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I was thinking recently and decided I wanted to add a section to my website to blog about issues of church and faith. It's interesting to consider what role the Internet might have in the lives of today's and tomorrow's young people -- could it be a catalyst for encouraging kids to explore and share their faith?

January 3: Thoughts in Response to Reading the New Testament
January 3, 2014

Matthew 6: 25-34: Do Not Worry

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,[a] or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?[b] 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God[c] and his[d] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Another familiar passage. The first thing that pops into my mind is that while Jesus seems to be talking about worry/anxiety, it also crosses my mind that he might also be talking about “chasing after” a little bit. When he talks about the Gentiles striving after those things, it brings to mind modern people and their attention being placed on “my home”, “what I wear”, “where I eat out”, etc. But yes, the emphasis seems to be more on not worrying about these things in the sense of not being anxious. That said, when people "chase after" things, I think it often does result in anxiety and other tricky emotions when our goals aren't realized. (or even if they are, because we then flip to seeking even more) So even though the emphasis seems to be placed on anxiety/worry here, there still seems to be a natural connection to striving for things.

The other interesting application I see here from my context is looking out into a world of need -- people are malnourished, people are suffering. Perhaps one flavor of what Jesus is saying is that while we of course know that food and shelter (etc) are very important, it’s actually more effective in the long term not to obsess over those things, but to instead seek the kingdom of God. And if you seek the kingdom of God with your whole heart, guess what, the details of life will typically -- perhaps even mystically -- take care of themselves. Some might (many do) feel the same about trying to help others: If you see hungry and sick people in the world, one might think that trying to address their immediate needs is of utmost importance, while others might feel that the real key is instead seeking the kingdom of God, which adds additional central practices there such as spreading the Gospel, making disciples, etc. That builds a wholeness that implicitly takes care of hunger and sickness. This of course doesn’t imply that we shoo away hungry and sick people, (or even that we don't seek them out) but it does suggest that our strategy for helping the world needs to be rooted in seeking God’s kingdom first, and feeding and caring for people as a part of that, but not seen as separate or superior to the other aspects of kingdom building. I wonder if this statement by Jesus of “But strive first for the kingdom of God[c] and his[d] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” applies to this line of thinking/understanding as I’m supposing.

January 1, 2014: Thoughts in Response to Reading the New Testament
January 1, 2014

Matthew 6: 19-24

Concerning Treasures

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[a] consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust[b] consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The Sound Eye

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; 23 but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Serving Two Masters

24 “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.[c]


Similar to a comment I’ve made before, I find the “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” to be tricky psychology for me, because on a surface level it seems to invite self-centered thinking. One might think to themselves, “I’m going to go do such and such because I will be rewarded in heaven”. I have a certain resistance to that kind of thinking, because at a deeper level I sense that God wants us to be motivated to action out of a sense of love that is purely interested in the other person, or purely interested in loving God, and not loving in a way that is anticipating a reward. The other way I look at this, however, is that Jesus is simply saying something factual: Our behaviours and attitudes here and now have eternal implications, and as we make decisions and try to be the best managers we can of our time and money, we need to take that into account. Any manager needs to know something about reality if they’re going to be a good manager. (!)

I find verses 22-23 on the eye a bit mysterious. Is this the teaching that the song “oh be careful little eyes what you see?” is based on? Is the point that the light that enters our souls comes in through our eyes, and so we want to be letting in good light, not darkness? I’m not quite following the thought here.

And of course, verse 24 about not being able to serve both God and money is very familiar. (sometimes referred to as mammon, I think, the God of money?)  One thought I’ve had about this passage over the last couple of years is that I wonder what the pitfalls are of trying to serve God through money. ie. If you are a person who devotes many hours to their professional activities, earns a high wage, and then goes about serving God by trying to invest that money wisely, are there pitfalls there? Can we get sucked into a mentality where we’re trying to earn more and more money, because we equate more money with being able to serve God better? ie. By having more to invest? Can we ironically then end up “serving money” when we had intended to serve God? Maybe my point there isn’t especially clear, or maybe you are catching my drift.

December 20: Thoughts in Response to Reading the New Testament
December 20, 2013

Matthew 6:5-15: Prayer

5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever 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.[a]
7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
10     Your kingdom come.
    Your will be done,
        on earth as it is in heaven.
11     Give us this day our daily bread.[b]
12     And forgive us our debts,
        as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13     And do not bring us to the time of trial,[c]
        but rescue us from the evil one.[d]
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:16-18: Fasting

16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.


