Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Take it – and Like it

You've heard:
‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’
But I tell you:
Don’t resist an evil person. 
Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.  
If anyone wants to sue you & take your shirt, let him have your coat also.
Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.  
Give to him who asks of you,
- and -
Don’t turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
Matthew 5.38-42

Jesus now gives his disciples a ridiculous task: allow yourself to be hurt, and just take it.  This teaching has to be one of Jesus’ most ignored.  You and I and everyone we know – even people who call themselves Christian – spend much of our lives trying to find a way around this teaching.  Shoot – it’s even ignored within “Christian” friendships, families and marriages!  How many husbands and wives refuse to allow their spouse to take advantage of them? 

We don’t mind giving, but this is allowing yourself to be harmed! 


Try as we might, this teaching could not be clearer.  Jesus didn’t say don’t resist a ‘good person,’ but he said not to resist an ‘evil person!’  We can’t ask who is our neighbor in this one – it’s pretty clear that we have to give, even to mean people.  We are instructed to allow violent people to strike us twice.  We are told to submit to bossy people who want us to do their bidding.    Disciples are commanded to give the shirt off their backs, and even their coat.  Followers of Jesus are supposed to deliberately “loan” money to bad credit risks.  How can we have the nerve to suggest that Jesus didn’t really mean what he said? 

Everyone I know tries to water-down this teaching just as badly as they want to insist that Jesus was clear in his teaching on divorce, just a few sentences earlier.  Why?  Because our culture and our selfishness trumps the word of God.  We may “have” to stay married, but we don’t “have” to let that person ever take advantage of us or walk on us, or boss us, or manipulate us, or strike us.  “Turn the other cheek” is a nice idea, except when it’s your actual face being smacked.  Then we want to water this down. 

Now let me offer you a challenge.  Actually try to do this – really.  Before you get to your group to do your three columns … do your own paraphrase of this teaching.  But don’t do a regular one, but try to see if you could write this any stronger than Jesus did.  See if you can close any loopholes left in Jesus’ original teaching.  I bet you can’t do it.  Jesus closed all loopholes in this teaching already.  There is no way to make our Lord’s teaching more clear: “Don’t resist an evil person.  Don’t resist – rather, let him order you to go an extra mile for him.  Let her mistreat you.


This teaching is also personal – it’s for the ears of the person who can hear it.  This isn't a message to your church, your friends or your enemies – it’s to you.  Will you listen and obey, or will you use this teaching to try to force others to be giving?  If you want to follow Jesus, then take this teaching personally and don’t worry about what others do.  I promise you, almost no one you know will ever obey this.  Obeying this teaching is a personal burden that you will almost certainly bear alone. 


Remember the words “justice” and “righteousness” mean the same thing in the Bible.  The word we often use is “fair.”  It’s unjust or unfair to let people hurt you and you can’t sue them or hit them back or demand repayment.  Nothing about it is fair.  Remember back to our lessons on forgiveness, grace and mercy?  That’s what this is.  The person who is truly forgiving a wrong is also absorbing the hurt.  I have to work to pay my bills.  When you borrow from me and then refuse to repay me … I just actually worked for you.  It’s not fair. 


This teaching is Jesus.  It was personal when they spit on Jesus and beat him and called him names.  It was not fair when we nailed him to the cross to pay for our sins.  And it is clear that Jesus allowed himself to be crucified for our lazy, selfish, unforgiving selves. 

Being a disciple of Jesus means taking up your own personal cross.  Sometimes a cross doesn't look like a cross.  Sometimes your cross will be to turn the other cheek when someone’s mean to you.  Sometimes it means being lonely because others ignore you.  Sometimes it means you’ll teach, even though no one is listening. 
  • We don’t help people because they ‘deserve’ it, we help them because they need it; just as God has helped us when we haven’t deserved it. 
  • We don’t love people because they’re lovable, we love people because they need it; just as God so loved the world that He gave His only son. 
  • We don’t sacrifice ourselves for others because they’re good, we do it because it can save them – because God gave us the ministry of reconciliation!  We obey this because “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” 

Please study this lesson, read these passages, pray and then prepare yourself to accept this personal challenge and ministry from God through Jesus.  

