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Have you and your community group experienced the freedom and fruitfulness that comes from discussing how each of you are stewarding God’s resources? Have you ever won any awards in life? What was your motivation for winning them? As we continue our series, “Summer on the Mount,” John Elmore kicks off Matthew chapter 6, asking all of us to answer the question: Are you living to get worship or to give worship?
How to Never Hear, “Depart From Me I Never Knew You.”
Broad vs Narrow
The Golden Rule
Prayer Connected to Promise
Matthew 7:1-6 : Judging Others
Finding Freedom From Worry
Is Money Your Servant or Master?
The Lord’s Prayer
False Religion & Outward Righteousness
Radical Love of Real Disciples
What Jesus Says About Divorce in Matthew 5:31-32
The Murderer and Adulterer Within Me
Salt, Light, the Saved, the Savior and the Law
The Life that Flourishes
A Summary of Matthew 5-7
Hello, everyone. My name is John Elmore. I serve here on the Dallas Campus in both Community and re:generation. Great to be with you as always. When I was a kid, my parents sent my brother and me to summer camp. We would go to summer camps. This one camp in particular that we went to, at the end of the camp term they had the closing ceremonies. At closing ceremonies, the whole camp gathered together.
So, hundreds of kids, multiplied by hundreds of parents, sometimes grandparents, would all descend upon this camp, and they would give out awards. There was a Bumblebee award. There was a Mr. Hustle award. There was a Foursquare Life award. There was the All-Around Camper award. There were all of these different awards, but, frankly, those awards were like chump change. You kind of just palm clap for those, like, "Come on. Wait for it."
Everyone was waiting for this bad boy: the "I'm Third" award. The crowd would go nuts for the person who won it, and the reason is because the one who won this was deemed the most selfless camper, the one who was most unselfish, the one who lived for God first, others second, and themselves third. It was the humility award, which is so bizarre.
So the first time you're there, you're watching it, and you're like, "Dude, that kid… Wow! That's amazing. They're the least selfish. That's incredible." You hear this eruption of applause, and they walk forward (humbly, of course) and receive their humility award. Crowns before the Lord. Then they walk back to their seat, and you're like, "Huh." So the next year when you go back to camp you're like, "I will be most unselfish. I will."
"Hey, you want to go play soccer?"
"Uh, no, sorry. I don't know if you heard. Bobby is sick at the nurse's station, so I'm going to go pray and fast for him."
"But there are sailboats and soccer and…"
"Yeah, I know, but… Oh, are you out of lemonade? Chicken-fried steak? Can I help anyone? Would you like to borrow my toothbrush?"
It was like Pharisee factory, and all of these kids gunning for this selflessness award. Super bizarre. So I emailed all of staff. I'm like, "Staff, I need an 'I'm Third' award. Anybody have an 'I'm Third' award lying around?" The responses were hilarious. The responses were like, "No, but I always wanted one. I tried so hard to get the unselfishness award." One person was like, "Nope. They knew I was too much of a Pharisee. They could tell I was trying to get it."
Another person was like, "I went every summer, and I was so mad that I never got the unselfishness award." Everybody wanted it. Well, I got one. I got two. That's right. I got two of the unselfishness awards. That didn't get any laughter. You're like, "That's so weird that you would brag about your youth and unselfishness onstage." It's because I didn't have the right heart. I just learned to play the part. I wasn't an idiot.
I look around, and I'm like, "Okay, I get it. You just serve everybody, smile, learn everybody's names. That's easy. I can play the part." So I got it twice. The award I should have gotten was "How to dupe an entire camp into thinking you're religious and righteous." I was an ace at that. For me, it was just simple laws of sociology.
You look around, and you're like, "Okay. Do bad, get bad. You do bad, you get in-school suspension, you get spankings, you lose privileges. You do good, you get good. People applaud you. They give you 'attaboys.' You get awards." I'm like, "Uh, get bad. Get good. Okay, I'll be the do-gooder." I became a little Pharisee. I loved the approval of man, and I loved the applause, and I loved the awards.
Frankly, I didn't want to be in trouble, so I became a Pharisee who wanted to win the things and get the pat on the back and the approval of man. What I also walked away with was not two of these worthless awards that I fraudulently earned. The other thing I walked away from camp with was an idol. I walked away with this idol of approval of men that I fed for much of my life.
