They could “make that person pay for what he did,” and they claimed that God’s law justified it.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us that this law was NOT given as a mandate for personal vengeance. He starts with this general principle: “But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person” (v. 39). In other words, “Don’t stoop to an evil person’s level. Don’t respond in kind. There is no room in My Kingdom for petty, tit-for-tat vengeance.” 

In verses 39-42, Jesus gives us five quick examples of the way we should treat people who have hurt us or wronged us.

Example #1 (v. 39): “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Just as in our day, most people in Jesus’ day were right-handed. So, how would a right-handed person slap you on the right cheek using his right hand? It would have to be a back-handed slap, right? In Israel, a back-handed slap was especially insulting. So, Jesus is saying this: “Christians, if someone insults you in a big way, don’t retaliate by insulting him back. Stand there and take it—as long as you need to—to do the work I’ve called you to do.”

Example #2 (v. 40): “If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” If your enemy wants to unjustly take something from you, give him more than he’s asking for. If the judge tells you to give her $500, give her $700 and apologize. Or better yet, give her more than she’s asking for before you ever enter the courtroom.

Example #3 (v. 41): “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” If someone who can’t stand you asks you to help him for 30 minutes with a menial task, help him for an hour instead. Even when someone treats you like garbage, don’t give him your bare minimum effort. Go the extra mile. When someone asks you to wash the dishes, wipe off the countertop as well. When someone asks you to put $5 of gas into their gas tank, put $10 of gas into their tank.

Example #4 (v. 42): “Give to the one who begs from you.” When an undeserving person asks you for something, if he really needs it, GIVE it to him.  Now, I don’t believe that this means that God is calling us to give money to every panhandler. In fact, I almost never give money to a panhandler, because, in most cases, it doesn’t really help them. What Jesus is saying is that if someone approaches you with a legitimate need and you have the ability to meet that need, help him—even if that person drives you up the wall. Give it to him.

Example #5 (v. 42): “Do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” When an undeserving person asks to borrow something from you, if she really needs it, let her borrow it—even if she is rude or mean.

Jesus is really raising the bar, isn’t He? He’s asking those who follow him to do better than the self-righteous, self-serving Pharisees. He’s saying, “Enough already with your shallow, self-centered religion! It’s time to get out of the spiritual nursery and grow up! It’s time to go deeper and aim higher. It’s time to bring heaven—especially the unconditional love of God—to your little corner of the world.”

Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our in-person worship service tomorrow at 9 a.m. at 17746 George Blvd. in Victorville. Or, join us online at 10 a.m. on the Impact Christian Church YouTube channel or Facebook page. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.