Blessed… Don’t Be So Proud!

“Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:1-4, Common English Bible).

I seriously doubt my name will ever be attached to a building at my alma mater. That’s OK, I would prefer it that way. I know there are those that would say the reason I would prefer it that way is that I know my name will never be there. Perhaps that is correct but I don’t really think so.

When I read passages like the one above, I interpret this to be about more than giving to the poor. I read it as being about what I give, period. That would include my giving to the poor, my giving to the church and other giving I might do. It is not a matter of being selfish and that I don’t give and therefore I am embarrassed in my giving. It also isn’t that I give a great deal and therefore have something to brag about. I meet Biblical expectations in my giving but beyond that…..

I know there will always be people who are faithful in their giving that will give less than me and people who in their faithful giving who will give more than me. I truly don’t need to know who they are. I’m really not interested.

Here is the thing, regardless of what we give, if we are giving to call attention to ourselves, we are giving for the wrong reasons, no matter how much might be attached and no matter what it might be supporting.

Please understand, I am not saying you should quit giving, I am saying none of us should be bragging about what we give. Think about it this way, God has given us so much (all we have), what we give is really not much to brag about. We give out of a loving response to God as a thanksgiving for all God has shared with us. And, if we are truly honest, honest with ourselves, there is more blessing in our lives than we deserve or than we can begin to count.

I am blessed and I know it. Are you? I give as a way for me to begin to give back to God and to thank God for the tremendous blessings of my life.

How has God blessed your life? How can you say thanks?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… The Law of Love

“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete” (Matthew 5:38-48, Common English Bible).

A few days ago I mentioned my book, The Hard Sayings of Jesus, because I am not sure where it is I haven’t looked any of these up to see if they are actually in the book. If this one is not, it should be! We live in an “eye for an eye” society. We can hear it when we watch the evening news. When we see a report of a person who took the life of another, the victim’s family often says, “An eye for an eye.” This person took the life of my loved one, as a result, this person should lose their own life.

What many of us do not understand is, “an eye for an eye” was a legal standard that was intended to limit punishment. Here is an example. Not too many years ago, the law of the West (as in wild west) said the penalty for being a horse thief, for cattle rustling and robbery was death by hanging. Though you might agree with such a crime and punishment view of society, I think we can all agree, it goes beyond “an eye for an eye.” By an “eye for an eye,” my horse or cattle or other personal property should be taken, not my life.

And, while we are an “eye for an eye” society, at this point we stop being a Jesus society. Jesus says (and we often want to quickly read past this) forget an eye for an eye and instead, turn the other cheek. If someone wants to take your shirt, give them your coat too.

This is some pretty tough stuff. But, this is also some important stuff because what we are seeing Jesus talk about in the last half of Matthew 5 is the Law of Love. I love my wife. I love my children. I love my grandchildren. I love my parents. It isn’t always easy to love these folks. Sometimes they can really frustrate me with some of the things they say and do. I am equally sure I frustrate them in the same ways too. I can be sure of that because my kids have told me before. The same thing can be said of my friends.

I love these people because they are important to me. And, for the most part at least, they support me and want the best for me and help me try to achieve what is best. That makes them easy to love.

But, there are also some folks out there who care absolutely nothing for me. They are not worried about what is best for me, they don’t support me and if what is best for them means walking over the top of me, they won’t hesitate.

Here is the scary thing, in this lesson, Jesus is saying I am supposed to love them too! That is some hard stuff friends. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to love the person who tries to take my favorite shirt and I sure don’t want to give them my coat!

But there is something Jesus knows far better than we. While I might bicker and argue with my friends and family, because of the love we share, all out war probably isn’t going to happen between us.

Jesus knows, if I can reach a point where I can treat my enemies with the same love I treat my family and friends, I have started to effect real change in the world. If I can respond to an enemy with love, that enemy probably will not remain an enemy for very much longer.

And remember this, no one ever said being a Christ follower was something that would be easy to do. But, what Jesus thought to be most important, along with loving God, can be summed up pretty easily, “Love Everybody.” It is easy to say. Doing it requires a great deal more effort on our part but I believe the end result is worth it.

What are you doing to demonstrate love to your enemies?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… Yes! No! What???