So, while these are in my parents' attic in Missouri, I walked away an addict to insecurity and people-pleasing and fear of man, which led to alcoholism, always searching for that next high. "Oh, applause. Pat on the back. Approval." Boom. And the idol lets you down. So you have to get the next one even higher. Boom. This vicious cycle of this idol that owned me.
The reason is because I was not getting it to worship God. I wasn't doing these good things to worship God. I was doing it to worship me. I wanted the worship. I wanted people to worship me. If you've been here a while, you may have heard me confess some sins on this stage: alcoholism, chasing money, status, women, all of the things I did.
I think this is the sickest sin I have committed in my life: the desire to be worshiped, approval of man. Like, "Scoot aside, God. Let me bask in the glory for a moment." It's the sin of Satan, a desire to be worshiped. The thing is I don't think I'm the only one in the room who wants this. I don't think I'm the only one in the room who struggles with this.
As I think about our world, as society screams, "Be the best. Do the best. Get the best. Look the best. Live in the best neighborhood. Get the best job. Get the right things," so that you would be worshiped and esteemed and people would be like, "Dude, look at that success," whether it's sports or career or the boardroom or the nonprofit or whatever it is, that you would do good, do good, do good to get worshiped. It's sick. It's messed up. It's an idol that we worship to get worship.
The question everybody has to ask today in your heart is "Am I living a life of righteousness to worship or to be worshiped?" As you'll see in the passage today, it's not just a problem for us or me. It was a problem the Pharisees were dealing with, and Jesus addresses it head-on, that their hearts might be changed. They were doing what the Bible said to do; it's just that they were doing it for you and not for God. Doing all of the right things for all of the wrong reasons.
The text we're going to be in is Matthew 6:1-6, and then we're going to jump to 16-18. If you're like, "That's weird. Why did you extract a whole passage of Scripture?" it's because it's the Lord's Prayer. Next week, as we continue, we'll address the Lord's Prayer. It deserves its own week because of all that's in there. So read with me.
"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. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. […]
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
This week, we continue our series Summer on the Mount. This is a walk-through of the Sermon on the Mount, the most famous sermon that has ever been given. There are some things you have to know about this message, about the Sermon on the Mount, because you might walk away and be like, "Okay. Sounds like a bunch of rules of dos and don'ts. 'Do do that. Don't do this.'" It's not. It's not a list of dos and don'ts.
God is not after you to effort unto more habits; he's after your heart to be rightly aligned with him that will overflow with right actions. It's not about your religious motions; it's about a right heart devoted to God, and out of the overflow those motions will come. Motive, not motions. So don't walk out of here thinking like, "Oh, I have to be better. I have to be better in my giving and praying and fasting. The Sermon on the Mount. I have to be better."
You can't be better. God will make you new, and he is the one who will change you. He'll give you a new life. It's not "Be better" or "Do good." It's that God is good and he will make you new. Matthew 6:1 sets up the whole thing. This is the crux of the entire passage that Jesus is dealing with and rebuking the Pharisees for. It says, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people…" Here it is: "…in order to be seen by them…"
If the motivation is to be acknowledged by others, you have missed it and you're in sin, and whatever handclap or award or acknowledgment you'll get is all you'll get. Here in this city in particular…the US, for sure, but I think in this city in particular, Dallas, Texas…we have a city that's so bent on accolades and materialism and outward beauty and zip codes and cars and careers and diplomas and keeping up with everybody else. It's all about that.
He's saying if you're doing those things in order to be seen, your heart is sick. You're worshiping an idol and desiring to be worshiped. If it's in front of other people in order to be seen, that is the crux of it. Then he gives give, pray, and fast as examples. These were common Jewish things they were doing in that day.
He's just giving those as examples of how they might do those outwardly to be seen rather than out of an inward heart. He's not talking about the fruit of deeds. He's talking about the root that fruit is born from, the root of our hearts, the motivation of the motions. Not habits but hearts. So, as we walk through this passage, there's a chart on the screen that's going to depict where we're going.
