Monday, February 25, 2013

Submission Wins - Servants Rule

"Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth" 

To understand this beatitude let’s start by recognizing that it’s like the others in style (or form).  If you read over these beatitudes, you’ll see that they don’t seem to be true.  Poor, hungry, merciful and persecuted is not the life most would choose.  To put it another way, we want the second half of each beatitude, not the first half.  We choose this life because we believe Jesus when he tells us that a person isn't worse off for these things, but actually better off (blessed).  And we believe Jesus because we want to be a part of the kingdom, we want to be comforted, satisfied, and to receive mercy so badly.  You see, it’s the ending of each beatitude that explains the beginning.  In this case, it’s better to be gentle, because the gentle people will inherit the earth. 

The world: "Believe in yourself"
Gentleness isn't what the world thinks wins the day, and that’s how you can come to understand this and challenge yourself to obey.  We think the world is inherited by the ambitious, the hard-working, driven people.  We think the earth is inherited by the clever, the smart, the ruthless, and the strong.  If you don’t think that now, you haven’t been out much.  Look at this section from Jeremiah:
But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; and I didn't know that they had devised plots against me, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.”      Jeremiah 11:19
You should take a moment and read Jeremiah 11.9-23.  There is a plot against Jeremiah (a preacher), and God told Jeremiah they were plotting against him.  

What do you do when someone is plotting against you at work, church, within your family or circle of friends?  Seriously … take a moment and think about what you tend to do when you hear others are plotting against you.  

As for me, I tend to make my own strategy and plan to ‘fix’ things, or sometimes get revenge (to my shame).  But not Jeremiah – he allowed himself to be harmed.  He became “gentle as a lamb led to slaughter.”  Of course this reminds us of Jesus, too.  Jesus was the Lamb of God, led to slaughter, and “like a sheep before his shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53.7 & Acts 8.32). 

Can you believe Jesus would let himself get walked on like that?  It just doesn't make sense.  If you let yourself be harmed at work, or church, or in a marriage or any relationship … and you just take it with gentleness, how in the world do you expect to inherit something?  You can’t rise to the top of corporate America by being gentle.  You can’t be president, or rich, or powerful … you can’t “inherit the earth.”  For that matter, how do gentle and humble people even get a job?  How do you get past the interview, try-out or audition if you’re humble and gentle and put others first?  Shoot, you can’t even keep your job as a preacher (believe me) in a church or ministry … because the politics are such that you will be removed by people willing to lie, cheat, gossip, abuse, and do whatever it takes to remove you if you block their agenda (or what they arrogantly believe is God’s agenda).  Furthermore we’re doubly cursed, because unlike Jesus, we make mistakes.  One mistake in our ambitious, greedy, vengeful world and you’re dead.  You simply cannot afford to be gentle.  As soon as people perceive you to be weak, they’ll destroy you just as happened to Jesus and Jeremiah.  No, if you want to inherit the world, you’re better off heeding Machiavelli, Ben Franklin or James Carville than Jesus.

No, common sense tells us that 'gentleness' and 'submission' gains nothing, wins nothing, achieves nothing.  Still, if you're one of those gullible fools who want to follow Jesus instead of your own common sense, read on.... 

Jesus and Jeremiah are not unique.  A great way to learn about gentleness is to learn through stories.  Two great examples of this are from the lives of Moses and David.  Get with a friend and study them.  
  1. First, the rebellion against Moses in Numbers 16-17.  But pay special attention to Moses’ “gentle” response in Numbers 16:1-5.  
  2. Second story is one of many episodes like this from the life of David, who never sought power or held on to it, except as granted by God: 1 Samuel 24.1-13.  

This is the gentleness Jesus praises:  

It’s not weakness or fear … it’s deliberate.  It’s the strongest man in human history allowing himself to be crucified!  It’s a great leader like Moses falling down on his face or the already anointed warrior-king feeling guilty about damaging the clothes of the cursed king.  This gentleness is the ultimate act of faith, relying solely on God.  It’s obedience - only to God, and God alone – no matter the consequences; as Jesus submitted to death.  In fact, it’s the ultimate act of faith and obedience, that we all accept when we agree to “take up your cross daily and follow” Jesus. 
We BELIEVE He did ... so now we trust Him, not ourselves

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.” “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must: [1] deny himself, and [2] take up his cross daily and [3] follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?”  Luke 9:22-25

Read this again, and you’ll see that Jesus knows we are seeking to “gain the world,” or at least a part of it, but we’re exchanging our souls – our eternal life – for these temporary things.  That’s why we must be willing to die daily … it is our willingness to die that makes us strong and eternal, and it makes us different than people in the world.  Of course for most so-called Christians, this just isn't so, is it? 