“It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a divorce certificate.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual unfaithfulness forces her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. “Again you have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago: Don’t make a false solemn pledge, but you should follow through on what you have pledged to the Lord. But I say to you that you must not pledge at all. You must not pledge by heaven, because it’s God’s throne. You must not pledge by the earth, because it’s God’s footstool. You must not pledge by Jerusalem, because it’s the city of the great king. And you must not pledge by your head, because you can’t turn one hair white or black. Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:31-37, Common English Bible).

I am blessed. I have a wonderful wife who supports me in everything I do. Even when she may not agree with a particular decision I make, she still supports me. She is quick to tell people that she did not marry a preacher, she married a sailor. What she says is very true. We got married and less than two weeks later I was in boot camp.

When I first started talking about entering the ministry, I am sure she was questioning things in her mind. To me, Cindy said, “If it is what you think you are supposed to do” and she has never looked back or questioned my call to ministry. At times when I have questioned my call and investigated other possibilities, Cindy has supported me in what I look at not only for my future, but for our future. Forty years later (this June), I do not regret the decision we made and the life we have together.

I realize how blessed I am. I also realize what I have is not what everyone in the world has. It is not what everyone I know has. Many people, people I know and people I don’t, do not have the support from their spouse I have from mine. Many people I know have had to deal with spouses who have been unfaithful. People I know have had spouses who are physically, emotionally, sexually and even spiritually abusive. There are people who have had to live with and endue with spouses dealing with addiction. If we pay attention we can see that many people have to deal with spouses who are less than honest.

The idea of divorce is not something cut and dry. It is not something easy. In the verses above Jesus is addressing ideas from the Pharisees where there was allowances for men to divorce their wives if they failed to please them in some way. Notice Jesus’ words here are specific of husbands divorcing their wives. Instructions are not given the other way around. The reason is actually pretty simple. Wives were commonly treated as chattel, as property. A wife couldn’t divorce a husband very easily.

I am part of a denomination that includes reason into how we do the theological task. We ask, what is reasonable in light of Scripture (always first and primary), tradition and experience. Scripture and my experience say “God is love.” Love does not abuse. Love does not stray from the truth. Love is always faithful. I have difficulty with this because I know what the text says. At the same time, however, I cannot accept that God would want a spouse to remain in such situations. I have difficulty with our example teaching children what the role of husbands and wives should look like when that example is completely wrong.

Without question, marriage is a sacred vow and it should not be entered upon lightly and once the sacred vow, the covenant is made, it should be taken seriously by both parties. But, if a covenant is broken and cannot be repaired… Now we are entering into a more difficult ground. If the terms of a contract were broken to the point it could not be salvaged, would we not move on?

Our yes should mean yes and our no should mean no. Jesus is clear about that. But, we also have to recognize that just because we mean what we say, not everyone else feels or responds in the same way. Sometimes we are left with the difficult but best choice of moving on. Is that a sin? Quite possibly. But, I also know there is more grace in God than there is sin in us. For that, we should all be thankful.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… Of Cutting and Plucking

“You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery. But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart. And if your right eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:27-30, Common English Bible).

I was at physical therapy for my recently repaired right shoulder yesterday. As I reflect back on that hour plus of my life, I didn’t notice a single person at the wellness center who, at least as far as I can tell, was missing an eye or a hand. When I left the wellness center I went to the pharmacy. Once again, I didn’t notice anyone who was missing parts of their bodies. I wasn’t really surprised by this. After all, I have both of my hands and both of my eyes.

Many of us like to claim we read the Bible literally but when it comes to passages like today’s passage we quickly show we don’t really read the Bible quite as literally as we might want the world to think.

I think most all of us realize, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. When we read our lesson for today, would that not mean we should all be walking around blind and without hands? I really don’t think that is what Jesus meant in this passage. After all, there is no record that shows any of the sinful disciples were walking around blind and handless.

The thing is, my eye, your eye has never committed a sin, nor has it caused me to sin. My hand and your hand has never sinned or caused me to sin.  That is because sin does not happen in the eye or the hand or any external part of the body. Sin happens in the mind and in the soul.

What I think Jesus means here is, when there is sin in your life, cut it out! And, ridding ourselves of sin can be extraordinarily painful. Still, better that we go through this spiritual pain than to risk our salvation by living with whatever sin we may have in our lives.

Jesus is not calling on us to participate in self-mutilation. Jesus is calling on you and I to work at plucking the sin from our lives.