First, he addresses conduct. He's like, "Hey, I see what you're doing, Pharisees. I see it. You have the right hands. You're doing the right things, but you have the wrong heart. You're doing it for the wrong reason," which, by the way, is a depiction of Jesus being God in flesh. He's like, "I know your heart. Everyone else highly esteems you as religious people. I see right through it. I'm God in flesh. I know the motivation of your heart. You have the right hands. You have the wrong heart."
So then he offers a correction. He says that it's not "Stop doing those things." It's rather "Do those things, but do them out of an overflow of a heart that is rightly loving the Father," which is the call to action. That's what we have to do. It's not walk out of here and have a new list of habits and to-dos and "Oh my goodness. Now I have to give, pray, and fast. Oh my goodness. How do I work that into my schedule?" He says, "No, love the Father, and those things will come." So that's where we're going today as we walk through this passage.
So, the first one, conduct, having the right hands but the wrong heart. This is not a question of what we do. Jesus isn't addressing what we do; he's addressing why we do it. I'm going to walk through it again, because you're going to hear the why. "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do…to be honored by others."
They were loud about it. They were loud about their giving. You might think about this. "Hey, I'm going to donate, but where's my name on the banquet program that's going to be handed out? I want to make sure I get mine. If I'm going to do this, I want to be known for it." They were loud about their good deeds.
The next one is, "And when you 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." They were loud about it, but they were also in the right place at the right time. "Everybody sees me, right? You know I'm picking up trash at this event even though I'm the top dog. Do you see me? I'm not afraid to pick up these messy barbecue plates. I'm serving them all. Did you get that for the newspaper? Pose for the camera?" They were in the right place at the right time.
Then he also says, "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do…" Three times he calls them hypocrites. "…for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting." They looked the part. So, they were loud, they were in the right place at the right time, and they wanted to make sure they looked the part, that everyone would notice them and give them their pats on the back and their "attaboys" and their accolades and their little awards they could hang on the wall.
Jesus said, "You want that reward? You got it, but that's all you get, and you're not going to have it forever. You're going to have this little idolatrous reward that's going to rot, and, frankly, it's going to rot you." Now you might be thinking, "Dude, I don't blow trumpets, I don't pray on street corners, and I don't fast, but if I did, I wouldn't disfigure my face, so what does this have to do with me?"
I think in our day and age, one of the greatest ways that we trumpet and are in the right place at the right time and change the way we look in order to be noticed by others is a little thing called social media. With Facebook and Twitter and "Instabrag," we make sure that… What? You know that's what it is. Nobody is out there like, "Look at this person. They're awesome. Encourage them." It's like, "Look at me." All of it is. The whole thing is geared up… It's social me-dia, emphasis on me. It's what it is.
Psychologists and doctors have studied this, because they saw this spike up and to the right of like, "Dude, everybody all of a sudden is struggling with depression and anxiety. What is going on with society? Where is this coming from? Why is everyone all of a sudden struggling with depression and anxiety?" So they studied it. This is like legit psychologists and doctors studying, "Where is this coming from?"
What they found out was that social media was causing depression and anxiety. That's crazy. So then they were like, "Okay. We need to do another study to figure out why. We know it does, but we don't know why." So they did another study, and they're like, "Why is this causing depression and anxiety?" As they studied people and took surveys and revealed and, I guess, put them on psychologist couches and asked them questions, they then found out the reason is because of something they coined social comparison.
I look at your life, I look at my life, and now I don't like my life as much. I look at your followers and I look at my followers, and now I don't like my life as much. And now I'm getting depressed and anxious because I didn't get invited to the party, and their kids are more behaved, and my husband didn't do that on Mother's Day, and all of these different ways, and it's leading to depression and anxiety, not because we care about others or care about worshiping God but because we want worship.
In Australia, doctors did another survey because all of these youth and teens and college students were coming into doctors' offices…this is crazy…with horns. People in Australia were growing horns. It's not because they're demon-possessed or crazy. They were growing horns, and it's because all of their life has been spent staring at a device, so their neck muscles are trying to pull their head back up, like, "Quit looking down."