We can only be gentle when we’re strong – so strong we don’t have to surrender, we choose to! Like Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego, we refuse to bow to our own egos, desires, fears and other gods of this world, even if it costs us our lives … because we know our Lord will deliver us now or later. 

Once again: this is not about being weak or mild!  This isn't like a mother cuddling her child or being nice to an old person.  This is about allowing others to take advantage of you!  The gentleness of feeding the hungry or consoling the weak or sick … that is coming in the “hunger and thirst for righteousness” beatitude.  This one is about being submissive.  

This submission, even to evil, and even when you suspect it may cost everything – is the submission of strength by choice.  It’s the sacrifice of strength for the weak, the faithful for the pitiful, it’s surrendering to the bully – not out of fear, but because you love the weak, pitiful bullies of this world who are themselves enslaved by their fears.  It’s about submitting to Pharaoh until God leads you to freedom, and not raising up your own revolt.  

One chapter in the bible explains this principle (I think) better than any other.  And it’s cool, because it’s written to a church about church politics, and how to be “gentle” within that context.  If you take time to read this, study it, and truly understand it … to talk about it with your brothers and sisters, you can understand it.  Once you understand it, you should feel very, very challenged.  Obeying this chapter is one of the most difficult things God asks you to do.  But as we learned before we began the beatitudes, it’s all about faith.  If you trust yourself and your own instincts, you will never be able to obey Jesus’ command to be gentle.  It can only be done by faith in God. 

"If there’s any encouragement in Christ,
If there’s any consolation of love,
If there’s any fellowship of the Spirit,
If any affection and compassion…
make my joy complete by:
  • Being of the same mind,
  • Maintaining the same love,
  • United in spirit,
  • Intent on one purpose

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but:
With humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;
Don’t look out for your own personal interests, but for the interests of others.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who, although he existed in the form of God, didn't regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.    Philippians 2:1-16

Are you gentle?  Will you be of the same mind, maintain the same love, be united in spirit and purpose with your brothers and sisters, or will you keep yourself and your interests ahead of others?  That question will be answered not by your words, but by your actions – your third column.  If you think things depend on you, then you cannot afford to be gentle.  Fear, self-will, and vengeance will push you to stand up for your rights, to fight back, to never allow yourself to be wronged. 

But – if it’s really true that “God is at work in you,” as Paul saw … then you won’t trust yourself, depend on yourself or fear for yourself, because you are entrusting yourself to God’s care rather than your own self-care. 

Taste and see that the Lord is good

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Blessed Mourners, part 1

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted

When I was a child we had to memorize a bible verse for Sunday school, and (since we got to select our own verse) several of the kids cleverly discovered the shortest one in the bible:
“Jesus wept” (John 11.35)

Later in life this began to bother me because I realized that although several times Jesus is said to have shed tears … he never laughed. 

It’s true that Jesus said a few things that could be considered funny, sort of, but they’re not really jokes.  Especially if you realize that his so-called jokes were at someone’s expense.  Instead of joking, Jesus rebuked (often harshly), he judged, criticized, and even called people names.  I would argue that Jesus cursed more than he amused. 

And then there’s this crazy “blessing” for people who mourn.  If all this is true, then what sorts of people have we agreed to become?  Do all disciples of Jesus have to be dour, sad and mean?  It doesn't sound right, does it? 

Our first challenge is personal.  It’s something we must each ask ourselves, and lift up to God in prayer:

Am I willing to go wherever God leads? 

Some people are naturally grumpy and irritable, some are prone to anger, some to laughter and silliness.  Of course comedians, singers, dancers, actors, models, politicians, salesmen, popular preachers and all other kinds of clowns are paid to be attractive.  They must be attractive to make a living!  Drawing a crowd is their job.  Our great temptation is to "be ourselves," instead of being like Jesus.  And since most people want to be popular, they want to be someone others will find attractive.  Attractive physically and socially – these are the highest goals of our culture.  If you are attractive (the world convinces us) then you’ll never be alone. 