What sin is in your life that needs cutting and plucking?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… Make Things Right

“You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift. Be sure to make friends quickly with your opponents while you are with them on the way to court. Otherwise, they will haul you before the judge, the judge will turn you over to the officer of the court, and you will be thrown into prison. I say to you in all seriousness that you won’t get out of there until you’ve paid the very last penny” (Matthew 5:21-26, Common English Bible).

A few years ago the thought occurred to me that there was a person who had been in my life many years ago whom I had done wrong. The specifics don’t matter for our purposes here I think it best to leave the details between me and this person. It is sufficient to say I had treated this person pretty badly many years before.

At first I had hoped to encounter this person at a couple of events we both had reason to attend. The other person did not attend. I had to work harder than that to make contact and it took a significant amount of time for me to track the other person down.

Eventually I did make contact. I apologize and asked for forgiveness. The person told me they had forgiven me a very long time ago.

Making amends is something important. In Twelve-Step programs making amends for past wrongs is pretty important too. It is key to being in recovery. It is so important that if you are unable to make contact with the person in question, you actually write them a letter. Even if the person you have wronged has passed away, you still write a letter that obviously can never be delivered. I think this shows how important making things right can be for we humans.

Our lesson starts out talking about not committing murder. I think it is safe to say most of us are doing OK here, at least as far as it goes. I know I have never killed another person and most people I know would be right there with me. Murder is not on our to-do list and we have successfully taken this particular instruction pretty seriously.

We are doing pretty well, or at least that’s what we would like to think. Here in today’s reading, however, Jesus goes further than, “Thou shalt not commit murder.” Here he talks about anger and some pretty serious name calling. But I think the spirit of what Jesus is saying goes even further. What are the things we do that destroy relationships with people around us? How is it that we are killing our relationships?

In reading this passage, it seems to me, this “murder” is about as important as literally taking a life and Jesus says to us, “Go make things right.” Such things need to be at the forefront of the things we seek to do. In the language of twelve step recovery programs, we have to make amends.

What I sought to do in making things right over that old wrong I had committed had nothing to do with a twelve step program but it did have something to do with that love of God and love of neighbor idea Jesus seems to think is pretty important. If I wanted to work in the light of God’s love, I had to go and make things right where I had committed a wrong.

To varying degrees we all wrong people around us from time to time. Don’t kill the relationship. Instead, go, make things right.

What can you do today to write a wrong from yesterday? Go, make things right.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… To Be Righteous

“Don’t even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them. I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality. Therefore, whoever ignores one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps these commands and teaches people to keep them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and , the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-20, Common English Bible).

Somewhere on one of my many bookshelves I have a book titled, The Hard Sayings of Jesus. Today’s lesson is beyond one of the hard sayings of Jesus. This one is all but impossible. Maybe it should fit into a sequel book “The Really, Really, Really Hard Sayings of Jesus.”

Think about it this way. I love to play the guitar. I didn’t say I played it well, but that I love to play. I also enjoy playing with other people. I particularly like to play with people who play a little better than I play. They challenge me to be even better, to practice more and to get better.

I was reading online recently and Rolling Stone came out with their list of the top 100 guitarists of all time. The late Jimi Hendrix was number 1. Number 100 went to Lindsey Buckingham who was lead guitarist for Fleetwood Mac. If I were to sit down and try to play with either of these guys or the 98 others in between, I wouldn’t feel inspired. After I got past my sense of awe, I might just give up playing the guitar period. No matter how good I might learn to play in the future, I will never the guitar riff of Johnny B. Goode to the quality of Chuck Berry (number 7 on the Rolling Stone list). To even try would be nothing more than frustrating.

Great guitarists to me would be like the average Jesus follower of the first century trying to compare their righteousness value to the Pharisees. These guys were the pros at being righteous. They knew the law. They know the importance of being pure, of eating the right foods, of observing the Sabbath. They knew it all and tried to live like it. The average “man (or woman) on the street” had no chance of matching righteous behavior with one of them. And Jesus is here saying, if we want to see the Kingdom of Heaven we have to not just meet the righteousness of the Pharisees, we have to exceed it. Thanks for nothing! We don’t have a chance.

