Those Are Some Bright Lights!

Matthew 5:13-16 – “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

It was the summer of 1990. I had just finished my junior year of college and I would spend the summer months on five of the Hawaiian Islands on a mission trip for college students. Talk about suffering for Jesus! That summer was a life-giving summer for me. My call to ministry was affirmed in such vivid ways. I fell in love with ministry to students and began to understand the impact of evangelism in ways that I am still trying to comprehend eighteen years later. (We spent the majority of our time on the island of Molokai, and in that summer over 60 kids came to faith in Christ. The island’s population was a little more than 5000 people. That means that over 1% of the island came to faith in Christ in an eight week period!)

Whenever I read these verses from the Sermon on the Mount, I think back to that summer. Why? Because, I gave my third sermon ever on this passage. We were in an old run down horse ranch. The locals used this ranch as a Christian camp. From that little camp in Molokai you could see the islands of Maui and Oahu in the distance. Save for the kitchen and bathrooms, there was no electricity at this camp. So, at night, the lights from the islands of Maui and Oahu shone brightly. As I spoke to the children at the camp, I told them about Christ’s desire for us to live our lives as bright lights to the world. I told them that we represented God to the world, and that we needed to make God look good. Then I showed them the lights of Maui. There was no mistaking that there was a ton of activity on that nearby island. It could not be hidden. Our lives were not to be hidden either.

What does your life say to others about Christ? Do they see your life and witness your testimony in powerful ways, or is your life like the salt that loses it saltiness and is no longer good for anything? Live your life to glorify God today! When you do, you not only make God look good, you make Jesus glad.

Dear God,

Your teachings in Scripture are so clear. We are to live our lives to glorify You. We are to boldly declare Your name both in action and in words. Help us to live for You in such a way that people are drawn to the Savior. Thank You for being our Savior.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

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VBS at Woodbury Community Church

I was at a meeting tonight at Woodbury Community Church, for our Vacation Bible School, which takes place June 9-13, 2008 from 9:00 AM – 11:30 AM. I can’t wait for it to start! It’s going to be an awesome week!

Vacatian Bible School is free and open to all students from Kindergarten-6th Grade. This year’s theme is Beach Party! Every day includes a great Bible story, fantastic music, crafts, food, friends, and more. Best of all, it’s all going to happen with an amazing beach theme. You don’t want your kids to miss this week! If you have a child in Kingergarten-Sixth grade, and live near Woodbury, I’d encourage you to register your child. You can register, for free, by clicking HERE.

Standing For Christ When The Pressure Is On

Matthew 5:11-12 – “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Have you ever had a lie spread about you? Recently I was talking with a young woman who had a vicious rumor spread about her. The rumor was completely false. And, even though the rumor was something that would have been completely out of character for the young woman, she was completely distraught because some of her best friends had chosen to believe it.

That is an awful feeling. Sometimes I think that sort of thing happens to followers of Christ because Satan wants to discourage us from living godly lives. Our reputations are precious to us. And, most of us will go to great lengths to protect it. So, when Jesus tells us that we are blessed when people spread all kinds of evil against us because of Him, we may be tempted to pause and say, “Jesus, what are you talking about?! Being lied about is not a blessing.”

But, Jesus would stand by His words. Christians, you will face persecution. If we stand for Christ, Satan stands against us. Did you catch that? Now, read it slowly and let the words sink in. If we stand for Christ, Satan stands against us. Expect the persecution. But, know that even if the world turns against us, Christ does not. He knows what it’s like to be betrayed and denied by those He loved. He chooses to stand by His children when no one else will. And, be assured, He who knows the truth, will reward you in heaven. Your reward will be great.

My wife and daughter like to tease me because I tend to overemphasize the greatness of things that I try and enjoy. If I go to a new restaurant and like the food, it’s The Greatest Restaurant I’ve ever eaten at! “We know,” they’ll say. And then they’ll say, “You said the same thing about the last restaurant you ate at.”

When Jesus says that your reward in heaven is great, He isn’t exaggerating. We can face the persecution and stand in light of the fact that Christ is aware, and will reward. It will happen in His time. He’s promised it, and he never breaks a promise!