Now spend some time in prayer with this idea, and seek God’s truth – and you’ll recognize that the world is telling us exactly what we want to hear.  That’s perfect for the selfish people that we are (or used to be, before we were born again).  But now we seek God’s message: live for others.  What are the two most important commands? 

  1. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself
If you follow both these commands, you’ll find there’s little room left for being attractive.  Rather, your focus is on revealing the attraction of God.  There’s no room for gratifying your own desires, because your neighbor's needs are greater than your selfish wants.  Get your mind off your own pitiful dramas and take a look around.  Soon, when you’re fully engaged in God’s service instead of serving your own selfishness … you’ll discover how blessed you are, but how much pain there is in the world. 

After the Vietnam War, Americans were concerned with high inflation and never wanted war again, and worried about population explosion and women’s equal rights, etc.  Meanwhile in Cambodia millions of people were murdered in the killing fields.  In the 1930s when we wanted jobs, millions of Jews, Poles, Romani and others were murdered by Nazis.  To this very day there’s suffering and pain in staggering proportions all over the world … while we bicker over taxing the rich or the color of someone’s skin, sexuality or what some celebrity did or what clothes she wears.  Gossip over trivia is our national pastime, and it helps no one; heals no one; offers no real hope at all.

If this is true in the world, how much more so should this be true of Jesus’ disciples?  What’s funny about the people in your neighborhood possibly spending eternity in Hell?  Which is more important, to give your vote to a politician, or to tell him about God?  What’s so funny about hell? 

Jesus was deliberate, urgent, sad and even angry … not because it was his personality, but because he saw how desperate our world is when it’s in the grips of Satan’s influence, even among God’s people!  In short, Jesus didn’t find much to laugh about because he loved so much – because he felt such compassion, so deeply!  Jesus knew what we ignore: the world is a dark, desperate, painful place, and we are sheep without shepherds.  That’s why he cried, he worked, he sacrificed himself, and why he taught us to do likewise.  “Be ready, live with urgency, make the most of your time, take up your cross daily and follow me,” these are the lessons of Jesus - because he despised all our needless suffering, all the result of darkness, delusion and sin. 

And he also knew there is hope.  When one has real hope, one doesn't need to escape reality through laughter or amusement or chemicals … one can embrace the possibilities of true rescue and real love.  This love comes only from God.  Only Yahweh, through the blood of His Son, can offer us hope.  And what’s funny about that?  What’s amusing or attractive about that? 
“Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.  And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”          John 12:31-32
This dark world is under the painful grip of Satan.  People are enslaved to their desires and to other people.  Some are dying of hunger, thirst, disease, poverty, oppression or just plain ignorance.  And as if that weren't enough, many are marching through this misery straight to hell.  In light of this, the only thing in the world we should find attractive is the ugly cross upon which we murdered Jesus for our own salvation. 

Jesus didn't find much funny because he saw the world for what is is.  Just as not many of us were telling jokes on 9/12/2001, so there won’t be a lot of humor on the Day of the Lord. 

If you don't see the world this way - then either you're not paying attention or you just don't care.  Ignorance or apathy - what's your poison?  

The first step in understanding this beatitude is to recognize what’s real – and wherein lays our only hope:  

  • If you ... wish there were more hours in the day so you can rescue people from this dark world, you won't be telling a lot of jokes, you'll rather  work your butt off to snatch as many as you can from the kingdoms of the world – you’d have a sense of urgency, like working in God’s “E.R.”
  • If you ... focused on others instead of your own pitiful self – you’d not only see how good you have it, but (if you have any sense of compassion at all) your heart will ache for others. 
  • If you ... learned from the “Poor in Spirit” beatitude, then you know how poor you are compared to God and even many other people – and you’d be humbled, broken and contrite in spirit.
"Fields are ready for harvest:
Pray the Lord to send forth reapers"

So … what kind of people should we be? 

  • Nice and fun and giggly and funny? 
  • Attractive? 
  • Ugly, mean and awful? 


Who cares?  We have work to do!  Stop worrying about what kind of personality you’re “supposed to have,” and get to the Lord’s work.  Be about your Father’s business!  After all, we claim that He is Lord.  Maybe we should endeavor to live like it. 

Remember the man in Jesus’ parable who wanted to “eat, drink and be merry”?  God called him a fool (Luke 12.19-34).  Read it, and then tell me a joke in the hearing of our Father who sent His son to be murdered for your soul and the souls of your family and friends.  I’m sure it’ll be hilarious. 