As a result, the neck muscles have literally started to pull bone spurs out of the back of their head. They're growing horns, because we're not looking at this for what it is. It's a mirror. We're looking at this as a mirror rather than a ministry. God says, "Whether you eat or drink or social media, do it all to the glory of God." Instead, it's like, "No, I'm doing it to the glory of me," and we're growing horns, which is a parallel to it being demonic or something. I don't know. You figure it out. I had to work it in somehow.
Now, I've never struggled with this, because I'm not on social media, because it leads to depression and anxiety. Why would I subject myself to that? I'm not on social media. No, I'm not on social media because I have a 5-, 3-, and 1-year-old, and we're barely surviving. Every day it's like, "Okay. We're alive. Let's do it again. Are the kids alive? Okay. Let's do it again." I have zero bandwidth for social media.
What I have is sermon media. I don't have social media; I have sermon media. I'm not talking about listening to sermons. I'm talking about the sermon "share-ometer." If you're like, "Sermon share-ometer? What is that?" The sermon share-ometer is something we have on Watermark.org. I don't know whose twisted idea this is, but every time you give a message, there's a sermon share-ometer on the website that shows how many times your message, as the message giver, has been shared.
Now that will screw you up as a communicator, because a couple of weeks later somebody is like, "Hey, will you send me that message?" so you're like, "Okay." You get online, and it's a little ticker. It even moves. It starts at zero and goes up. If it starts at nine, you're like, "I suck." If it climbs beyond a certain number, you're like, "I'm great." Here's the sick thing. It's not the sermon share-ometer. (It's not called that, by the way, but I needed something to call it so I could tell you what it is.)
It's not that that's messed up; it's my heart that's messed up. It's not the award that's messed up. That's a great award. It's the sick heart of the person who wants the award to walk forward and get it. It's the sick pastor who wants a high number on the share-ometer. So I stand here before you today not as a perfect pastor. I am a sinner in need of a Savior. I hope that gives you encouragement, that here I am mic'd up, sharing my sin…gross sin, current sin.
I hope that makes you realize, "Well, he's not getting fired or run out of town for sharing that, so maybe it's safe for me to share my sin too, and I can talk about my sin here." Of course you can, because no one needs a Savior apart from their sin. It's why we're gathered in this room. We have a common denominator that we are sinners in need of a Savior. It's why we're here…unless you're here to be seen by others because it's Sunday and you need to come to church. Keep listening.
It's not just social media. It can be anything in life. It can be prayer. Here's the thing about these idols, the approval of man and doing things to be seen by others: an idol will give you what you want initially because it knows it will get you eventually. It's like, "Oh. Did you want approval and accolades? I'll give you that, because I'll get you." Because that idol will get you. It will serve you, and then it will enslave you. I got praised, and in turn I got enslaved. It is the nature of an idol as you toy with it.
Prayer is another one of these. You think about prayer. Maybe you sit down for a meal with your Community Group or with your children or maybe a business lunch, and you're like, "Hey, I'm a believer. Would you mind if I pray before the meal?" Then you're like, "Okay. I need to pray." It's in a split second, but you're like, "I need to pray something theologically astute. I need to bring in some Scripture to let them know I memorize Scripture in my free time. Oh yeah. Uncle Bob is here, so I need to remember to pray for Aunt Sally's tennis elbow, and then, after the supplication, end with much thanksgiving. Oh, and don't forget the food. Amen."
We're praying not for God to steer us but for others to hear us. We're more concerned about the ears of others than God actually steering us in our prayers. How do I know that? Because I do it. It's so screwed up, but when I pray I'm thinking, "Okay. I'm praying around other staff. This needs to be good." Did you ever hear about the person who had a pure motive? No, because it has never happened, ever. We're just messed-up, poor, pitiful people who always have these crazy thoughts in our heads.
It's doing the right thing with the wrong heart. That's what the Pharisees were doing, and we all do. So, what's the answer to kill this idol and change our hearts? Well, keep going through the passage. The answer is to have right hands with a right heart. Jesus is like, "The answer isn't to stop doing those things." He wasn't rebuking the Pharisees for doing acts of righteousness. He was rebuking them for having a wrong heart. He's like, "The answer is keep doing righteousness, but do it from a right heart. It has to be out of an overflow of a right heart."
