Monday, April 29, 2013

Don’t even THINK about it!

 heard that it was said:
      ‘You shall not commit adultery’
But I say to you that: 
...everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
...If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it’s better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell....If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it’s better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.

This week we come to the second of six lessons from Jesus that include his reflections on the Jewish law (Torah).  As in the past, let’s remember that he was speaking to Jews, just as Matthew was written for Jews, and this is their way of representing Jesus as a Rabbi. 

Also let’s remember that these teachings are not Jesus’ way of saying that we Christians must obey stricter rules than the rules given by Moses … rather, they are teachings that reflect God’s true desire for His children.  This particular lesson is often misused, so let’s try to clarify it.

I've been taught most of my life that Jesus is saying that lust is just as bad as actually having sex outside marriage.  As I've thought about it over the years, it is obvious this is wrong.  When David saw Bathsheba naked – he had not yet sinned.  The effects of his adultery and murder were much worse than the mere act of thinking she was sexy or attractive.  David hadn't yet sinned … but he had entered into temptation – and this is what this lesson is about. Before he had committed the actual sin, he had imagined it in his heart - and so tempted himself. 

This lesson from Jesus is like our others in this section – he is teaching us how to avoid sin altogether!  He talks about things that cause us to “stumble,” or get trapped, that trip us up … that make us vulnerable to failure.  When we’re on a diet and we’re super hungry and someone offers us our favorite food … then that person is being a stumbling block to us.  When one is trying to quit smoking and his “friends” offer him a cigarette – they’re being stumbling blocks.  And in this case when a man is sexually attracted to a woman, she can either help him or be a stumbling block. 

BUT: Jesus doesn't blame the object of desire!  He makes it a matter of our own choice.  That’s why (in this particular case) Jesus doesn't command us to tell women to dress a certain way or stop being attractive, but the responsibility is entirely on the man who is tempted.  Likewise, it’s not McDonald’s fault if I’m fat because they make great shakes.  It’s not Playboy’s fault for publishing pictures of beautiful naked women – it’s my responsibility to avoid it in the first place.   

Jesus suggests it’s better to remove body parts rather than risk the temptation.  This is hyperbole, of course, but it doesn't alter the truth.  It is, in fact, better to be blind in this life and go to heaven in the next. 

In summary, this teaching isn't really at all about mere sexual lust – in fact it’s about anything that tempts us to sin.  Gluttons should keep tempting foods out of their kitchens.  Alcoholics should stay away from bars and all of us must avoid situations that may tempt us.  Why?  Because Jesus knows we have weaknesses and vulnerabilities. 
But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.  James 1:14-15
Here James teaches this lesson plainly: We are tempted, then “enticed” by our desires … but then that enticement leads to our downfall, and if we sin and refuse to repent, we receive death. 

Jesus might have said, “The person whose phone is available to receive texts while driving is already crashing his car.”  Obviously this is an exaggeration, but we all understand it.  We know we shouldn't text while driving.  But we also know that if the phone rings with a new text, we can hardly resist the temptation to look at it.  So why not turn it off, or put it out of reach until we’re parked? 

Whatever your weaknesses are … don’t give them an opportunity.  Not because having the opportunity is sin by itself, but because taking such a risk is foolish.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The First Family

Now let’s consider this week’s lesson (Matthew 5.21-26) in story form.  Remember the first baby ever born on earth?  His name was “gotten one,” or Cain.  He had a little brother named Abel, and together these boys and their parents (Adam & Eve) were the first family to be on earth. 

As they grew, Cain became the first farmer and his little brother was the very first shepherd.  After a while they decided to offer sacrifices to God.  Cain offered up his best stuff (fruits and veggies), and Abel gave his best: barbecued rack of lamb.  Since God is not one of those weird vegetarians, He naturally loved smelling the barbecued meat much more than the smell of Cain’s crispy cabbage and burnt broccoli.  Poor Cain … was apparently a vegetarian, and being low on protein he was always a bit wimpy and weak and so he had a breakdown.  He just couldn't believe God would like his brother’s barbecue more than his smoked cabbage, and he became upset. 