Monday, February 18, 2013


Before we get further into the beatitudes section of Jesus’ sermon, let’s take a look at the word “blessed.”  Hopefully you’ll understand it better – and want it more – after you read this.  If you have comments or questions, please post them!

Most teachers say that the word “blessed” means ‘happy.’  This is not quite accurate.  It might be easier to use words like ‘lucky’ or ‘fortunate,’ but they’re not good either because they imply random chance.  Still, the feeling we seek (the state of being blessed) is like the feeling of being fortunate.  We might, for instance, say a person is blessed if he has a job.  Even if the job stinks, at least the person is working, paying taxes and being helpful to his family and culture at large. 

One of the best descriptions I found is: “People who are blessed may outwardly be much to be pitied, but from the higher and therefore truer standpoint they are to be envied, congratulated, and imitated.”  (From Weymouth’s New Testament)  Pay attention to this definition, because it’ll help you understand all the beatitudes.  These people (Poor in Spirit, mourn, persecuted, peacemakers, etc.) are to be envied, congratulated and imitated.  If you remember this, you’ll do a better job in your middle column where you paraphrase the blessing. 

We call this section of the SOM “Beatitudes,” because the Latin word for blessing is beatus.  This is important, because this section is all about being blessed.  The question is … do you want to be blessed?  Do you trust Jesus that these things really are blessings?  Do you? 

Most people don’t want these things for themselves.  They don’t want to be “poor” in anything – certainly not in spirit.  We avoid mourning, hunger and thirst, and we absolutely loathe the thought of being persecuted and lied about.  But Jesus is telling us here that those who suffer this way are blessed!  Most of us (certainly us Americans) believe in “the pursuit of happiness,” not suffering, struggle or challenges.  We want people to like us – to be popular and “cool.”  But Jesus (our model) was despised:
He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face he was despised, and we did not esteem him. Isaiah 53:3

What Do You Truly Believe?

It comes down to faith – to what you truly believe, deep down.  Way down deep: where belief becomes faith and faith becomes trust … you have to ask yourself whether or not you will trust Jesus and take him at his word - even if it’s the opposite of what your natural self wants.  If you really believe Jesus, then you’ll pursue these distasteful blessings.  

Whatever you really believe about this will be reflected in your life and actions, not by what you say.  If you say you are a Christian but don't DO what Jesus said to do, then your faith is showing, and others can see that you're living a lie, a scam.  You are a poser.  (Matthew 7.21-23)   

I advise you to pause for a moment and pray now.  Ask God to give you insight into this. 


I’ll finish this article on blessing by showing you two passages from the New Testament that show us what Jesus means when talking about being blessed.  The first is Paul’s description of his work to the elders in a church where he was the preacher.  He shows by his life that he could do without physical blessings like nice clothes and wealth and instead was a hard worker, always there to “help the weak.”  This kind of work, focus and sacrifice is Paul’s third column response to Jesus saying that it’s more blessed to give.  Paul was giving because he believed Jesus, and wanted them (and us) to do likewise.  If you believe as Paul did, you’ll come to understand this, too. The question is ... do you really believe it's better to love ... than to be loved? 
“I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes.  You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my needs and to the men who were with me.  In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he himself said, ‘It’s more blessed to give than to receive.’  Acts 20:33-35

The second is about not quitting – keep going, even when you desperately want to quit, because this person who sucks it up and works hard for God is blessed. 
Blessed is a man who perseveres [hupomeno] under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him.”  James 1:12
If you study these two, perhaps even take a friend along and three-column these two passages, you’ll soon have a much deeper understanding of the word “bless” – and – you’ll be growing into a much stronger servant of God.

Now before you proceed, make sure you spend some time in prayer with our Father and count the cost.  The blessings of God are the best things in the world, and to be pursued - no matter the cost, because they're worth it.  But if you're not willing to pay the price, you will soon be disappointed.  Dig deep. Taste and see that the Lord is good.  


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Beware the Sermon on the Mount

Some of us are trying the 3 Column approach to studying the bible, and we’re slowly working through the Sermon on the Mount.  Soon my articles here will be in-sync with the study I’m a part of, so people can understand what they’re reading and studying.  I hope all who find these articles will join a group or form a group and follow along.  I’ll put more on the website soon about how to start and run a three column group of your own. I hope to help you understand what Jesus was trying to say – and why he was saying it.  