If you’re ready to accept the challenge, in the next lesson I’ll suggest ideas for how to do this.  But don’t let the apparent difficulty of the task move you to dilute this teaching!  Instead, see if it’s true.  Then we’ll learn how to actually do this successfully.  If you trust God – you must trust that He knows what’s best for you, His child. 

God demonstrates His love toward us, in that: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us
Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through him.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.  And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation!  Romans 5:8-11

The love of Christ controls us, having concluded that one died for all, therefore all died; and he died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him who died and rose again on their behalf.  Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh…. 
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he’s a new creature…. 

All these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  2 Corinthians 5:14-19

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

I’m interrupting our studies in the Sermon on the Mount (SOM) to take note of today as a special holiday in the United States. 
This is fine
Today is “Memorial Day,” a day for us to remember those who gave their lives in military service to the US.  It’s not just about veterans (That’s Veteran’s Day), but specifically about those who died in service.  Here’s the description from Veteran’s Affairs Website:
Memorial Day, which is observed on the last Monday of May, commemorates the men and women who died while in the military service.  In observance of the holiday, many people visit cemeteries and memorials, and volunteers often place American flags on each grave site at national cemeteries. 
The US was begun specifically by and for one idea: freedom.  Our nation’s founders rebelled against their ruler (The King of England); killed or displaced the indigenous people, and took, bought and stole this land in order to provide a place and nation where we could – as much as possible – preserve our freedoms. 

In Christian terms, they violated most of the ideas we hold dear: they disrespected the governing authorities (Romans 13).  Instead of loving our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10.27), we stole from, cheated and murdered the Native Americans.  And we went to war with Spain and Mexico to expand our nation’s geography.  Why?  So we could be free to do what we want.  Shoot, some of our states even rebelled against others for the same reason – to be free to do what they wanted (own slaves, establish different tariffs, etc.).  All of this reminds me of the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 – he also wanted to be free of his father and do his own thing. 

I may seem un-American, but I’m not.  I vote, pay taxes, obey the law and served in the military voluntarily.  I love the US.  But I will not lie or pretend that it’s a Christian nation, and I will not encourage others to do so.  The US is - like any nation - only as good or as bad as it's behavior, and ours is in decline. 

Rather than invest too much of myself in the US, I find great comfort in the sentiments of Paul:
We are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh….  But our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.Philippians 3:3, 20-21
Throughout that chapter, Paul makes it clear that he’s more concerned with spiritual things than earthly (physical) things.  I love America almost as much as Paul loved Israel, but like him, I consider it trash compared to the greater blessings found in my spiritual nation: the Kingdom of God.  America is great, but the Kingdom is Greater.  America is strong, but the kingdom is Stronger.  America offers hope, opportunity and freedom, but God’s kingdom offers more: He offers us hope for eternity, opportunity for salvation, and freedom from slavery to sin and self! 
This is better

He who has ears to hear...

Most of you are so addicted to earthly focused patriotism that you will not accept my challenges, but I'm going to try anyway.  Here are two challenges for you today, if you want to be a loyal citizen of God’s eternal kingdom more than a citizen of a temporary, flawed earthly nation.  

My first challenge is for you to consider today as a memorial day for all the saints (Christians, disciples, soldiers of the cross) who have died as martyrs for God’s Kingdom instead of the USA.  Stephen was the first, and you can read about him in Acts 6, and his last words are recorded in Acts 7.  The first Apostle murdered was one of Jesus’ closest friends: James.  He was murdered by the Roman-appointed king of Israel: Herod Agrippa 1 (Acts 12.1-2). 

Many others were killed in the first century by lions, crucified or burned to death, and martyrdom has continued even to this very day in several places in the world our brothers and sisters are persecuted and killed.  (You can read about some of this online at the Voice of the Martyrs).

And of course our entire message is based on the fact that our Lord was murdered for the kingdom.  Shouldn't we honor Jesus, James and Stephen above American martyrs? 

My second challenge to you is to spend time in Philippians 3, and take it personally. 

This chapter is a section of a letter Paul wrote to a church to warn them about people who were dangerous.  These people were teaching strict adherence to the bible and insisting that others do exactly what it said.  But strangely Paul called them “dogs” and “enemies of the cross!” 