Well, you know how the story ends … Cain was the first person to commit murder.  Obviously Moses hadn't come yet and there was no Torah, Bible or 10 Commandments, but he surely broke them.  Now I’m not saying that all vegetarianism leads to depression and murder, but…. 

What’s cool is that God spoke to Cain before he murdered:
“If you do well, won’t you be lifted up? And if you don’t do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”  Genesis 4:7
Do you see what God did there?  He doesn't tell Cain: “Thou shalt not murder,” but instead God warns Cain.  He tells him how to overcome his “issues.”  If Cain will just “do well,” then he will start feeling better!  But if not, then “sin is crouching at your door,” like a lion about to pounce on poor Cain and rip him to pieces. 

This is Jesus’ teaching from Matthew 5.21-26 in story form.  Don’t hate people, don’t call them names, don’t be mean or ugly or harsh.  But really it’s more than just rules, Jesus was telling them to “do well,” and to focus on asking for forgiveness for the things they had done, rather than focusing on the bad things done to them. 

Go out of your way to mend fences, build relationships, apologize to people and do the right thing.  When you are tempted to be upset with someone, find something good to do – especially go out of your way to apologize to others you've wronged.  If you allow your anger, hurt or frustration to overtake you, you may not murder like Cain did, but you will certainly be doing wrong and open to other temptations.  Your mood will not improve, and you will be tempted, so long as you refuse to accept your own failures and make amends. 

The first two people ever to be born on earth became permanent examples.  Throughout scriptures Cain is the “type” or model of evil, and Abel is the model of innocence – one who was killed for doing the right thing.  We can’t all be great in God’s kingdom, but we all can avoid the sin of Cain – if we will follow the advice of God to Cain and Jesus to his disciples.  What if Cain had gone to Abel and confessed his anger and asked Abel to help him be better next time?  All of human history would be different.  What about you?  Will you make amends, will you seek revenge, or will you simply try to forgive in silence and not have anything to do with your brother?

We have all sinned.  Don’t let it destroy you, or tempt you to hurt others.  Instead, go out of your way to recognize your failures and make amends.  Only then can you begin to understand grace.  Only when you are generous with the undeserving will you truly be like Jesus.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Gay Ben Hinnom

 You've heard that the ancients were told:
You shall not commit murder
‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’
But I say to you that:
Everyone who is angry with his brother…
…shall be guilty before the court;
Whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’
…shall be guilty before the Supreme Court;
Whoever says, ‘You fool,’
…shall be guilty of the fires of hell (Gehenna).

Therefore if you’re presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you won’t come out of there until you've paid up the last cent.

Matthew 5.21-26 

In Jerusalem there’s a little valley that in Israel’s dark old days was used as a place to sacrifice babies.  Yes, even God’s chosen people at one point were so low-down that they had followed other religions, one of which required them to sacrifice their own children in the fires of Molech (2 Kings 23.10; Jeremiah 32:35).  Later, when Hezekiah was king, he put a stop to this disgusting practice and converted the valley into the city garbage dump.  There was a constant fire in this garbage dump, and it was the city dump for hundreds of years, and was still so used when Jesus was in Jerusalem.  The Hebrew word for valley is pronounced “gay,” and this valley was named “Valley of the sons of Hinnom,” or Gay Ben Hinnom … or just plain Gehenna.  In our section for this week, most bibles will use the word “hell” in Matthew 5.22.  What Jesus says is that anyone who calls another person a fool is to be thrown into the fires of Gehenna.  This sickening place was well known among Jesus’ contemporaries, and it became their word for hell – a place so sickening that no one would ever want to be there – ever – and certainly not for all eternity. 

Does the punishment fit the crime?  Have you called anyone stupid, or fool or moron?  If so, is Jesus actually saying that we’ll spend eternity in this stinking, rotting, fiery pit? 