But be forewarned: there’s no blessing in understanding it – the blessing comes from actually living it – doing it – obeying Jesus, not merely hearing his words! 

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he’s like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; then once he’s looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled worship in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  James 1:22-27
If your goal is merely to understand, you’ll find yourself in the same situation as “the Rich Young Ruler” (Matthew 19.16-29).  I hope you’ll open your bible and study this story carefully, because his story is really our story, too.  The following is a review of parts of the story, and how it fits together:

This successful young man was not only rich and powerful and still young – he was also obedient to all of God’s laws!  He was a success in every way.  Now in search of eternal life, he came to Jesus, who challenged him to give up the thing he valued most.  The result was that the man “went away sad.”  The rest of the story reveals that Jesus’ disciples understood this story was about more than just money – it’s about each of us giving up the things we value most.  When God asks us to sell all we have to buy the pearl of great price (Matthew 13.45-46), His message is as old as the Torah itself:
“You shall have no other gods before Me
The successful guy couldn't imagine life without money.  He relied on it, it kept his household fed, clothed and well-cared for.  The question is: what do you think is impossible?  Can you leave friends, family, popularity?  Can you lose your health or good looks and still be content?  Can you be content with any sacrifice God asks of you? 

Jesus made a promise – a promise that we can leave everything behind, even our family, our spouse, our homes … we can leave everything and still live a richer life on earth, and eternal glory in the afterlife.  Of course this is a faith challenge.  It means that we will stop relying on things that we've always relied on … and replace everything that’s ever been important to us … with God. 

If you follow the story closely, you’ll see what Jesus said: “With man it’s impossible.”  There are some things that we just don’t think we can do, and according to Jesus, we are right.  But “with God all things are possible.” 

So: get ready to do the impossible ... or go away sad
Those are the only two choices. 

The Rich Young Ruler went away sad.  He had understanding, he just didn't take action.  Remember what Jesus said at the end of the S.O.M.?  He said that both the wise man and the fool had listened to Jesus – but only one took action (Matthew 7.24-27).  Those of us who are doing the 3-column thing … recognize here that the third column is the most important.  Hearing and understanding Jesus will enable you to impress others, and make you feel better about yourself, but they will not set your house on solid rock, and you will be destroyed in the next storm – or if you prefer the parable of the four soils, your plant will dry up and die in the next drought (Mark 4.16-17).

Before I write more … before you read more … you should take a few moments and visit with God and ask Him to help you to believe.  Ask Him to show you how to increase your faith.  He helped me to do this, and I know He will help you, too. 

This isn't the kind of faith where you merely say you believe in God, it’s going to be necessary for you to “let go” of your security blankets – all of them – and be reliant on nothing and no one – but God.  This is like jumping out of an airplane with a parachute – your whole life is being gambled on some rope and nylon – and nothing else.  It’s not hard because it requires your effort, it’s hard because it requires you to surrender, to jump, to overcome your fear with faith.

Yahweh and His son Jesus have promised us that we don’t need any support but God, and in fact if we will “jump” with no backup, and no other support but God – success is guaranteed!  Sadly, many refuse to leave their “airplanes” of money, friendship, power, wealth, health, family relationships, house or style.  Why don’t we leave?  Because we’re afraid!  The plane ride may be scary itself ... we’re sure it’ll fail us eventually … but it takes a lot of faith to jump out and trust the Yahweh parachute!  
It's only scary before you jump

Here’s the thing you must recognize: everyone is scared before they jump, but everyone is all smiles once they've left the plane! 

What a church - everyone completely committed to God!
And jumping with others ... what a church!  

God is our only hope.  Every other thing will fail you.  Every person will fail you.  You will fail yourself.  God, and God alone comes with the guarantee of success.  Do you believe?  If so, then I’ll explain the science of “parachuting” in these next articles … but you’ll have to make the jump.  Do your third column, and trust God to deliver on His promise. 
“If anyone comes to me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”  Luke 14:26-27
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?  Luke 9:23-25
If you're ready to take this leap of faith, and trust God only ... read on.  The sermon on the mount begins with some surprising blessings.  We have seen the blessing of being Poor In Spirit, and future articles will continue from there.  "People who mourn are blessed" is going to be an exciting challenge - but if you are willing to taste and see that the Lord is good - you'll find out that this is the greatest life possible.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Poor in Spirit – Torah and Sh’ma