Back to the passage. He says, "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret." Rather than as a publicity stunt. "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who [sees what] is unseen." He's like, "Do it in private, not to be seen." "But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face…" He's like, "Don't play the part. Fasting is between you and God, not you so you can be noticed."
Jesus is saying, "Don't worry about being seen, and your Father will see you. That will show your heart is right if you're not doing it for the acknowledgment and praise of others." Now the thing he does here… Six different times in that little space he says "secret" and "secrecy." "Your Father in secret. Do it in secrecy. Your Father in secret. Do it in secrecy."
Now he's not saying… Because you could throw a flag and be like, "Hold on a second. I've been going through Summer on the Mount, and in Matthew 5:16 it says, 'Let your light shine. Do your deeds before others that they might see them and glorify God.' And now Jesus is saying, 'Do them in secret.' See? The Bible is full of contradictions." That's not the case. It's a heart check. This is all about motive and not about motions. When he's prescribing secrecy, he's saying, "Secrecy will sanctify your sinful heart."
Do it in private. If you're struggling with doing it to get applause and rewards and attaboys and accolades and "likes" and follows and retweets… If that's your struggle right now, start doing it in secret so you can make sure your heart is right. Secrecy sanctifies a sinful heart. Then go do it in public. Let your private life exceed your public life. If you're doing things in public more, like if you're serving joyfully here in a ministry or there at your workplace, and then you go home and berate your children and your wife…
I was short with my wife Friday night, and I'm sure my kids, but it feels like most high on the list was short with my wife. Then if I came here and I was just so kind and loving, Jesus' words to me are, "Hey, would you go do that in secrecy first? And then, out of an overflow of rightly loving me, come and love these people well, but don't be a fraud in your private life and then think you're going to go get applauded for your public life." He's prescribing secrecy to sanctify that sinful heart. That's what he's doing there, because he says, "Your Father who sees what is in secret…"
Now there's some folk theology in Christendom. This is something that happens all the time. I'm sure you're familiar with the phrase. You might buy a homeless guy a meal and share the gospel with him or you're changing your neighbor's tire even though you're going to be late for work, and Johnny Christian walks up and is like, "Hey, I saw what you did there. I know what you did, and I know why you did it, but I'm not going to talk about it, because I don't want to steal your rewards. Okay." And you're like, "You're so weird, Christian guy. Why are you so weird?"
We think if we acknowledge someone's good deed it's going to steal their reward somehow, like if we talk about it, they're going to vaporize. It's not the case. That's bogus. We're supposed to encourage each other. We're supposed to spur each other on to love and good deeds by acknowledging them. Like, "Hey, when I see you do that thing, man, that makes me want to love people more, give more. That stirs me up. That's incredible. Can you teach me to share the gospel the way you did? How is it that you have this ministry to Muslims? I want to know. I want to go. Help me do that. That's incredible."
When you encourage, the rewards don't vaporize. The only way the rewards will vaporize is if you're doing it to be seen. Jesus is talking about the motive, not an encouraging word from somebody. That is bogus folk theology. But as we look through this passage, the other word that I think may be the greatest sin that is embedded here in this passage, and it would be often overlooked, is the word when.
For us, for me, one of the greatest sins is in the word when, because Jesus says, "When you give," "When you pray," "When you fast," not if. There is an assumption. Christ followers will do these things. It's when. Then he lays out these three. So I think it would be wise of us to walk through these. The way we're doing this… Again, these are not habits. These are ways of seeking God.
Throughout the passage, he says, "When you give…" We'll start there. Giving is a way to seek God. You're like, "Giving is a way to seek God? I thought it was an obligation. I'm a Christian, so I have to tithe, and 10 percent is the floor, and anything up from there is really good, and that's just something I do." No, it's a way to seek God. It's not a duty. It's a discipline to seek God.
You're like, "Well, how is giving seeking God? Give a portion of my check?" Biblically, a principle is every time you give you get. Every time you give you get. We're meant to be conduits and not collectors. We're not buckets of blessings. That's the prosperity gospel, that God would just bless me for me and I'd get my nice shiny car and big rings and big house and big whatever. That's the prosperity gospel. The true gospel is that God is going to bless you that you might bless others, that the kingdom of God would break forth.