And just to make things even stranger, Jesus himself calls people ‘fools,’ using the exact same term later on in Matthew (23:17)!  In fact, the man that builds his house on the sand later in the SOM, Jesus calls him a fool, too (Matthew 7:26).

So what’s up?
This section of the SOM is the first of six chunks in which Jesus reminds his disciples of a law (in this case from the ten commandments), but then he teaches them that God wasn't really so much interested in the letter of the law as He was interested in the heart.  In this case God gave Israel a “rule,” a “command,” or “law,” but what God really wanted was for people to love and take care of each other. 

Sadly, most teachers and religious groups these days take Jesus’ teaching and treat it as if Jesus was merely giving a stricter rule.  They teach that it used to be a sin to murder, but now it’s a sin to call someone names.  People who teach this miss the point!  The point Jesus is making is not to merely make the Old Testament even more rigid, but to reveal to us God’s true intent! 

The truth Jesus teaches here is a simple one: Go forth and make amends instead of harboring anger, resentment, judgment, or bitterness.  It’s easier to offer grace when you have experienced the difficult task of asking for forgiveness yourself. 
 “Strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.  Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” - Hebrews 12:12-14
Do you feel the temptation of anger, bitterness or resentment?  Is there someone who upsets you, and to whom you refuse to offer fellowship and grace?  You cannot live with it – eventually Satan will use this to get you.  Maybe you won’t murder, but neither will you help, love and strengthen.  And so you should not be surprised to find yourself in hell.  

This is important: 
You are either actively going one way or the other, there is no passivity here, no neutral.  You can’t merely “live and let live,” and be like Jesus.  Eventually it’ll get to you and wear you down.  You MUST pursue, chase, and actively seek reconciliation!
Fires of Gehenna - final destination for those who refuse to "make friends quickly"

"Pursue peace with all""make friends quickly" … 
...or sin is crouching at your door, and ...
... Gay Ben Hinnom is your destiny 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Our Passage in Story Form

Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I didn't come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you won’t enter the kingdom of heaven. 
Matthew 5.17-20

In in the last blog posting, I tried to explain our next section by teaching you the words and the basic ideas, but if you’re like me, you learn better with a story.  There is such a story later on in Matthew.  We call it the story of “the rich young ruler,” and here’s that story:

And someone came to him and said,
“Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”
And he said to him,
“…If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
Then he said to him,
“Which ones?”
And Jesus said,
You shall not commit murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and mother; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The young man said to him,
“All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?”
Jesus said to him,
“If you wish to be teleios, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you’ll have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 
Matthew 19:16-21

A successful and good young man asks Jesus what to do to have eternal life.  Jesus tells him to obey the law (the rules, the commandments), and when he says he’s done that – Jesus gives him the disciple’s challenge: “give up everything and follow Jesus.”

Do you see what Jesus says?  He doesn't say to do the same rules more strictly, but to go beyond the mere rules – to give up everything.  This is the same challenge Jesus gives to all of his disciples … see the following examples: Matthew 13.44-46; 16.24-27, for instance. 

The next six sections of the SOM finish up chapter five and detail the general principle taught in our current section.  They finish up with Jesus’ command to be “perfect” like God is perfect.  But this is a poor translation of a Greek word: teleios.  This word represents a philosophical idea that is more like being “complete,” “whole” or: “mature.”  Discipleship is really an apprenticeship, in which we grow into masters of our craft.  If you want to grow to the image of Jesus, the journey begins with complete sacrifice and ends when we are teleios – people who are living examples of love.  We disciples who go beyond mere rules, and strive to “the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4.13). 

Let the journey begin! 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Gotta be better than who?

Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I didn't come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you won’t enter the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 5.17-20

This is our next section of the SOM for our study.  Before we dig into this one, we’ll need to explain some terms, so get ready for a little vocabulary lesson.  Quit whining … I can hear you from here … just suck it up and be a grown-up! 

Law and Prophets = This was the way they referred to the bible in Jesus’ day, what we call the “Old Testament,” and what I call “The Jewish Testament.”  