In the last few months, someone commented that it seems that during Bible times, people prayed out loud. It was how they did it, perhaps… that for them, when you talked to God, you actually talked to God. I’m not sure whether that’s correct or not, but it’s an interesting thing to consider, and it seems to fit somewhat with passages like this.

While it would be a good exercise to think through the Lord’s prayer, and I do have some thoughts on that, I have to be honest about what sticks out most about these two passages, and likewise about the previous passage on “Giving to the Needy”. It is the common thread:

Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

I think the reason this causes me so much pause is that, at least at some level, I feel like Jesus might be talking about me here. Let’s look at the surface level evidence:

Many of the things I post on Facebook or on my blog are religious in nature, or things that could be connected back to things that I have done or thought that are virtuous. Here I am now, blogging about my reading of the New Testament.
The things I have felt compelled to talk about with people in the last couple of years not infrequently fall into that pattern.
The talk I gave at Grebel fits into this pattern (even if I named that tension explicitly in my talk), and the article written in Grebel Now about that talk/challenge (although not by me) definitely feel a bit uncomfortable on these scales.
I am not good at finding chunks of time to pray on my own, but I enjoy going to the church every Thursday morning to pray in a group.

As with most things Jesus says, I think he’s mostly concerned with heart -- what displeases him most is when a person’s motivation, or a good chunk of their motivation, is to get a pat on the back and raise their status among people. From this perspective, I don’t feel overly insecure reading these passages, because I don’t feel like I have impure motivations. What does still give me pause there as I’ve mentioned before is that it can be hard to truly ferret out one’s motivations at times. The subconscious parts of our being can be an enigma. Parts of our being we can introspect, but other parts we cannot.  And so that leaves a question: Deep down, in my subconscious being, am I unknowingly highly motivated to be seen and appreciated by others?  Perhaps one nugget of wisdom here is to say “yes, we all are, to a degree”, even if we can’t introspect it, and to keep that in the balance as we try and understand our behavior.

Then there’s the ironic part of all of this: It’s as if Jesus is saying “stop be so concerned by your image”, and yet part of what’s giving me such pause here is being concerned about my image, but in the inverse sense being talked about by this passage: Realizing that quite possibly people react to the virtuous things I say and do, and when they contrast it with these scriptures, are left with a bad taste in their mouth. That remains an open question for me: How careful should we be about our image? On one hand, being concerned about our image seems to fall into the trap these passages are warning against, but on the other hand, appearing as a self-righteous attention-seeker doesn’t seem very honoring to God either. In any event, I feel it would be a mistake to ever get too bent out of shape about what others think about us, in relative importance to standing before God and trying to discern how our hearts need to be changed. (even if those two aren’t mutually exclusive)

Something that I struggle with in these passages is that, on the flip side, I feel that human encouragement and affirmation is incredibly important. For example, when I started doing software development at Navtech, I felt like I was in one of those situations where one gets a fair bit of negative feedback for anything one doesn’t do well, but rarely encouragement for all of the things one is doing well, or even great. That’s a toxic environment. It de-motivates, it’s harmful to one’s sense of health and wellbeing, etc. To contrast that, when one is in an environment where good work is recognized and appreciated, it can be incredibly motivating and life giving. And so at one level it is a bit unintuitive to suggest that positive human feedback for doing good is destructive and unpleasing to God. I’m guessing that’s not the point Jesus is trying to make, in a specific sense, but rather that it matters how that feedback is sought and the heart behind that.

One example of how I resonate with this passage is that at times in the past I have sensed that people pay me a favor and unless I react with joy and surprise and thankfulness, they are certain to become mad. That gets tricky when the favor isn’t something that’s appreciated! I find this kind of thing quite unvirtuous -- to almost “demand” a big psychological payment for a gift that one is giving. In that context, it feels like the gift is actually plunging one into some kind of social debt, so that one then has to try and claw back out of the pit by heaping praise on the gift giver. From that perspective, the gift can actually feel like an anti-gift, making the situation all the more brutal.  This situation is obviously a bit different than the things Jesus is talking about here, but I think there’s a connection.

I think I’ll close this rambling with tying this back with our desire to glorify God.  That’s the window through which I’ve been often looking at the universe and looking at behavior: How can we best glorify God?  That brings this passage to life for me a bit more: Do our good works glorify God, or are we getting in the way and trying to absorb some or all of that glory?  This exposes a certain irony about good works: They can be done in the name of glorifying God, but our flawed human expression can easily and ironically turn that into an exercise of glorifying self if we’re not careful. No easy answers here for me, but something to keep chewing on.

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