You see, in those days the only bible they had was what we call the “Old Testament.”  There were many religious teachers who said they had to follow “the bible,” and be circumcised and eat kosher foods … in other words, they had to follow the laws for the physical kingdom of God (Israel).  What Paul understood was that we are now part of the spiritual (true) kingdom of God – the church eternal. 

We can learn from this and apply it to ourselves.  We must “forget what lies behind” (our old lives of rule-following rituals and earthly things) and press on to “the prize of the upward call of God.”  We should follow Paul’s example and “observe those who walk according the the pattern” we have from them.  We should learn that to focus on earthly appetites and to focus on “earthly things” instead of spiritual things actually makes one an “enemy of the cross,” and leads to destruction. 

I challenge you to remember martyrs for the kingdom of God today, and to be like they were; and put your faith and trust in Spiritual things instead of this physical nation.  For as great as America is, it’s nothing compared to God’s eternal and perfect Kingdom. 

Pray thanks to God for those who have left a legacy of faithfulness in service – even to death.  And then let’s work together to become daily martyrs to this world ourselves, as our Lord instructed:   

“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.”Luke 9:23-24

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Again, you've heard,
‘You shall … fulfill your vows to the Lord.’
But I say to you:
Make no oath at all …
Let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’;
…anything beyond these is of evil.
(Excerpts from Matthew 5.33-37)

All teleios disciples are disciple-makers, and we make disciples by teaching.  We teach with our words and with our actions, if we’re like Jesus.  Now consider how this might affect the way you speak and the things you say. 

For many of us, speaking is a way to impact another person for our own benefit.  We want them to think we’re funny or smart or to like us.  Sometimes we want sympathy or pity, or to be romantic, to convey information or win an argument.  As you mature as a disciple, you’ll change the way you communicate.  Paul wrote, “When I was a child I spoke, thought and reasoned like a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things” (1 Cor. 13.11).  Paul was using physical childhood to describe spiritual growth. 

As we grow to the stage of making new disciples, we will discover that our words will help us - or betray us.  If others catch us in a dishonest or inaccurate moment, we lose credibility.  Here are some words you should pray about and make sure you own these:
Credibility, credible, trustworthy & veracity
If you are a credible person, it means you’re “believable,” to to have veracity means that you speak truth.  When we tell the gospel (good news) we claim that a man lived a perfect life, then died, was resurrected, and ascended into heaven.  It’s not easy for some people to believe that, just as it’s difficult for many to believe God created the heavens and the earth.  But here’s the thing:
If you aren't credible or believable and if you don’t have a reputation as one who always tells the truth and checks your facts … how are people to believe you on a subject as important as eternity? 

If we truly love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves, then we’ll understand that love demands we always speak the truth in love:
We’re no longer to be children (tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming)- BUT speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into him who is the head: Christ!…from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.  (Ephesians 4:14-16)
Truth and love are inseparable.  Failing to speak truthfully is a failure of love. 
So, how do we make certain we are speaking the truth in love?
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad;
For the tree is known by its fruit…  For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil.
But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the Day of Judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”Matthew 12:33-37
Jesus is giving a warning – a stern warning – that we ought to be very careful about what we say.  But he is also telling us a secret to how to speak well!  Many of us try to control our tongue and say only the right things.  But James warns that this is impossible:
Let not many become teachers … knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble... If anyone doesn't stumble in what he says, he’s a teleios man….
Every species … has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it’s a restless evil. 
With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.- Excerpts from James 3
So if it’s impossible to tame the tongue, but Jesus says we’ll be judged by every careless word … aren't we doomed?  No.  In both James and in Jesus’ teaching the principle is the same – if you change the source of the words, the words will automatically change.  Olive trees produce olives, and grape vines make grapes.  The human “tree” is the human heart.  If you work on your heart, your words will change automatically. 

Consider the heart/tongue relationship:
  • If you care for your friend from the heart … you will speak things that are a blessing to him
  • If you love your neighbor as yourself, you’ll care about him
  • If you believe in eternal life, you’ll care more about her eternity than her present troubles
  • If you love your neighbor as yourself, you’ll listen more, speak carefully and truthfully
  • If you are more concerned about friendship, your image, and life in this world … your speech will reflect what’s in your heart, and you’ll have a veneer to cover up the truth   

If you truly believe in your heart that following Jesus fanatically produces the best life now and eternal life after death; your words will be true and accurate and pure.  You’ll show compassion at just the right times and you’ll give a rebuke when it’s needed for your sister or brother’s good.