Kingdom of Heaven = The Kingdom of God, or just plain: the kingdom.  From the days of Moses until Jesus, Israel was a physical kingdom, with physical kings like King David & Solomon.  Although Jesus’ audience didn't yet understand it, Jesus was talking about the Kingdom version 2.0 – the spiritual, eternal kingdom.  We become subjects in this kingdom when we are baptized/born again, and remain in the kingdom forever.  If you have been immersed in water to have your sins washed away and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 3.5 & Acts 2.38), you are now a part of God’s Kingdom, and Jesus is your king. 

Scribes = Bible scholars of Jesus’ day were called “Scribes” or sometimes “experts in the law” or “Lawyers,” but in each case it refers to the same guys … bible scholars, like people today who have a PhD in Old Testament studies. 

Pharisees = these were the religious elite of their day.  Think of your personal religious leaders, preachers and people you respect.  Francis Chan, Rick Warren, Steve Smith, Kit Rae, Mark Driscoll … these are the guys that would be Pharisees.  They get a bad rap today because Jesus picked on them a bit, but it’s misleading because really the Pharisees were the only ones worth criticizing … the other fringe groups were a waste of Jesus’ time. 

OK, so now what does all this mean for us?  
First, let’s see what it meant for them. 

Jesus was telling his disciples something about their bible, and comparing themselves to the religious elite.  He was saying that they not only needed to follow their bible, but they needed to surpass its ‘requirements’!  Can you imagine?  You have to be a better disciple than Francis Chan or you aren't even saved????  

And now let me explain what Jesus meant by saying they needed to “surpass” the righteousness of the good guys.  He meant to learn to have a change of heart, not merely follow rules, or have stricter rules.  Jesus has (in the beatitudes) already taught them about things that please God.  Note they weren't “rules” one must obey … rather, they were qualities or characteristics of a person that flow from the heart.  Jesus didn't say “Thou shalt be meek,” he said that meek disciples are blessed.  In the coming section you’ll read the rules (laws) of the Old Testament and see that Jesus uses these laws to teach God’s true intent.  The rule or law, for instance, was: Thou shalt not murder, but God really didn't even want them to hate. 

This is important, so please remember this: Jesus isn't giving ‘new’ rules, instead he’s giving guidance for people who truly want to obey God and live in His service!  Also … Jesus isn't giving “stricter” rules or advocating we live even more closely to the law than the Pharisees, but again, it goes to a person’s motives. 

If your motives are truly pure, you will grow from a state of ignorance, weakness and naivete into a condition where you have increasingly more knowledge and faith and love.  When you first start out as a disciple you need some basic rules to live by, but as you grow and mature, you’ll discover the kingdom is about serving the King, not just blindly following rules.  If your heart isn't pure, you’ll bend the rules to justify bad behavior.  If your heart is pure, you’ll bend them when it’s necessary to further the kingdom. 

Please post questions or comments here if you have them, for I know this is a bit strange.  There will be more posts on this topic coming up shortly, and especially as we get into the next section of the SOM we will be revisiting this again. 

For now, do this: reconsider your own heart, the beatitudes, and God.  Many people see God as nothing more than a judge, but God is more than that – He has a personality, and He loves you and He loves the people you will see today so much that He sent His Son to die for them.  The way you treat God and your neighbor is everything, and rule-following is nothing.  In fact, for those who truly desire to please God … rules are nothing more to us than guidelines for ‘how’ to love.  They help us answer the question: what do we do in this situation to show love?

If you love your neighbor, help him grow, be merciful to him when he repents, and remain patient with him when he needs it … then you can make God smile.  If making God smile is your top priority in life, then these lessons will come alive for you.  If you can only think of God as a cop or a school principle and you have to ‘obey’ the rules, you’ll never understand. 

Are you ready to try to focus all your attention on God and others, and none on yourself? 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Little Lord Fauntleroy

Little Joey was a pest, a tattle tale, the youngest kid in the family and daddy’s favorite.  His older brothers were like any set of brothers with each other, but they all despised little Joey.  He would show up for breakfast wearing his fancy robe (made special for daddy’s favorite), and tell them all stories about how he had dreamed last night that all his brothers would one day bow down to him.  One day all his brothers were tending sheep, and his dad sent Joe to go spy on them and come home and tattle on how they were doing.  When the brothers caught the little punk, they had enough and just as they were about to kill him, decided rather to sell him into slavery. 

Now a slave, Joseph settled in Egypt.  His owner’s wife wanted him, and when he rejected her, she told her husband that Joe had pursued her, and her husband put Joseph in jail.  Later he was saved from his prison when he was able to interpret a dream for Pharaoh, and his interpretation saved the mighty Egyptian Empire, so he was given the keys to the whole kingdom. 

Joseph wasn't popular.  Even when someone did like him, they got him in trouble.  He wasn't talented, smart or capable.  But everyone saw him as a powerful source of divine blessing.  When they recognized what he could do, they realized it was always God doing it through him.  Check it out:
Now his master saw that Yahweh was with him and how Yahweh caused all that he did to prosper in his hand.

It came about that from the time he made him overseer in his house and over all that he owned, Yahweh blessed the Egyptian’s house on account of Joseph; thus Yahweh’s blessing was upon all that he owned, in the house and in the field. So he left everything he owned in Joseph’s charge; and with him there he did not concern himself with anything except the food which he ate.

The chief jailer did not supervise anything under Joseph’s charge because Yahweh was with him; and whatever he did, Yahweh made to prosper.
Then Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is a divine spirit?” So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are.from Genesis 39 & 41
Joe’s story is the answer to the question you should be asking in your small groups:
How can we do good things, and get all the glory for God, and none for ourselves, our churches, our families or anything or anyone but God alone? 
Remember Jesus said:
Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
He says others should see your works, but not praise you.  Instead, praise comes to God.  This is odd, because we just saw that if we do justice in Jesus’ Name, we will be persecuted – yet here Jesus says God will be praised.  Just like Joseph was persecuted by his family, his employers … still praise went to God, and through his horrible life the whole nation of Israel was blessed.

Paul said it this way:
I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God1 Corinthians 2:3-5 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Take these things to heart in your studies this week, and consider together two things:
  1. How can I behave to bring others to glorify God only – not to me or my church or family or friends or company – just God? 
  2. How can I be sure not to lose my “saltiness” and so become worthless? 

Your “I will” column should answer those two questions

In Jesus’ name,

Monday, April 8, 2013


You’re the salt of the earth  
But if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It’s no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under-foot by men. 
You’re the light of the world
A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp-stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 
Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

When Jesus called them “salt” and “light,” he was calling them weird, strange, different, peculiar, holy and outstanding.  That wouldn't have surprised them, because Jews had always known they were different from the rest of the world.  They call us “Gentiles,” but in Hebrew the word is “nations” or “peoples.”  From the point of view of God’s people, there are “we” who belong to God, and then there’s everyone else:  
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.  (1 Peter 2:9-12)
In Peter’s letter, he repeats this theme quoting lines from God through Moses – God’s people have always been “peculiar.” 

The question is: what kind of outstanding are we supposed to be? 

At church yesterday the musical leader was very animated and very talented.  People praised him.  You've probably seen the same thing in church – those preachers or musicians who are very “gifted,” and so receive praise and attention.  Is this the kind of “different” we’re called to be?  Absolutely not! 
Later in the SOM, Jesus will say this:
Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.

 So when you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

 When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
Whenever you fast, don’t put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they’ll be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting won’t be noticed by men

Does this sound like a contradiction?  At first Jesus says we are light, a city on a hill; and later he seems to say we’re supposed to do everything in secret.  What’s up with Jesus?  Are we supposed to be the hot, enthusiastic  “praise” leader at a big assembly, or are we supposed to be the humble and quiet person that worships unnoticed? 

Pay attention to the end of Peter’s statement and the last part of our Lord’s command for the full answer:
People will see your work, and give God the credit
They see the good that you do … and then glorify God.  

If people see your work and glorify you, that’s all the reward you’ll receive.  If people see what you do and then come to fear, love and worship God, then you’re doing what Jesus said. 

Churches love to get glory for themselves.  They advertise their name, the name of their pastor, or they put on such a good show on stage that people will come and see their show.  This is NOT the kind of different Jesus calls us to be!  The praise these people get from others is all for their own glory, to feed their own egos.  They are (by Jesus’ definition) hypocrites and false prophets. 

The challenge Jesus gave his disciples here is simply this: Do your good works in such a way that others will thank God – not you.  So that people will praise God – not you.  So that people will “idolize” God – and not you.  So that people want to join you … in becoming like Jesus - not join your group, church or club so they can be one of the “cool kids.” 

No one knows your heart but you and God, even great performers may have good hearts.  But we can all see your fruit.  Bring glory to God, not yourself. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Blessed are the Persecuted, pt2 from Sharla (mostly)

This blog entry is contributed by Sharla, and modified by me to “correct” a few things.  I’ll try to make it clear when it’s me writing vs. what was contributed.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad,
…for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you

New Living Translation
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
Douay-Rheims Bible
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Young's Literal Translation
'Happy those persecuted for righteousness' sake -- because theirs is the reign of the heavens.’ 

Barnes' Notes on the Bible
Blessed are they which are persecuted - To persecute means literally to pursue; follow after, as one does a flying enemy. Here it means to vex, or oppress one, on account of his religion. They persecute others who injure their names, reputation, property, or who endanger or take their life, on account of their religious opinions.
For righteousness' sake - Because they are righteous, or are the friends of God. We are not to seek persecution. We are not to provoke it by strange sentiments or conduct; by violating the laws of civil society, or by modes of speech that are unnecessarily offensive to others. But if, in the honest effort to be Christians, and to live the life of Christians, others persecute and revile us, we are to consider this as a blessing. It is an evidence that we are the children of God, and that he will defend us.
"All that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution," 2 Timothy 3:12 
Theirs is the kingdom of heaven - They have evidence that they are Christians, and that they will be brought to heaven.  

Kirk’s response to above:
Barnes says people are persecuted “on account of his religion,” but this is not what Jesus said.  Our Lord said one is persecuted because of Jesus, and for the sake of righteousness.  These are not religions!  Righteousness/Justice is defending the oppressed, feeding the hungry caring for those who are sick and in prison (Matthew 25.31-46), and to be persecuted because of Jesus means that we have put him first.  When we put Jesus first, others come second.  Your spouse comes second, your children come second, your earthly government, or race, or politics or family … even your church … must come after God/Jesus.  When you do that, others will feel betrayed, and they’ll lash out.

Very rarely do bad guys or our US government "persecute" us.  For example, some say 'they' disallow school prayer, but that’s not true.  They disallow prayer out-loud, in school sponsored events.  You can pray all day if you pray like Jesus commanded – in private (Matthew 6.5-6). Do what Jesus said to do instead of what your religion says to do ... and you'll find out where your persecution comes from.   In our context, almost all of our persecution will come from friends, family, fellow students and colleagues.  As we strive to be increasingly stronger disciples, they will feel slighted and their shortcomings will become evident. 

Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Blessed are they which are persecuted… not for any crimes they have done, for unrighteousness and iniquity, as murderers, thieves, and evildoers, but for righteousness sake: on account of their righteous and godly conversation, which brings upon them the hatred and enmity of the men of the world: for saints, by living righteously, separate themselves from them, and profess themselves not to belong to them; their religious life sets a brand upon, and distinguishes other persons; yea, it reproves and condemns their wicked lives and practices; and this fills them with wrath against them, and puts them on persecuting them: or by "righteousness" may be meant, a righteous cause, the cause of Christ and his Gospel; for by making a profession of Christ, showing a concern for his interest, and by engaging in a vindication of his person and truths, saints expose themselves to the rage and persecution of men: and particularly, they are persecuted for preaching, maintaining, or embracing, the doctrine of justification by the righteousness of Christ; because it is not of man, nor agreeable to the carnal reason of man; it is opposite to the way of justification, which men naturally receive; it excludes boasting, and is contrary to their carnal and selfish principles: persecution is either verbal with the tongue, by cruel mockings and reproachful language; or real, by deeds, such as confiscation of goods, banishment, imprisonment of body, and innumerable sorts of death: the latter seems here more especially designed, and both are expressed in the following verse; and yet the saints, though thus used, or rather abused, are happy; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven: the same blessedness is predicated of these as of the poor in spirit, ver. 3

A quote that I sometimes share in my classes: 
“The time is always right to do what is right.”
Related verses from NIV:
James 5:11
As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

1 Peter 3:14
But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.

Sharla’s three columns:

1.      Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
2.      Those who do what is right can expect to be persecuted on earth, but heaven will be their perfect, future, eternal home.
3.      I will make a conscious effort to always do the right thing even if doing the right thing is not the easy thing to do.  I will seek God’s will and pray for wisdom at least 3 times every day so that I will know what is right.

Three more things from Kirk:

  1. I hope you'll join Sharla and also contribute thoughts and ideas and scriptures for all to share.  Just email them to me and I'll put an edited version up here for sharing.  
  2. I also hope you'll join me in helping Sharla - and one another - by holding one another accountable for your third column.  With that, we can all grow stronger and more loving every day.  
  3. And speaking of being persecuted for righteousness ... what happens when a brother isn't necessarily persecuting you, but he's so lazy or distracted or filled with anger that he neglects you?  Is brotherly neglect a form of persecution?  Are you your brother's keeper?  

"love one another"

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Smile - your friends hate you

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad,
…for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you

This week we will focus on Jesus’ (apparently crazy) assertions that people who are persecuted, insulted and lied about … are actually to be congratulated (blessed).  This is one beatitude we get so used to hearing and accepting that we forget sometimes to make it real:
Do you seriously think Jesus was saying that it’s a blessing to be lied about?  That we should rejoice and be glad when people insult us?  Crazy, but I believe Jesus words are true, and can be trusted – even these words. 

Before we get too far into it … let’s get a few things straight

Pronouns Matter

In this section, remember to pay attention to the pronouns, for they give us some excellent clues into the meaning of the text.  When Jesus said (or Matthew wrote) the word “you,” do you suppose he was talking to you or me?  Not in the least.  Jesus was speaking to Jews who would be persecuted for also being followers of Jesus.  It was true then, and it’s still true today that Jews who believe Jesus was/is the Messiah – will be persecuted by other Jews.  Romans don’t care, Chinese don’t care, neither do Druids or Goths or Emos or Vampires … no one cares enough to persecute us but those we really bother.  It is those who feel betrayed by their brothers who are suffering this abuse. 

Jesus is preaching this sermon to a specific group – Jewish disciples in the first century.  What we must do is learn to apply those principles to our lives.  If this was true of them, then what can we expect to be true of us? 

If we devote our lives to sincere discipleship, we will be ostracized by others in “the church.”  You should be careful to observe this!  “They” who persecuted prophets were fellow Jews, and when “people” insult you, it’s not mostly going to come from outsiders, for who cares what they think? 

Also remember: It’s not our job to judge outsiders (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).  These days so-called Christians want to use their influence in government to force Christian values on those who are not Christians.  This is wrong.  Right now “Christians” are hoping the Supreme Court will refuse to allow homosexuals to marry, and the result is that our Lord is made to look bad.  These same people will be told that we are “suffering for righteousness,” and this is pure hogwash.  This is conservative politicians using religion to get our political support, and it’s working because most Christians don’t know their bibles well enough to know better.