So, how am I seeking God when I give? Well, the reason is because when you get money and you give money, you're seeing the kingdom of God furthering. You're furthering the kingdom of God. You're partnering with him, saying, "Not my kingdom, your kingdom. Not my glory, your glory. I know everything I have is from you and for you, so here, God; it's yours. I'm just a steward. You bless me much. Let me bless others. Freely I have received. Freely let me give." It's a way of seeking God.
Laura and I right now… Three kids, thinking about college, car repairs, house, money, all that stuff. Money can start to get a grip on our hearts, because things can be tight with diapers, and they don't eat fruits and vegetables now. They're pureed in pouches, and pouches are expensive. We have all of these things, and it's really tempting to hold on to money rather than to hold it loosely. In doing so, if we hold on to money, money has a hold on us.
There was this time that we really started to get worried about finances and all that stuff. We were like, "We have to cut spending," blah, blah, blah. It was like, "Enough. We have to cut a check, actually. We need to give, because the money is starting to get us." If that's the case, you need to start giving every time you get. The other thing I would encourage you to do is to share your finances with your Community Group.
Just these past two weeks, one of the families in our Community Group was like, "Hey, we want you to check our hearts, because Jesus said, 'Where your treasure is there will your heart be also. You can't serve two masters. You can't serve God and money.' So here's our budget. This is our savings, our spending, our entertainment, our leisure. This is everything. This is where every penny goes, projected and actual." It was a crazy spreadsheet that I don't have the ability to do.
They put it before us. It was not for showmanship, like, "Ha, ha! Look at how much money we make, and look at how much money we give." It was all just, "Hey, can you help shepherd us? Here it is. We want to make sure our hearts are in the right place. Here it is." They were just putting that before us. "Let's give." That would probably be a good thing to do in community.
The next one he addresses is prayer. He talks about giving, and then he talks about prayer. He says, "When you pray…" Not if you pray. We had a funeral this past week. We dressed up the kids in all black. Laura was wearing black. We put my phone in a little shoebox and buried it in the backyard because the mic went out. They didn't actually do that. They should have by the way I was acting. It was like there was a death in the family because the microphone on my phone went out. It wrecked my day. Like, literally, death in my pocket.
Someone has rightly said you will know an idol by its ability to break your heart, and that thing broke my heart. Not even the whole thing broke, just one portion of it. I was like, "I can only text." The reason I share that… You're like, "I thought you were talking about prayer. Why are you talking about your iPhone?" Because my prayer life has gone exponentially down as my iPhone use has gone exponentially up. The more I use my phone, the less I pray.
Ever since the last eight years, or whatever, since I got an iPhone, my prayer life has gone down, because every idle second, every stoplight, before every doctor's appointment, after my kids go to bed, before they get up, every spare moment I'm like, "Well, I might have missed an important text. I want to chip away at my inbox, because that thing never dies, and I have to make sure everything is okay, and I probably should check the news for the seventh time in the day, because what if something happened in Beijing." I'm just checking that rather than going back to the Father. He says, "When you pray…"
There are a few things we've done in our Community Group that have really helped us in this, one of which is prayer cards, for Laura, for the kids, for ministry. We have these prayer cards that we go through to discipline ourselves to draw near to the Father, because my heart doesn't go there naturally. The other thing that a guy in our Community Group set us all doing and a bunch of people on staff are doing is to set reminders on your phone. You're already on it too much anyway. I know I am.
I have these reminders that go off, like, "Pray for Laura. Pray for the kids. Pray for that little girl who's sick. Pray for the next church leaders' conference. Pray for all these various things." So I have alarms going off, because my heart is going to get drawn to the world, and I need something to beep to wake me up from a spiritual slumber, to draw me back to God, because he says, "When you pray…"
The other thing I've talked about here before that has benefited me immensely in prayer is every morning I physically get on my knees, face to the tile in the bathroom, and I surrender my day to God. I'm like, "This isn't my day; it's your day. Be Lord of my day. Be Lord of my life." It sets me off in glad submission to God. When you pray…
The third one he talks about is "When you fast…" You can fast to seek God. Now it's important as you unpack the Greek word of fast. I've studied this. I went to seminary for four years. As you look at the Greek with fast, it's important. There are different words for it, but the word is not Keto or Paleo, believe it or not. Those are Greek words for vanity. (I'm kidding. Don't send me emails. I'm sure there are great reasons and health benefits.)