Remember that we cannot control what others think of us, but we can control who we really are.  If you’re more concerned about your image, then you’ll use makeup, nice clothes and dazzling speech to mask your pitiful, ugly, shameful and selfish heart.  But if you want to be like Jesus, you’ll work from the inside out – asking God and brothers and sisters to help you change and grow your heart into something beautiful and “otherful.”
Love rejoices with the truth
1 Corinthians 13:6

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
- John Wooden

Monday, May 13, 2013

I Swear

Again, you've heard that the ancients were told,
‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’
But I say to you:
Make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,
…or by the earth, for it is the footstool of his feet,
…or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
…Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.
Let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’;
…anything beyond these is of evil.

Matthew 5.33-37

This one is funny to me, partly because of what I was taught about it as a youngster.  Because of this passage, I was taught that if I had to testify in court and they asked me to swear on the bible that I could say, “No, I don’t swear or make oaths.”  If you do that, the court will allow you to say “I affirm.”  Now obviously the meaning is exactly the same, but for some reason I was taught it made a difference.  But I still think if I’m ever a witness in court I’ll do this just for the fun of it.

If you've been following along in our study of the SOM, you know that this is the fourth of six sections in which Jesus is teaching like a rabbi, and he is not merely making stricter rules for us to follow! 

In this case our Lord is teaching us to be known as truth-tellers.  When I say something and the person asks me if I “promise,” I say, “No.”  My word is good – it doesn't need to be augmented with promises and oaths.  We all need to be extra careful to be so focused on the truth that there will never be a doubt when we say something.  That is letting your “yes be yes.”  If you say it, it’s true.  In our culture that means several things... 


It means that we refuse to lie or even be deceitful!  Don’t be one of those kinds of people who say, “Well, technically I didn't lie; I just withheld information,” or whatever work-around you have.  Make a ridiculously strong commitment to yourself and to God that you will go way out of your way never to be deceitful.  No matter what – you will not ever deceive.  If you can make that vow and learn how to be that kind of a person, it has life changing consequences … (I’ll put in a future post).


It means: don’t spread unverified stories.  I regularly get emails that are religious and/or political in nature.  Often these are sent by people whose intentions are good, but they fail to verify their facts.  And without realizing it, they compromise their credibility.  These things are nonsense so often, that the person ought to just send me an email that says, “Hello, I’m a gullible moron.”  Understand: your intentions are irrelevant … what matters is truth. 

How can you expect to tell the Good News to people who have grown accustomed to you being the kind of person who forwards emails that are shallow, false, political, or financial?  Only other fools will fall for that nonsense.  Check your facts!!  If it’s about the bible, try opening one and studying it.  If it’s about something online, check snopes.  
Whatever you do … get your facts right.  Disciples of Jesus cannot afford to be inaccurate!  In this, we must be above reproach. 


Know the difference between fact, faith and opinion.  Some things you say or write are just opinions, like thinking a politician is awful or a sports team is good or bad.  Some things are demonstrable facts, like the time the sun will rise.  And then there are things we accept by faith, like Jesus’ resurrection or God’s creation of the earth.  If you believe it, you may think it’s a fact.  Those who don’t believe it … they think it’s your opinion.  In matters of scripture or anything about God – be very careful about sharing your opinion, and be sure you know that most of what you say is merely your opinion!! 

Have heard people “share” stuff in a “bible study”?  Most of it is so foolish that if we were to correct them, they’d be embarrassed so no one says anything.  Much of the room knows you’re a fool – and won’t tell you.  Only those who agree with you will speak up.  Next time you’re in a group setting and thinking about “sharing” … consider this:

A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.Proverbs 18:2
Almost everyone I know “delights in airing his opinions,” but don’t realize how foolish they sound to those in the room who know better.  If you feel irresistibly compelled to bathe others in your opinions – have the decency to at least say it’s just your opinion!  If it’s a matter of faith – then say you ‘believe’ it.  But don’t ever let your audience confuse the three when they come from you.  Fact, opinion or matters of faith: be clear. 
Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is prudent.Proverbs 17:28
Oh, and remember what God said about Job’s “friends,” and their “wisdom.”  (Job 42.7-9)

The best thing for us to remember is that God is everywhere, and He hears everything we say, write, post or forward.  Make sure when you say something that you represent Him in a way that will make Him smile, and build for yourself a reputation that if something comes from you … it’s true.  Only then will people trust you so much that they’d risk their eternity on the words you say. 

truth is everything – let your yes be yes, and your no be no … if it comes from you, the world should know that it’s good stuff. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Divorce for the Single Person

It was said,
‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’;
But I say to you that:
Everyone who divorces his wife (except for the reason of unchastity) makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.  
Matthew 5.31-32 

Continuing with the same section from the SOM, let’s see the implications of this teaching for a single person.  It can be very helpful for you to understand this before you enter another relationship.  Let’s look at advice excerpted from a letter Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:
…I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I [single].  But if they don’t have self-control, let them marry; for it’s better to marry than to burn.
I want you to be free from concern.
One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and is divided. The woman who is unmarried … is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.  1 Corinthians 7:8-9 & 32-34
If you combine Paul’s advice with Jesus’ instruction, how would you advise an unmarried disciple of Jesus?  Obviously the implication is that marriage is for those who need it.  Marriage is a gift from God, like church or the bible.  It’s a blessing that can make our lives easier, and makes it easier for us to resist temptation.  Two can be better than one. 


But that blessing can be misleading to those who are single.  Single people often are hyper-aware of their sexual drive, loneliness, and desire to have a partner.  And most have no idea how many bad marriages there are, and just how devastating it is to be in a bad one, but not tell anyone about it.  When we combine these two forces…
The obvious advantage of being married can create in us a blinding sense of urgency – we think we ‘need’ a partner, and we need one now.  That’s when a sense of desperation can be overwhelming.  We think we must settle for a relationship that is not great.  We are tempted to overlook lots of problems because we so badly want to be married, and we think we can learn to live with flaws or shortcomings, and so are deluded.  Not only that, but many will also be dishonest with who they are, for fear they may lose their chance at love. 

Once a marriage is begun this way, it leads to a lifetime of misery.  There are millions of couples who are struggling right now because they made a poor and/or premature decision about marriage. No - “Struggle” is too weak a word.  There are people praying for their spouse to die - or cheat - or anything that will set them free – lots of them!  And for the most part, they suffer in silence – thinking there’s nothing they can do, and feeling foolish.  Loneliness at a whole new level.  Pastors and counselors today will see too much of this. 

Children suffer even more, because their parents are staying married “for the children,” and the children grow up learning to fake religion just as they fake marriage and learn how to live a life of hypocrisy.  Children overwhelmingly become what they see as they grow up.  

For you who are single, this is my advice to you, and you really should follow it:
Find tactics to keep you from desperation.  Talk to your friends now.  It will be embarrassing for some to confess their sexual urges, and for others to confess how desperately they want to find the right person.  Join with your friends and help each other never to be desperate, so that you won’t be tempted to make a bad decision about relationships.  

This is even more difficult for single parents.  You’re trying to make rent, raise kids, maybe go to school, pay rent, be a “good” Christian, etc.  The pressure on single parents is crazy.  We should be helping them in every way possible.  Offer to babysit, help with school, whatever it takes. 

In short: strategize together in honesty about how you can remove all temptations that may provoke you to make a poor decision!  Help your friends to be happy now in relation to the Lord, and it’ll be a lot easier to make wise marriage decisions!  Help each other!!!  I’ll say it again … you and your close disciple-friends … help each other!  And then … speak often with God.  Ask your Father to give you wisdom in relationships.

If/when single people date, they need to be far from desperate so that they make wise decisions about picking a partner who will not be merely “good enough.”  You want a partner that will love you like crazy, not merely stay with you; who will help you grow stronger in the Lord, not merely go to church.  You want a partner who wants to see you get stronger spiritually, and will deliver you and your children safely into the next life. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Divorce is Sin?

It was said,
‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’;
But I say to you that:
Everyone who divorces his wife (except for the reason of unchastity) makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.  
Matthew 5.31-32  

Now we come to the third of six teachings of Jesus in this section of the SOM. 

Divorce is a hotly debated issue among some Christians.  As we study this section, let’s keep it in our context as we have been doing, and see if we can understand what Jesus wanted his disciples to understand. 

First, remember what we've been saying about this section of the SOM – Jesus is interpreting the Torah as a Rabbi … what he is NOT doing is simply making stronger rules!  Most people who study divorce pull out verses from here-and-there that have to do with divorce, so they miss the context of this teaching.  They turn this into an absolute statement that unless you can catch your spouse actually having sex with another, you must stay married, no matter what.  Do you see what just happened?  They turned this teaching back into another “rule” or “law,” even more strict than the one given by Moses.  Unfortunately many people have suffered needlessly because they've been told this is the whole truth. 

In actual practice, most people – even devout Christian leaders and teachers admit that this cannot be the final word on the subject.  For instance, I don’t know a single minister who say that a woman must endure abuse.  But then that’s where the debate gets interesting.  Some will want a definition of ‘abuse,’ and exclude emotional, sexual or spiritual abuse.  And around and around it goes.  And this isn't new!  Even the religious people in Jesus’ day bickered about this, and it’s the very teaching they brought to Jesus just to trap him!  (Matthew 19.3)  So the teachings we have on this from Jesus are really just a response to religious people who are trying to mess with him. 

Later in Matthew Jesus is teaching on marriage and divorce and the apostles respond that this is too strict of a teaching.  So strong, in fact, that one might as well not marry.  Jesus responds this way:
“Not all men are able to accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given.”  Matthew 19:11
Not only does Jesus admit that there are certain occasions and/or people who cannot live with it, in some cases, divorce is actually an act of obedience to God. 

When the Israelites returned from exile, they had taken non-Jewish wives and started families.  Ezra calls the people to repent and to divorce their wives.  Can you imagine that God would actually approve of a man leaving his whole family, just because his wife isn't Jewish? 
Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful and have married foreign wives adding to the guilt of Israel.  Now therefore, make confession to Yahweh, God of your fathers, and do His will; and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.”  Ezra 10:10-11
And yes, even in the New Testament Jesus makes this statement:
“Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.”  Luke 18:29-30
As with the other teachings in this section of the SOM, Jesus is not laying down a stricter law, rather he is trying to teach about God’s intentions.  And as with the other parts, the problem here is really with our hearts.  People with divided hearts need rules.  People whose love is truly focused on the kingdom need directions, not rules. 

Look again at that last bit from Luke above, and you’ll see that the reason for leaving one’s wife is given: “For the sake of the kingdom.”  Jesus isn't saying we can leave our spouse just because we don’t like them or they us … but he is acknowledging that (Like in Ezra’s case) there are times when staying married isn't helpful to one’s walk with God. 

For example … I know a couple of cases where a woman is submitting to a man in marriage “for the sake of the kids” she won’t get divorced, even though her husband is keeping her from the Lord’s work or making it difficult.  The children will not only grow up in a home without proper love, but they will be influenced away from “seeking first the kingdom.”   The dad has issues, and the mom’s response is to stay married “for the kids,” not the kingdom.  What if she trusted God enough to leave the man and show her children what it looks like to live fully committed to God and His Kingdom? 

Ask anyone who has grown up in a “Christian” but unloving home … there’s little peace, and no discipleship.  This teaching breaks my heart, because for most of my life I've believed (and taught) that people had to stay married, no matter what – it’s the law!  But as I get older, I know several lives of men and women who stayed married when perhaps they should have followed Ezra’s advice – and they have lost years of their lives to suffering and enduring bad relationships. 

Worse yet, some children who have grown up in bad situations, and now they live with scars that will never heal.  In one case I know the mother stayed married way after she knew it was bad … but everyone told her she had to stay.  Her girls now live with lots of pain that’s not their fault.  Their husbands and children will one day inherit the mess that might have been flushed.  

Let me be clear: I am not encouraging divorce.  Divorce is wrong, and that’s Jesus’ point.  You must not divorce merely because you’re unhappy, or don’t feel connected, or other selfish reasons.
      But: the bible shows there are occasions where it is right; just as there are occasions when it’s right to take someone’s life (in war, or as a civil punishment, or to protect one’s family), or to do other things that are generally accepted truths. Just as we must obey the government, or our parents ... so also when those insist that we do something contrary to God, we must obey God.  

God made women to be helpers, partners and lovers to men because it’s not good for most men to be alone (Genesis 2.18).  When people work together as they should, it is a great gift from God.  When a man marries someone like Jezebel, even if she doesn't technically “cheat,” it will end in the man’s destruction, and often also his children.  Similarly, if Abigail had not been disobedient to Nabal, it would have led to the destruction of their family and perhaps also David (1 Samuel 25).

Marriage is like any relationship understood by disciples – it’s either good for the Kingdom or it’s not.  God will judge your heart … not merely hold you accountable to the rules.  So don’t enter marriage lightly – and don’t leave it lightly, either.  Whatever you do, whether it’s to eat or drink or pray or worship or marry or divorce … seek first the kingdom and God’s righteousness, and the rest of it will be taken care of by God.  Trust that – even more than “the rules.”  Love your spouse and stay close until he/she is “unfaithful.” 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Matter of the Heart

“Everyone who looks at a woman with to lust for desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

More on Matthew 5.27-30, and our desires…. 

First, two things from the Greek:  Many bibles read “with lust for her,” and this is misleading.  If yours reads that way, cross it out and write in the margin: “To desire her.” 

The correct preposition is not “with,” but “to.”  The idea is that the guy who looks for the purpose of lusting is the one who has a bad heart.  A man looking at a woman “for the purpose” of lusting is a lot different than a man seeing a woman and thinking she’s hot. 

Second, the word “lust” here is really a broader term that is “desire.”  Jesus isn’t only talking about male sexual desire for women – that’s just an example … he’s talking about all of us and our desires.  Don’t play with them, don’t give them opportunity, or they will lead to sin.  Paul said it this way:
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its desires.  Romans 13:14

You may remember the great marshmallow test.   See the video 

The real issue is about your heart.  I’m not sure I’ve met a person who would claim to have a pure heart.  For a disciple, that means we never want anything but God and God’s will.  I do not have such a pure heart.  I want more/other and it is my downfall. 

Jesus isn't telling us in this message to cut off body parts or that it’s a sin to want stuff.  Instead, he tells us HOW to not let our ‘wants’ or ‘desires’ to turn into sins.  We don’t look at things or touch things or smell things that cause us to stumble. 
 “These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling.  John 16:1
The Israelites had the same problem.  They “craved other food.”  They had been in the desert for years, eating nothing but manna for breakfast, lunch and dinner … and they wanted meat, so they complained.  Many died.  See: Numbers 11, 1 Corinthians 10.6, Psalm 106.13-15 and …
And in their heart they put God to the test by asking food according to their desire.  Psalm 78:18
Some of their fellow travelers Moses called “the rabble,” that’s probably people who left Egypt with Israel, but weren't fully Israelite.  They started the whining, and their complaints became Israel’s stumbling block.   Where Jesus suggests we cut off our hands or pluck our eyes, Israel should have silenced the rabble … or at least kept their distance (As Job did his wife – Job 2.9-10).  We have the same thing today.  “Christians” at church who tempt us to want things that are unhelpful and even rationalize sin!  If you have such acquaintances, take care!  Better to go to heaven friendless than to go to hell as a popular person.
Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals.  1 Corinthians 15:33
Complaining is contagious, just as desire is.  How do restaurants sell food?  They make that greasy burger look wonderful.  How does a woman tempt a man?  By offering him something he wants.  Now we are tempted to take our eyes off the prize … to play with the marshmallow.  Next thing you know, we’re doomed.  These people are themselves called “stumbling blocks” by Jesus:
“It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come!  It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.  Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” Luke 17:1-3
What’s your marshmallow?  What divides your heart?  Do you want love, friendship and/or affection?  Do you want food, or to avoid food or drink or to find the perfect partner or church or have a family or a job, or…?  Anything that takes us away from our calling is our “marshmallow,” or the thing that may cause us to stumble.  Anything that keeps you from putting ALL your treasures in heaven, or loving God with ALL your heart – this is your “woman” or “marshmallow.” 

This week as you ready yourself to do your “I Will,” consider discussing not only what your marshmallow is, but to develop strategies that will help you succeed.  What little things can you do to make your temptations less tempting?  Most people don’t want to do this – they’d rather play with the marshmallow.

It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. 
Romans 14:21

But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak…. By sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.  1 Corinthians 8:9-13