And, before you go into all the times Jesus runs the Pharisees down, this is the first time in Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus mentions the Pharisees. John the Baptist calls them a bunch of snakes but Jesus wasn’t part of that conversation. For the person who is just following Jesus, for all they know at this point, Jesus is a fan of the Pharisees.

But, here is the rub. In the verses we looked at yesterday and the day before, Jesus says we are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” How can we be those things if we can’t see the Kingdom of Heaven unless we exceed the Pharisees? It says to me that salt and light are a new standard of righteousness.

There is something about salt. It exists for something beyond itself. It flavors food. It purifies. It preserves. In the Biblical era salt was very valuable. I think Jesus is saying, as the “salt of the earth” we too are very valuable and we give the world flavor, we purify and and preserve. We live beyond ourselves and in that living beyond ourselves we are righteous.

The same thing can be said about light. If we are in the dark, a candle, a torch, a lantern, a flashlight can help us find our way. They exist beyond themselves. The same is true for the righteous. We let our light shine so others might find their way.

And, though we don’t see it quite yet, if you know your New Testament, you also know the one thing about the Pharisees is, they didn’t live beyond themselves. They might have been superstars of righteous living, but in this one crucial area they always seemed to fall short. The law was what was important, not the people. If we fail to put people first, we can’t expect to find righteousness. Living beyond ourselves so people might find the Grace of God in Christ Jesus is what makes us righteous and we only do that with the grace and faith God has already put in us.

How do you live beyond yourself so others might see the Living God?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… This Little Light of Mine

You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lamp stand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16, Common English Bible).

I initially planned for this reading was going to move in a bit of a different direction but when I was looking for the picture I was going to use for this post. As I was looking I encountered a picture tied to a blog post that said, “Why This Little Light of Mine is a Terrible Song.” I went to the blog and what I read immediately changed my mind about this post. If you want to read it I will save you the trouble of looking. Here is the URL:

I confess, I didn’t read Barrett’s whole post and perhaps I should have but his initial argument annoyed me and I stopped. The initial argument he claims makes “This Little Light of Mine” a terrible song focuses on the word “Little.” He claims that Jesus didn’t come to place a little light inside of us and instead it is a big light.

That little light is exactly what makes this song attractive to me. I still remember in my Navy days, standing watch on the bridge of the USS Mt. Whitney and looking up at the night sky and seeing more stars than one could see just about anywhere on land. Or, to look out from this ship that when standing on a pier and looking up towers over you and at see you look out twelve miles in any direction and see nothing but water and feel the ship bouncing around like a toy boat in a bathtub. If you haven’t been there you might not understand but the word I have often used for it is, insignificant. All those stars and all those planets. When compared to the universe, even the planet I am on, the planet that helps those feelings of insignificant exist is, itself, insignificant.

When we start to see ourselves as insignificant it doesn’t take long for ideas to creep into our heads like, “Because I am just one person and I am insignificant, what can I do?” It might even make me think about that little light I have in me is exactly what Barrett argues, insignificant.

But do you know what? I learned another lesson in the Navy that seems to apply here. Back in those days I was a smoker (no this isn’t about not smoking and it isn’t something I am proud to have done). At night we couldn’t light a cigarette outside because the light from that cigarette lighter or that match could be seen for miles. Even to smoke outside at night was discouraged because the glow of the coal could be seen. If something as insignificant as the flame of a cigarette lighter or the glow of the coal from a cigarette can be seen from miles away, that little light isn’t so significant after all.

For those who haven’t been in an environment light that, think about this. It is 10:00 P.M. and a storm is raging outside and suddenly the lights go out. Having learned proper lessons from the Boy Scouts you are prepared and know the location of a candle and matches. You light first the match and then the candle. The little light from the candle makes all the difference. Can you see enough to follow a cookbook recipe? Probably not. Can you see well enough to read a typical Bible? Again, probably not. But with that one candle in a normal size room you can see your way to move around the room safely. With that one candle you can see the faces of most of those in the room. That one seeming insignificant light makes a very significant difference.

The same is true for the light in the song and the light in our lesson for the day. I am one person. Can I really make a difference? If people see the light of Christ, the Light of the World shining from you in your community, in a dark world, you will make a difference today and always.

“This little light of mine. I’m going to let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

How do you let your little light shine in the world? You are not insignificant and neither is your light, little though it may be. You matter. Let your light shine.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved