MONDAY, 9/12
Read Matthew 5:27.
Jesus goes back to the Law–or Ten Commandments here–to offer greater insight into His Kingdom.  They provide a strong foundation for our understanding of the Law.  The ten commands show us how we can love both God and neighbor, which is the heart of the Law.
After visiting the sixth commandment earlier, Jesus moves down to the seventh commandment, “Do not commit adultery”.  I doubt the command raises many eyebrows.  We know adultery is wrong.  Being unfaithful to your spouse is not a loving way to treat them.  Logically, we know that such an act is grounds for breaking the covenant bond of marriage.  That knowledge, however, is not always enough to prevent people from falling into such a trap.  
Adultery is rarely an impulsive decision to sleep with someone who isn’t your spouse.  It is most often a slippery slope that begins with emotional detachment from your spouse, so you find someone else to whom you can transfer those affections.  It begins innocently enough with small flirtations and fantasies about what it would be like to be with them.  You reason that as long as such thoughts stay in your mind, you’re not being unfaithful.  The problem is that they elicit new desires, which provoke further sliding down the slope.  Before long, you seek more frequent interactions with them and the desires build all the while until one day, you end up in bed with them.  
While committing adultery may feel like something we would never do, most people have experienced some of what is described above.  We’ve been through a rough patch in our marriage.  Perhaps we’ve nurtured another connection outside our spouse.  Everyone is wired to have deep connection with another person.  If we lose that sense, we will seek it out.  
We’re looking at this because we need to be aware of the dangers of the slippery slope.  There is a reason they put the caution signs that read “Slippery When Wet” after mopping the floor.  We need to be mindful of how we move in this world lest we do harm to those we are called to love.  
In the coming verses, Jesus will take us on another journey into the depths of our hearts.  He will help us see that the root of adultery exists in us.  His point isn’t to scare or humiliate us; instead,  Jesus wants to transform us.  He wants to open our eyes to the condition of our hearts.  He wants us to invite Him to remake us and release us to enjoy a new kind of living.  
As we look ahead to what Jesus wants to do in us this week, we must ask ourselves the question: Are we willing to go on this journey with Him?  Are we open to seeing ourselves as we are?  Are we ready to be changed?  
Praying Together:
“Jesus, I am thankful for Your willingness to be honest with me.  It isn’t easy to face the things that lurk in the depths of my heart, but I trust Your intentions.  You desire that I would walk in the fullness of life–that my life would bless and not harm others, and that I would glorify the Father.  I want to live such a life.  I invite You to do a new work in me.  Amen.”
Read Matthew 5:28.
You might have expected this given Jesus did the same thing in the scripture we visited last week on murder.  Jesus takes the command with which the crowd was familiar and goes deeper.  He moves beyond the action of adultery to the heart condition that produces the act of adultery–lust.
While Jesus frames the spiritual problem of lust around men, it is not only an issue for men.  While it is more prevalent with men, research by USA Today suggests that the fastest growing demographic consuming porn is women.  While I can’t speak to the validity of these studies, they reveal that between 57-75% of men and 20-30% of women view porn at least monthly.  In a sex-obsessed society, those figures shouldn’t surprise us.  
So what does Jesus mean by looking lustfully at another person?  Is it a glance or something more?  The Greek word translated as “look” is more in line with what we would call a stare.  It is more than noticing someone, but a willful and lustful intent.  
The question I have heard posed in regard to this is, “What’s the real problem?  It’s a harmless look.  I’m not going to act on it.  No one gets hurt.”   The first problem with that is you can’t confirm that no one is hurt.  If you’ve been the recipient of the extended stare, there is a great feeling of discomfort.  If someone has been physically harmed, this can set off greater insecurities.  
Another reason this is an issue is that looking at someone in such a way is an act of dehumanizing them.  You are reducing them to an object for your pleasure and nothing more.  They aren’t a person, but something on which to act out your desires and pleasures.  C.S. Lewis says that they are of no more value to us than a cigarette package is to a smoker.  It is only as valuable as the contents it holds.  As soon as they have used up the source of their pleasure, they throw it away without a thought.  Allowing ourselves to practice seeing people in such a way will lead to us treating them in potentially harmful ways.  
Think of how our society views sex.  We’ve reduced it to nothing more than a physical act.  As such, as long as its consensual, you can seek pleasure apart from any real emotional connection.  That isn’t how God designed sex.  As much as we may not want it to be, sex leads to a deeper connection that is physical, emotional, and spiritual.  It is supposed to have that effect.  It is a vehicle to bring two people in covenant relationship closer together.  It is powerful in this way.  So when we treat it so casually and develop the capacity to seek merely the physical pleasure from someone without the deeper connection, we are treating them as something less than human.  This is not Jesus’ vision for how His Kingdom people are to view others.  We are to see their humanity as those created in God’s image and loved by Him.  
Jesus says that this is ultimately a heart issue.  By staring at another person and playing the fantasy in our head, we have committed adultery in our hearts.  This is a spiritual problem for the reasons stated above.  We need new hearts with new desires.  
The proper action for us is to repent, to turn from such ways, and to seek God’s healing grace.  We know that Jesus is eager to do a work of renewal in us.  Jesus came so that we could be made new in Him.  He has already broken the chains that bind us to sin.  He offers us freedom to a new way of living, of seeing and treating others.  
So let us invite Jesus to exorcise such desires and patterns from our lives.  We want to be a different kind of person, one who reflects the beauty of His Kingdom.  That is where life is found.  
Sending Prayer:
“Lord, I confess my sins to You.  Having played out desires–whether physical or emotional–I have committed adultery in my heart.  I need Your grace to forgive and heal me.  I don’t want to see others as things to be used for my own desires.  I want to love others as You do.  I want people to experience Your love through me.  In living this kind of life, I will be a light to the world and bring You glory.  Amen.”  
Read Matthew 5:29.
This week we’ve been exploring Jesus’ teachings on the heart issue of lust.  So what is a good solution to this heart condition, you might ask?  Cut your eye out.  Sure, that seems reasonable.  
I’m not much of a betting man, but I would be willing to wager that you have questions about Jesus’ suggestion for self-mutilation.  Does Jesus really expect those who are prone to lust to gouge out our eyes?  I don’t believe He does, and here’s why.
The eye was considered by Jews to be the gateway into the heart.  Our eyes–in other words, what we look at–are what feed into our desires.  Jesus affirms this in His own teachings.  In Matthew 6:22-23, Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body.  If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light that is within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”  What we look at, we essentially invite to influence every part of us.  What our eyes take in has some kind of effect on our emotions, as well as our spiritual and even physical well-being.  This has far-reaching implications.  It goes beyond potential pornography but to things like the news we consume that nurtures a hostile attitude or robs us of peace.  
So what Jesus is suggesting is less about gouging out our eyes but rather removing the things we’re looking at that are likely to produce brokenness in us.  If we want to enjoy the freedom of the Kingdom life Jesus offers, we must take seriously the tangible things Jesus holds out in front of us.  I wonder what things you read or watch that you need to remove?
As hard as it is for us to remove unhealthy things from our lives, it beats the alternative.  Jesus says that it is better to lose something that is temporary than for something temporary to lead you astray eternally.  These are heavy words from Jesus here.  They need to be carefully considered.  Jesus reminds us that the things we do are significant.  They matter because they reveal the condition of our hearts and the people we are.  
Sending Prayer:
“Holy Spirit, I invite You to search my heart.  I pray that You make me fully aware of the things that I need to gouge out of my life.  You have in mind to free me from the toxic things that will only produce brokenness in me and in my life.  I want a renewed and transformed heart.  I pray for the grace to build better habits that are life-giving rather than life stealing.  Amen.”  
Read Matthew 5:30.
Nip it in the bud. For those of you who have not heard this said before, it means that you are putting a stop to something before it starts to become a bigger problem. While in the rehab hospital, I met a man whose diabetes went unchecked for many years. His parents had the “bad sugar” (his word for diabetes), but he had avoided seeing the doctor because he knew they might find the same problem in him. Looking at his feet, you could see the results of his decision. He was in a wheelchair with 2 toes missing on the right side and half of his foot removed on the left side. 
What this passage is telling us is we should be mindful of the effects of sin on our lives as early and as often as possible.  In his case, he literally had the parts of the body removed that were most affected by bad circulation due to diabetes to spare the rest of the body from being damaged.  If he had nipped it in the bud–had been tested sooner or taken medication to prevent circulation problems early on–he may have kept the parts of the body he had lost.  
It is within our nature to sin.  What we say, how we say it, what we do, and how we do it is impactful beyond their immediate consequence. The impact of our sin is not isolated to words or actions.  Once we allow sin into our lives, it can take on a life of its own.  For example, name- calling is less about the words we say, and more about the damage that comes from our sense of entitlement to hurt others. 
Our goal as disciples is to do our very best to remove sin from our lives, no matter how small, and to show others who Jesus is by example.  This is the reason being a member of a supportive Christian community matters. How do you identify a sin at work in your life? What have you done to prevent sin from influencing the way you treat others?
Praying together:
“O Holy God, thank You for your patience with me as I slowly but surely learn to love others as You do. Open my eyes to identify the sins that affect my life and the lives of others, known and unknown. Give me the vision of a world without sin and with the willingness to follow Jesus where ever He may lead me. It is in Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”
FRIDAY, 9/16
Read Romans 8:6.
Mindset matters. Mindsets define what we will say and do based on the attitudes, preferences, and experiences we bring into a situation.  For example, gender, political affiliation, religious views and life experiences as a parent shape our mindset and may impact how we vote on issues like abortion.  We bring our mindset into every conversation we have and everything we do. 