Dear God,

We want to stand firm for You, no matter the cost. Help us to follow You unashamedly. You are our delight and we rejoice in You.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven

Matthew 5:10 – “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

In the spring of 1988 I had my eyes open to what it really means to be persecuted because of righteousness. Prior to that time I thought I had it all figured out. I’d grown up in a Christian home, accepted Christ when I was a young boy, and been teased about my Christian faith in many different arenas. But, I had known nothing of true persecution.

My freshman year in college I travelled with a group of college students to the country of Romania. Nicolae Ceauşescu was the leader of the country then. He ruled Romania with an iron fist from March 22, 1965 until December 22, 1989. As General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party, Ceauşescu outlawed Christianity. Those brave men and women who claimed Christ were often times imprisoned, beaten, ridiculted, mocked, put on a downward career path, and sometimes killed for their faith. Our group of students met with hundreds of Romanian Christians during that trip in 1988. We even visited the square where 21 months later Christian students would stand by each other in solidarity to protect a pastor, and start a revolution.

Persecution of Christians is rampant all over the world. Christ tells us in Scripture to pray for and take care of those who are persecuted for their faith. He also tells us to expect persecution. Walk with Christ, and you will face trials. And, in Matthew 5:10, Christ tells us that those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

This world we live in is passing away. Our lives are but a speck of dust. We appear for a while and then we vanish. Make the most of the years that God gives you to make and impact for Him while you are here. Don’t live for the kingdoms of this world, but for the kingdom of heaven. Show the world what it means to be a citizen of Christ’s kingdom. Live as one who has been touched by Him.

Dear God,

You have blessed us beyond measure. I can’t even pretend to understand what it truly means to suffer for being a follower of Jesus Christ. Help me to always stand firm for You, no matter the cost. And, help me to remember to live as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Brokering Spiritual Peace

Matthew 5:9 – “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

Of all the verses that I heard growing up, none was repeated as often in my home as this one. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” I’d hear my Mom call, as she tried, often times in vain, to stop another argument between her four sons. In our home it was often times my brother Randy who would jump in to fill the role of the peacemaker. As the middle child I was often times the instigator of whatever argument was taking place.

There is a beautiful promise that follows Christ’s proclamation that the peacemakers will be blessed. That promise is that they will be called sons of God. Now that, my friends, is a pretty cool title. In fact, it goes beyond being cool to downright awesome. Do you get a sense of the gravity of this statement? Sons of God are peacemakers.

It was too recently in my life that I was anything but a peacemaker. I lost it with someone that I love very much. I used my words to wound them. And my character was anything but that which a child of God would and should display. It’s amazing how easy it is for those of us who are children of the living God to degenerate into godless behavior. In Galatians 5:22-23 the Apostle Paul lists the Fruit of the Spirit. Among the fruit listed is self-control. Those who are peacemakers display this fruit. They have the Spirit given capacity to control their actions. In other words the live their life in such a way that God is actually in control. When we do, we are showing what it means to be a son or daughter of the Most High God. Pursue peace today!

Dear God,

It is all too easy to choose hurtful words, destructive actions or gossip ahead of peace. Help us not to be people who delight in evil, but people who rejoice in Your ways.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Blessed Are The Pure In Heart

Matthew 5:8 – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

During the Lenton Season of 2005, I had the opportunity to preach a series on The Beatitudes with Leith Anderson. One of the sermons that I preached was on today’s verse. I’ve decided to repost that message here.

Sermon Preached at Wooddale Church, Eden Prairie, MN on Wednesday, March 16, 2005, by Rev. Brian D. Schulenburg

MATTHEW 5:8

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART

He came to me with tears in his eyes, and a heavy heart. It was obvious that the news he was going to share with me had given him quite a bit of heartbreak, and that he was a broken man. As he began telling me the intimate details of his private life the floodgates of emotion could be held in no longer. He wept as he spoke of his addiction to pornography and he was broken over the condition of his impure heart.

She was angry, and felt that she had every right to be. Her marriage wasn’t anything like she had dreamt it would be. The best adjective to describe the state of her marriage was the word loveless. She couldn’t remember the last time that her husband told her he loved her. An attractive new coworker readily showered her with praise. She felt her heart longing to spend more and more time with him. When attraction led to infidelity she too was struck to the core at the condition of her impure heart.