That's not fasting. That's like getting rid of sugar or eating more broccoli or bacon fat. There are different words for it, but it's not fasting. If you're like, "But my fasting… How am I seeking God? I just thought that was some weird religious thing and, I don't know, maybe Buddhists do it. Christians are supposed to do it too?" Yeah, it says, "When you fast…" The way you're seeking God by doing that…
You think about the Scriptures. You have Moses, Elijah, and Jesus before his ministry began. In the New Testament, before they would appoint and anoint people to go out for ministry, they would pray and fast over who it should be. There's fasting all throughout the Scriptures on seeking God, to seek him. It's not about food; it's about seeking the Father, but the things of the world can dull our spirits.
There's a spiritual clarity that comes as you fast because you're not dulled physically. It says in Galatians 5 the flesh and the spirit war against one another. As you fast, those things of the flesh weaken and die and the spirit enlivens. There's a spiritual clarity to the reality as you fast. The other way you can seek God by fasting is repentance. Some of you have struggled…I know I have…for years and years with a particular sin, and I would encourage you to fast in seeking repentance unto the Lord.
You see it in the Scriptures. The Ninevites. When Jonah was going to the Ninevites, he was like, "Because of you guys, wicked people, in 40 days your nation is destroyed. It has been declared by God. Wrath is going to pour down." "All right, God. I did it. I'm out." But the king declares a nationwide fast. He didn't even let the animals eat. Crazy fast.
(By the way, when you fast, you can still feed your dog. He's a Ninevite. I don't know. Feed your pets. Actually, maybe don't. It worked. I'm going to get a call from PETA. "Did you really say don't feed dogs for sin?" Yeah, because PETA cares more about animals than people. Now I'm really getting emails.)
They fast, and as a result, God puts aside his wrath. It wasn't because of food. It was because they sought the Father. That was the result. They're like, "All right. You know what? Enough of the things of the world. We're seeking God, the one true God." God is like, "Thank you. Now I can work with your hearts, because they're aligned to me." Jonah got angry, which is weird, but another sermon.
It's when you fast. I want to encourage you. Walk out of here, and it doesn't mean skip lunch, but it means in seeking to draw near to the Father or to put to death the flesh, that you would set aside food for a time…a meal, a day, whatever it may be. Consult with your doctor if you're going to go longer so I don't get emails about that. That God would come to your aid and you would align to him, because our next point is to rightly love the Father. That's the call to action: rightly love the Father.
There's not a particular Scripture for this. You're like, "Oh, I see. Eisegesis. You're just ripping that out of the Scriptures. 'Rightly love the Father.' That's not in the passage." It is. Six times Jesus says, "Father. Father. Father. Father." He is reminding. He's pleading with the Pharisees. "You've got it wrong. You think he's a cosmic hall monitor. You think he's looking out for religion. He wants a relationship. He doesn't want your religion."
"These people draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" (Isaiah 29). He's not who you think he is. He's not a cosmic cop. He's your Father. He loves you. He wants to know you and walk with you and abide with you. He is your Father. He's not some enforcer. Jesus is reminding us now that this is all about rightly loving the Father. It's not about righteous acts, that we would earn merit or favor with him.
That's what every other religion will say: "Do good to get good." In Christianity alone does God say, "I alone am good, so I sent Jesus on behalf of the bad, the sin. Lived a sinless life, died a death on the cross, rose again, that whoever believes in me, Jesus, will not perish but have everlasting life." Jesus said, "No one comes to the Father except through the Son." No one. Every other religion is false. Jesus is the way, truth, and life.
There are two people in this room. Every single person in this room… There are two people. There are religious people, and there are righteous people. Here's the confusing thing: you can't tell the difference because they do the same things, and one is going to heaven and one is going to hell. I don't say that to throw stones or cast condemnation; I say it out of love.