Understand: I’m not telling you how to vote, think, or work.  But I do know God’s word, and God did not put us here to get immoral people to “behave.”  He wants immoral people to REPENT!  Our job for the kingdom is to help homosexuals to learn about the love and forgiveness of God, same as it is our job to help all sorts of sinners to repent and “come home.”  We leave the 99 to go in search of the one lost sheep, not to get the 99 sheep all riled up and put the lost lamb into jail. 

This passage is about intra-church situations almost exclusively.  Rarely do outsiders care about what we do, think or believe.  Leave them alone!  But – work like crazy to be sure we are pure inside the church:
See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.  For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.  Hebrews 12:15-17

Kingdom of Heaven

This passage is not (mostly) about heaven (the after-life), it’s about the kingdom.  It’s easy for us to read this and think that we will suffer now, and then someday we get to go to heaven and it’ll all be OK.  That is true, but it’s not the whole truth.  The kingdom of heaven is also called “the kingdom of God,” or just: “The Kingdom.”   Matthew mostly uses “Kingdom of Heaven,” and Luke mostly uses “The Kingdom of God,” and they are the same thing. 

The kingdom is God’s realm, where Jesus is king and we are subjects.  The kingdom is a government not of this world:
“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, my kingdom isn’t of this realm.”  Therefore Pilate said to him, “So you’re a king?”
Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”  John 18:36-37

Our worldly government is the USA, but for those of us who have been born again in baptism, we are now a part of the kingdom of God (John 3:5).  My primary citizenship is in this kingdom.  I “seek first” this kingdom (Matthew 6.33), I’m a part of it, and it is my identity as God’s child, His slave and His subject. 

When our King says “theirs is the kingdom” he means that we are truly a part of that kingdom when we are in this position.  In God’s old physical kingdom (Israel), it was the true prophets who were persecuted, and so it will be in the eternal, spiritual kingdom.  We will have people lie about us, we will have people hate us, insult us, and say all manner of evil about us.  And when these things come from “good” people, we will be tempted to doubt ourselves and our message.  This isn't unique, and it’s not rare … it always happens.  If you’re not a new disciple, and it hasn't happened to you, you’re doing something wrong.  For highlights of the history of this struggle, read Hebrews 10:26-12:29

Our reward in heaven will be great, but also our lives here will be better.  Often we will doubt and struggle, and that’s why Jesus said these words – to comfort us.  It’s also why our fellowship is so important.  Sometimes we should doubt, and we need friends to keep us humble and in line.  But other times we need them to tell us that what we are suffering is this: suffering for righteousness. 

Earlier ‘Tudes

Consider our earlier beatitudes.  Showing mercy to someone is suffering for righteousness.  It’s not “fair” (righteous/just) to be hurt, but it is right to show mercy and suffer for someone else’s sin.  It is hard to be a peacemaker and butt-in to others’ business – that “hard” part is suffering for righteousness.   To mourn, keep a pure heart … all of these things are HARD!  Doing things that are hard for the sake of the kingdom is … suffering for righteousness. 

you being Jesus

Jesus said during the Last Passover:  
“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before you.
If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you’re not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you:
‘A slave is not greater than his master.’
If they persecuted me, they’ll also persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.  But all these things they will do to you for my name’s sake, because they don’t know The One who sent me.  John 15:18-21
Jesus was speaking to 11 faithful Apostles – men he had chosen from among the sons of Israel to be his special messengers.  He makes it very clear that those who will be like Jesus will be treated the way Jesus was.  Jesus was hated – that’s a fact.  It’s a fact we forget as we gleefully sing songs and pat one another on the back and congratulate a preacher for his sermon or how great was a service at church.  These things were not like Jesus.  True followers of Jesus will be hated, just like he was.  We will be persecuted, and we must keep his word.  Keeping Jesus’ word is what that third column is all about. 

The question is simple: do you believe? 

We all say we believe IN Jesus, but most of us refuse to believe, truly, that it’s a blessing to be despised, persecuted and lied about.  What do you believe?