It had been a difficult financial year. Even though Bill and Joan each had full-time jobs, the bills outnumbered the income, and Bill was forced to find extra sources of income just to make ends meet. God blessed Bill with a great personality, expertise in his field, and a penchant for making friends. So consequently, offers for Bill to consult came in at a steady pace. Soon the income from Bill’s consulting business rivaled his income from his full-time employment. A number of Bill’s clients paid Bill “under the table” with cash. Bill remembers thinking, “It sure would be a lot simpler not to report this income to the IRS.” And then he too was struck to the core at the condition of his impure heart.

In His Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5:8, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” Perhaps you are here today and your thoughts are, “Oh great, if only the pure in heart will see God, I may as well give up now. Because, my heart is far from pure. If anything, my heart – the things that I desire, are too often impure.”

The good news today is that the Bible is full of stories of the impure whose hearts are made pure by the touch of God within them.

His name was Saul. He was a religious zealot who was concerned about a new religious sect that claimed that Jesus was the Messiah. Saul did everything he could to extinguish this threat to traditional Jewish teaching once and for all. The book of Acts records his story. It’s in chapter 7 of this book that we read of the first Christian martyr – Stephen. He was a preacher, who told all who would listen about God’s love. But Saul and Sanhedrin, the religious elite, didn’t approve of Stephen’s message. They murdered him, stoning him to death. Acts chapter 7 ends with these words, “And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.”

Two chapters of the Bible later we read of Saul’s amazing conversion. Listen as I read from Acts 9 . . .

“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing.” (Acts 9:1-8a)

The same Saul who was breathing out murderous threats against God’s followers, was invited by God to join the Kingdom of the pure in heart. Why would God choose a murderer to be one of His children?

Her name isn’t recorded in Scripture. All we know is that she was an adulteress. The Gospel of John, Chapter 8 records her story. Pulled from the arms of her lover by yet another group of religious leaders, she was to be made an example of in a raucous spectacle of trial and stoning. The law stated that any adulterer could be put to death, and the religious leaders intended to see that the law was fulfilled to its letter. Just as it looks like it will be too late for this woman, Jesus begins to write something on the ground with one of his fingers. Some have speculated that he was writing the Ten Commandments, but the truth is we just don’t know what it was. But whatever it was, coupled with his words, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her,” caused every stone to drop. How beautiful that the only one without sin was the one who caused all the stones to drop. Listen to the apostle John’s description of the rest of the story, “At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’
‘No one, sir,’ she said.
‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’” (John 8:9-11)

Her heart was impure, but Jesus offered to make it pure.

Want more stories? Then read of the original sinners, Adam and Eve; the adulterers, David and Bathsheba; those who laughed at God, Abraham and Sarah, a prostitute named Rahab; and idolater named Ruth; a scoundrel named Jacob, a financial swindler named Matthew; a betrayer named Peter; a coward named Timothy; a quitter named Mark; a rejecter named Jonah and the list goes on. People whose hearts were anything but pure who are now seeing God.

What is the miracle of Matthew 5:8? The miracle is that anyone can have a heart that is pure. Blessed are the pure in heart. The same Saul of whom we read earlier had his name changed to Paul when he was met by God. But he received more than a name change. He was spiritually blind, when he encountered the living God he became physically blind, and when he gave God his life he received back his physical sight and was given spiritual sight. So much was he changed that he wrote over 2/3 of what we now call The New Testament. He was even more of a zealot after he met Christ, never ceasing to serve him with everything that he had. He never stopped being amazed that God would seek out someone with as impure a heart as his. In his letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome, Paul wrote,

“So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:21-25)

In a similar sentiment, written to a young man he mentored named Timothy, Paul wrote, “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:14-16) Paul understood. His heart was not pure because of anything he possessed within himself. His heart was pure because of the transforming work of God within him.

The Beatitudes begin by speaking of our spiritual poverty and that we can only enter the kingdom of heaven when we recognize that condition. It is this recognition that makes it possible for us to see our total inadequacy to do anything about our impure heart when left to ourselves. Jesus knew about our condition when he shared the truth of Matthew 5:8, and he knew that the way to accomplish Matthew 5:8 in our lives was for him to be our purifier.