If you're a religious person and you think, "My good deeds will earn me favor with God, and one day I'll be in heaven, because look at all the good I did," God is going to say, "Away from me. I never knew you. It's not about your righteous acts; it's about a relationship with me, and you can't have a relationship with me apart from Jesus."
"Don't expect to have the Father in the next life if you didn't have him in this life," Jonathan Edwards said. So, for you, person who has placed your faith in religion and righteous deeds, it's to simply pray, "Jesus, I'm a sinner; save me," and he will. He will save you from your dead religion, and you'll have a new life. You won't be better; you'll be new.
Then for the righteous, they're not righteous because of what they do, even though they do the same things. Remember, Jesus said it's not don't do those things; it's do them out of a right heart. The only way to have a right heart is to rightly love the Father. Those things are fruit. So for the righteous who have trusted in Christ, the answer is John 15:5, where Jesus says, "I'm the vine. You're not the vine; I'm the vine. You're the branches. You need only abide in me and I in you, and you will bear fruit."
The way you bear fruit is through an abiding relationship with the Father through the Son indwelt by the Spirit. It's fruit of the Spirit. It's not fruit of me. I can bear no fruit, but as I abide in Christ and he in me, the fruit will be borne. Our thing is to have a relationship, a right relationship, to rightly love the Father, to rightly receive his love, to think, "I don't have to earn your favor or your approval. You're not asking me to jump through hoops or do a bunch of rules. I am just to be in right relationship with you through the Son daily, not once and for all."
As you do, you'll bear fruit, and all of the things in the Sermon on the Mount will come to pass, but not by your efforting, but by the Spirit moving through you, and then you will have rewards in heaven. Speaking of rewards, I had another award I want to tell you about. I haven't won many awards in my life, but there is another one I want to brag about.
Every year, Watermark Church staff gets away for a staff retreat in January. All four campuses gather together in one location, and we talk strategic planning, have a lot of time in prayer and worship. We break apart with our teams and talk about new initiatives. This particular year, I won an award. That's right. I won an award, and I'm going to brag about it. Here it is. I don't know if you can read the words. It says "Health code violation."
I won the health code violation award last year, because two years ago, when we were on a staff retreat, I was like, "Hey, you know what? We should do Communion." Todd was like, "Okay, great. Will you lead us in that?" I was like, "Yeah, totally. Hey, we're one body, though four campuses. We're one body, one church, so we're going to have one loaf. We're going to have one cup. You're going to take apart the bread, dip it in the juice, and take it."
Well, we have 240 staff members. One week later, 80 staff members had the flu. Eighty! And I didn't get it. It says in the Scriptures, "Some of you are sick because of your sin." I don't know. It's 1 Corinthians 11. Look it up. So I was like, "Y'all need to confess and come to re:gen." Y'all, my motive was right, I think. I had the right motive, like, "Hey, let's all have Communion." It was not executed perfectly, and a bunch of people got sick, angrily sick, and we'll never do Communion that way again. You'll always see little cups and little crackers.
I think my motive was right, but it wasn't executed perfectly, and it was kind of a mess. It was messy. It always is. I've never had a pure motive. Everything is a little messy, but that doesn't mean I don't do things. So, if you walk out of here and you're like, "Well, until my motives are perfect and until I have my private life perfect, I can't share the gospel. I can't buy somebody a meal and tell them about Jesus and invite them to church…"
If you wait until you're perfect, you will die waiting, and you'll never act. So, again, walking out of here, the whole message Jesus was trying to tell us in Matthew 6:1 is, "Do you want to be worshiped or do you want to give me worship? It's not going to be perfect. You're broken. That's why you need me. But who's going to get the worship?" So let's offer right worship to the Lord, cast our crowns before him, and live rightly with the Father by his love. Let's pray.
Father, thank you, first of all, that we can call you Father. May that never be a flippant thing. Thank you that we can call you Father. Thank you that you love us, you've adopted us by the blood of Jesus. Thank you that we can offer acts of worship to you…not to be worshiped but to worship you.
We're called to be salt and light out of an overflow and an abiding relationship with you, Lord. So here, today, would you just fix our broken hearts, the idols of approval of man? Would you put them to death by the Spirit, that we might only seek that everyone would be approved by you through Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life? We love you, amen.