Have you ever seen a Mezuzah?  It’s a little box many Jews put near their front door.  Inside this box is a piece of scripture from the Torah, they call the “Sh’ma.”  This is the single most important command for Jews and Christians, and found in our bibles here:

“Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one! You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." Deuteronomy 6:4-5

When people put this scripture on their doorposts, they're obeying the Law of Moses (Torah), for God continued on to tell the people:
“These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.
You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall …
talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.
You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.
You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Then it shall come about when Yahweh (your God) brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you didn’t build, and houses full of all good things which you didn’t fill, and hewn cisterns which you didn’t dig, vineyards and olive trees which you didn’t plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you don’t forget Yahweh who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
You shall fear only Yahweh (your God); and you shall worship Him and swear by His name. 

Deuteronomy 6:6-13

This teaching, if followed diligently can help produce poverty of spirit. 

What God knew when He commanded this was that when people get involved in daily living, we get deeply involved in our own little dramas, and we forget that ultimately we can’t do anything by ourselves or by our own strength. 

This command was to a specific group of people: descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as they took the land God had promised them.  But in a broader sense, the same thing is true of us today, isn't it?  After all, did you build your dwelling?  Did you even pay for it?  Did you grow your food or carry your water?  No … ultimately whatever else has happened in our lives, we are all completely dependent on God.  We just forget. 

Not only do we forget to recognize our complete dependency on Yahweh, but we often further compound our problems by trusting in other gods.  People think if they don’t have a job, they can’t have money, and then they won’t be able to eat or enjoy the things they want.  We think if we lose a friend or family member we won’t be able to go on.  And our dependencies are widely varied, aren't they?  Arguably the most popular idol in our culture is the idol of “self.”  Self-esteem, self-confidence, self-reliance, self-worth, even self-discipline … we put way too much power in the hands of “self” instead of the hands of God.  What are your idols?  Do you have the faith to identify them and deliberately destroy them? 

Pay attention to this command.  God knew what He was doing when He commanded this to be constant: when you sit, walk, lie down or rise up … on your forehead and doorpost … this is the constant theme of one’s life, if you would be completely and continuously reconciled to God.  Be surrounded by reminders of Him, His greatness and His love. Count your blessings, and give God the glory.  Talk to Him constantly with gratitude (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18).  

Those of us disciples who are not Jewish, we don’t “have to” obey this command, but it’s still a very wise thing.  If you’re truly willing to be Poor in Spirit … make the Sh’ma a regular, frequent, even constant prayer.  Never – even for a moment - allow yourself to forget the Source of your every blessing.  If you are constantly in touch with this reality, you’ll: serve Him, fear Him, love Him and worship Him increasingly and your faith and love will grow.  

Every time you forget Him as you go about your daily life, you get a bit weaker, and each time you recognize Him, you get a bit stronger - because you're learning to rely on God instead of yourself or people or things around you.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Forgiveness – the rules

For my last in the series on forgiveness, the rules.  Some people don’t want stories, they just want rules.  What is the step-by step, facts that we have to obey?  This is for you.

Most of us actually need rules when we first start out – rules protect us.  We teach a child not to touch a stove, but a teenager we teach to use the stove.  In spiritual matters, it’s much the same.  So for those of you who are still able to admit that you have a lot of learning to do, here are the rules of forgiveness.  Learn these so well that you’re able to obey them automatically. These 'rules' are really nothing more than the golden rule applied to sin, repentance and mercy.  When you sin, what do you want from your brothers and sisters, condemnation or help?  Unless you are righteous yourself and don't need forgiveness ... read on... 

The rules of forgiveness are about knowing the: “who, when, where, what and how” of forgiveness.  For example, Peter asked, “How many times” must we forgive a repentant brother?  Below are the answers to these with scriptures, but there’s also a flow-chart to make it simple.  If you learn this flowchart (also downloadable here) and obey it … you’ll be in the right. 


This is about inter-family forgiveness.  If a person is not a committed disciple, just let it go and focus on making that person a disciple.  We are NOT called to judge outsiders!  If a non-Christian is stealing or worshiping idols or is sexually promiscuous or gay – that’s none of our business.  Our job with them is to tell them about God and make them a disciple, period.  (1 Corinthians 5.9-13)

Also, we all know people who consider themselves Christian, but whose lifestyle reveals clearly that there are things they won’t do in service to God.  They have not sold all they have to buy the pearl of great price (Matthew 13.45-46).  Be very careful with these people, for many of them confuse accountability with condemnation.  These people will be very angry with you if you rebuke them.  