In nine days we will commemorate the death of Jesus. This day is called Good Friday on the Christian calendar. Last year at this time Americans were flocking to see the film The Passion of the Christ. It was a fascinating time in our nation’s history. Opinions regarding the film were given on every television network in the land. You couldn’t turn on a talk radio station without hearing about the film. In the week after its release, I was listening to the local sports radio station and every single show referenced the film, and the way that the film moved those who watched it. The phrase I repeatedly heard in one way or another was, “I can’t get over how much Jesus suffered for the sins of the world.”

I don’t know about you, but as I look around at society today, I see people trying to fill their lives with any number of things – diversions, money, status, excitement, things. And, I can’t help but think that as a society we are thirsty for more. We are thirsty for God. A great Christian theologian once said, “Thirsty hearts are those who have been wakened by the touch of God within them.”

Are you thirsty for something deeper? In this Lenten season does your heart long to move past the state it’s in, and move to the things of God? Good. Because, that longing is evidence of the work of God within you. Do you want a pure heart this Easter? A pure heart is a forgiven heart. It begins with acknowledging that you need God. Paul, that apostle whose life was so transformed by God said, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) He also said that what we deserve for our sin is eternal separation from God, but that God’s gift to us is eternal life through Jesus Christ his son. Why do we celebrate Good Friday? Because, the best gift that was ever given to humanity was given on that day. Jesus paid the sacrifice for our sins. He died so that we could live. He knew that there was absolutely no way even the most perfect human being could have a pure heart, and thus see God, apart from His work within them. Paul described the miracle of how we see God in Romans 10:9 when he wrote, “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

I am so glad that Jesus loves me. I am so glad that he can make an impure heart pure. I am so glad that even though the struggle with impurity continues until we one day get to heaven, that God gives us the strength to win battle after battle. Is my heart completely pure? Absolutely not. I feel like Paul who said, “I am the worst of sinners.” But I feel so blessed because of Jesus’ forgiveness, which in God’s eyes makes me able to say, “Blessed is Brian for he will see God.” Can you say that today? If not, why not let today be the day that you allow God to purify your heart? He will do that for you. It’s as simple as praying, “Dear God, I am guilty of sin. My heart is not completely pure, but I believe that because of your death and resurrection I can have a pure heart. Forgive me for all the wrong things I’ve done in my life. Take control of my life today as I confess you as Lord of my life. In Jesus name, Amen.”

Blessed are you – the pure in heart, for you will see God!

Dear God,

It is only because of you that we can be seen as pure in heart. Thank You for loving those who do not deserve Your love. You are good and we praise You for the way that you take us who are anything but pure and make us new.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

The Beauty of Mercy

Matthew 5:7 – “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

Have you ever been extended grace by another person? It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s also pretty humbling. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve. It’s what God gives to each of us when He offers us His salvation. It’s also what God expects us to give to others. But, did you know that there is a promise that comes from God to those who show mercy? It’s found in Matthew 5:7. Jesus is teaching the Sermon on the Mount. He is towards the beginning of the sermon when he begins to speak about the attitudes of the Kingdom of Heaven. We’ve already looked at several of these attitudes. Today’s verse deals with the merciful. And, it may be the most easy to understand of all of the beatitudes. Jesus is calling us to show mercy, and promises that when we do we will be shown mercy.

I know that this principle rings true in my life. I love to show mercy to those that have exended grace towards me. It comes pretty easy. Today was my last day at Wooddale. After our Baccalaureate Service I cleaned out my office. My wife and I had planned to do this quietly, and without any help. I just didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. As I was going to clear it out, a former student offered his assistance. I told him, “Okay, but please don’t tell others that I’m clearing my office out. I want tonight to be about their graduation, not my leaving.” He agreed.

I had no idea how long it would take to clear out my office, but with the help of this young man, it was cleared out in about 30 minutes. When both my vehicle and Cyndi’s were full, he offered to put the remaining boxes in his car and to drive them to my home for me. When we arrived, he unpacked the vehicles with me. Let me tell you, that was a gift! It was mercy. I wasn’t expecting help, and really didn’t want any; but I needed it. And, guess what else? When he needs help, I’m going to want to give it to him. Why? Because, blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Dear God,

We thank You for your mercy. We thank You for reaching out to us when we were still sinners. We thank You for the Body of Christ. May we always display compassion and grace. We love you so much!

In Jesus’ name,

Amen!