Advent Daily Devotional


Lenten Devotional 3-9-23

Sermon on the Mount

March 9, 2023

Matthew 5: 27-30

27 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

Former President Jimmy Carter has been in the news lately because of his decision at age 98 to enter hospice care. We pray that his last days on earth are peaceful and contented.

Jimmy Carter became newsworthy on a national basis in 1976 when he ran for the presidency. Carter was an evangelical Christian in the Southern Baptist tradition who taught a weekly Bible study at his small church in Plains, Georgia. In what many believed to have been a campaign gaffe, he agreed to an interview with Playboy Magazine. A good bit of the interview questioned Carter’s Christian faith and his views on morality. At one point Carter said this:

I try not to commit a deliberate sin. I recognize that I’m going to do it anyhow, because I’m human and I’m tempted. And Christ set some almost impossible standards for us. Christ said, ‘I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman with lust has in his heart already committed adultery.’

I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times. This is something that God recognizes I will do–and I have done it–and God forgives me for it.

Many historians believe that this interview, and that quote in particular, almost cost Carter the election. But, if Carter believed that to look on a woman with lust required the removal of an eye, well, Carter still had both. What most people miss in this interview is that Carter simply says he believes the Bible says what it says but that Jesus sets an “almost” impossible standard. That is where I disagree. What Jesus says in today’s text is completely impossible. Just as impossible as Jesus’ comparison of murder and simple offense.

What Carter and I do agree on is that we can only do our best and not intentionally imagine things that would be sinful if we actually did them. We are to do our best to avoid desires to harm our neighbors. Always possible? Nope. But as Carter says, we are forgiven for our humanity.

Lenten Devotional 3-8-23

Sermon on the Mount

March 8, 2023

Matthew 5: 21-26

21 ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

When I read this passage today, I laughed out loud. I immediately thought of our current (and in truth historical) political discourse. Whichever side of the political spectrum you are on, it might be comforting to know that all those folks sending verbal slings and arrows your way are doomed to hell of fire. That is what Jesus says is the fate of those who intentionally insult, offend or simply ridicule another person. Take that talking head!

As a former trial lawyer, the passage speaks to me. It starts out by describing an offense that might result in judgment. The judgement could be severe (the hell of fire at worst, every last penny at best). So, as your lawyer I would tell you to consider a settlement. Resolve the conflict. Then, there will be peace. That is what Jesus is saying here. Don’t intentionally offend. If you do, apologize, and make amends. Otherwise, your offerings of praise and confession to God might not be accepted until you have made peace with the one you offended. Settle! That’s my advice. 

Lenten Devotional 3-7-23

Sermon on the Mount

March 7, 2023

Matthew 5: 17-19

17 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Shortly after my daughter began her career in fastpitch softball, I was required to explain a particular rule to her that she simply could not understand. She was at bat. One of her teammates was on first base. There was one out. Her mighty swing sent the ball straight up in the air in the infield. The second baseman circled under the ball. … and dropped it. The umpire yelled “the batter is out!” With a look only a 10-year-old girl can put on her face, I had the difficult task of explaining to her the “infield fly rule”. That rule says that with a runner on first with less than two outs, a popup to the infield renders the batter automatically out  and all runners must act as if the ball was caught. Why? Fairness. While the ball is in the air, the runners must assume it will be caught. So, they must go back to their base before advancing. If the ball is dropped, accidentally or intentionally, it is an easy double play because the runner on first won’t be running to second yet.  Go it? My daughter didn’t. Most folks don’t. But the one word reason for the rule is fairness.

One of my favorite quotes comes from ancient Hebrew scholar and sage Hillel the Elder who lived and taught in Jesus’ day. Hillel’s students were taught “the law” (the five books of Moses along with their 613 commandments derived from the 10 Commandments) and “the prophets” (the 15 prophetic books of the Old Testament). There were also the rabbinic writings referred to as the Mishna which expounded it all. How does someone learn all that? Hillel was asked if he could summarize all this while standing on one foot. His quote:

“Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Hillel then concluded: “That which is hateful unto you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole of the Torah; the rest is commentary.”

I believe that is what Jesus was saying. He came to fulfill that. And calls us to do it, too. What does our faith require of us? Read Hillel. That is the standard.