Also, they will never forgive certain sins, or they’ll say they forgive with their mouth, but their hearts are not in it.  It’s best to help them work to become committed disciples, if they will … and if not, then leave them alone.  They are tares among the wheat (Matthew 13.24-30). 

Now that we've narrowed this down to only those of your brothers and sisters who are committed disciples, let’s see the what, where, when and how.  The relevant scriptures (printed below) are:

  • Luke 17.3-4
  • Matthew 18.15-20
  • Acts 18.24-26

Luke 17.3-4 (what to do – rebuke/repent/forgive)

Jesus commands us: if a brother sins, we must rebuke him.  This isn't the same as judging or condemning, it’s actually helping the 'sinner.'  If he is truly a disciple of Jesus, then he wants to be rebuked, because it helps him avoid further mistakes and future judgment. And then if he repents ... forgive your brother and continue fellowship:
“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  And…
…if he sins against you 7 times a day, and returns to you 7 times, saying, ‘I repent;’ forgive him.” 

Matthew 18.15-20 (how, when, where to rebuke & forgive)

This seems to be an expanded version of the same teaching as in Luke, but in this case Jesus adds what one should do if the brother refuses to repent after the first, private rebuke.  Then one takes along another brother, and then finally it’s taken to the church.  

[1]If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private...if he listens to you, you have won your brother.
[2] But if he does not listen to you … take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.
If he refuses to listen to them … tell it to the church; and
 If he refuses to listen even to the church … let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.  
Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst.” 

This is spelled out in the flowchart, but remember that it always begins with a private rebuke, because the goal is to "win" your brother!  You must not let a brother or sister continue in sin, rather rebuke him or her in private.  Don’t discuss it with others at church, or spread rumors or gossip, this is a private matter … unless the person refuses to repent.  If the disciple refuses to repent, then you go back with a friend or two, and then if the sinning disciple still won’t repent, then take it to your group (church) and do an “intervention” in view of the whole church.  If that still doesn't work, then cease fellowship with that person. 

Remember that it’s not OK to let a sin “slide,” but neither is it OK to be unforgiving if the person repents.  Both are hard!  Sometimes we only want to rebuke someone we don’t like, and find it hard to rebuke someone who we care about.  And then again, we can say we forgive, but if we deny fellowship – it is not forgiving!  And if we are not forgiving, we cannot expect God to forgive us (Matthew 18.21- 35). 

Acts 18.24-26

This passage is included because it serves as an example of how to handle the matter correctly, and how it can be responded to with a good heart. 
Now a Jew named Apollos … came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures.  This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they:
  • took him aside and
  • explained to him the way of God more accurately  

Random Observations

Note that these ‘rules’ are all to be applied equally within your group.  There is no exception for pastors or committees or others.  It works the same within households, among friends, relatives and coworkers.  If the one sinning is your preacher, your wife, your child or your slave ... it's all equal.  When it comes to sin, repentance and grace – we are all alike in God’s family. 

This is about SIN.  There is no controversy or question here … in 1 Corinthians 5, for instance, the issue is adultery.  No one challenges whether or not it’s sin.  In other words: if the matter that bothers you is considered controversial – you must be very careful in the application of these ‘rules’!  If you believe drinking is a sin, for instance, you also must know others do not.  In matters of judgment (modest dress, language choices, role of women in church, etc.) be very humble!

So what about in controversial matters?

If you see your brother doing something you think is wrong … first, humble yourself before God and ask Him for guidance.  Then take aside the brother in private … and start by asking a question about the activity.  Tell him you’re confused, maybe, or maybe you misunderstood … and then just ask.  Then you can have an open discussion.  There may be something you missed, or he may be unaware that what he did bothers you. 

Bottom line 

ALWAYS take aside the person privately and gently ask them about it.  This encourages fellowship and accountability.  It’s also hard, so it’ll reduce the number of things that really upset you.  And, it inhibits gossip and ill will. 

He who conceals a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.
Proverbs 17:9

If you truly love God above all, and love your neighbor as yourself … these are the rules you’d follow.  Every time