The mindset reveals our basic nature and has far-reaching consequences. Those who are spirit-led are defined by what the spirit desires.  We look forward to closeness to God and are willing to do all we can to maintain it. We seek to have a spiritual life and are at peace with God, with our neighbors, and ourselves.  Spirit-led folks are in constant pursuit of holiness.  Any words spoken or actions taken will be done with the spirit in mind.  However, those who are led by their own desires are shackled with a sort of spiritual death given that pursuing their desires alienates them from God.  It also renders a relationship with God impossible in this world and the next. Pursuing our own desires turns us away from God and toward sin. What makes us human is what is viewed as corrupt and unredeemed.  Without the example of forgiveness–without mercy or grace–there is no chance at receiving eternal life.
Mindset matters. From your experience, can you tell the difference between someone whose mindset is spirit-led and someone whose mindset is led by the flesh?   How can you tell?
Praying together:
“Almighty God, only You know which is which.  You know who is keeping the faith and those who have left their faith behind. Help me to discern as one who yearns for Your presence.  Provide me with the tools needed to encourage that closeness.  I am not perfect in this journey, Lord. But my hands are Yours to use as You see fit. My heart is full and my mindset points straight to You.  I thank You for the opportunity to pursue a life with You in it. In Your name, Amen.”
Read James 1:13-15.
I have had close encounters with a few snakes in my time.  I once had a rattlesnake coiled under my stool in the front yard at the family lake house.  My grandmother looked me straight in the eye, moved me backwards slightly and continued her conversation with me as she chopped off its head with a shovel. I’ve also felt the panic after being chased by a cottonmouth as I swam in Lake Granbury after a hard rain. 
Some snakes are relatively fast moving, poisonous, dangerous, and aggressive.  The same is true with the African black mamba. One of the deadliest of snakes, the black mamba travels 12 miles per hour, can strike multiple times in one encounter, and the neurotoxin in its venom takes between 15 minutes and 3 hours to kill its victim. The thing about black mambas is that most of them are small and hard to see.  By the time you noticed it, you were already bitten.
In this passage, James warns his readers that something very small can be very deadly–our own desires. Our desires lead us to being tempted to do something we should not. And without intervention, our desires can prevent us from receiving God’s grace, God’s mercy and God’s forgiveness. Since the beginning of time, humanity has not taken responsibility for its sins. Looking at the story of creation, Eve blamed the snake and Adam blamed Eve. No responsibility was taken for fall of humanity.  We also tend to blame others or our circumstances for things we have done. God is not responsible for temptation.  It is only by following our own desires that we sin.  The good news is that God is good and can provide a “way to escape that you may be able to endure it.” (1Corinthians 10:13).
If we welcome our desires instead of resist them, our desires lead to our destruction. Our desires can manifest a life of their own as they give birth to sin.  When our desires grow–when we do nothing about them and they just get worse and worse–they give birth to sin, and then sin brings forth death as it separates us from our Creator God. I wonder what it takes to fight our desires. How do we prevent giving into temptation?
Praying together:
“Father God, it is so hard to live up to Your standards, especially since I am surrounded by so many temptations. My desires for comfort, for power, or for the opportunity to succeed can draw me away from the love and authentic relationships in my life.  My sin blinds me from seeing the world You have created for me and all of Your people.  May Your light shine brightly,   melting the darkness of this world away.  May Your light be so bright that I am willing to leave my desires behind to follow You. Show me the way to walk the narrow path of righteousness.  You have my attention, Lord. Amen.”
SUNDAY, 9/18
Read Galatians 5:16.
What does it mean for Christians to be truly free from our sinful desires? A close connection to our God is found at its strongest when we can control our desires, humbly serve others, and diligently obey the laws of God.  Being free means resisting the allure that comes from giving into the desires of the flesh and opening our minds and hearts to fully experience the presence of God actively working in this world. Being free means we intentionally decide to act on desires of the spirit, in spite of the temptations to do otherwise. It is so easy to be overtaken by temptations that seem to fulfill the desires of the flesh short-term. But fulfilling these desires has long-term consequences.
For freedom’s sake, we must keep our earthly self at bay and strive to move the way we have been called to move by the Holy Spirit. Entertaining even the smallest earthly desires can allow the body a chance to be significantly impacted by sins of flesh. Just giving in one time can lead to a growing concept of sin and to the birth of even greater temptations.  
Giving into temptations gives birth to sin.  Sins upon sins later and without intervention, our temptations take on a life of their own.  As the life of sin grows, we are pulled further and further away from that freedom.  Our hearts and minds begin to close off to the desires of the spirit. We open ourselves to a spiritual and eternal death. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can experience rebirth and receive all that God awaits anxiously for each of us to share with Him.
That constant tension between the desires of our body and the desires of the spirit is one we must face frequently.  Even though we are naturally tempted to sin, how can we intentionally and more effectively prepare ourselves to reduce the desire to sin and improve our chances of  rebirth by the spirit?
Praying together:
“God on High, You watch over all of Your people. I know that that same eye You use to watch over the tiniest of sparrows is also used to watch over my life. You are always there, waiting for the chance to be received, to be worshiped, to be praised, and most importantly, to be loved.  During the darkest times, You have given me light. From the highest of mountains, You give me my ability to breathe. Guide me toward You, because it is only in You that I can know true freedom, and that with You by my side, I am forever reborn.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.”