Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Elements of Teleios

You are to be teleios, as your Heavenly Father is teleios.
Matthew 5.48

[Note: I ended the last entry with a request for comments.  Since I received none, I’ll make this article brief on the assumption that (so far) none are interesting in pursuing teleios.  My first attempt at this article was pretty long and would've been annoying to those who aren't interested.  So here’s the abbreviated version.  Eventually I’ll put more on the website.] 

After a mountain bike ride one afternoon I turned on the news to see that a biker had been killed by a mountain lion.  He was attacked and partially consumed in the same park as me, and at the same time I was there.  Later that day a woman was attacked by the same lion.  Her friend and two others fought off the lion and saved her life, but she was badly mauled.  So … should I quit riding my bike?  No – the truth is that the benefits of riding far outweigh the risks.  So I continue to ride, but take reasonable precautions.  Lions, coyotes, bobcats and rattlesnakes are facts of life, but of course the biggest danger is just from falling.  I ride on neither recklessly nor in fear.  

Mountain biking is fun, it’s outdoors in the wilderness, and it’s a lot safer than riding on the roads where drivers kill and injure way more bicyclists than lions ever will.  But most folks who want to exercise and get in health will never start.  Many others will start and fizzle out, or get distracted or lose interest or get discouraged when it gets hard. 

Our spiritual walk is like this.  Spiritually most “Christians” are sedentary gluttons who are deep in spiritual “debt” because they keep spending what they don’t have.  Some are fearful and some are reckless, but few indeed are those who take reasonable precautions and press on with a patient smile. 
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  But resist him, firm in faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.  1 Peter 5:8-9
Notice that Peter did not say we should be afraid of (or angry with) Satan.  Rather, our response to this should be that we should be sober-minded, diligent, firm in faith and to resist.  It’s true – Satan is prowling around and trying to consume us. But we are called to be strong; strong enough to rescue others from lions like David (1 Samuel 17.34-37). 

Jesus’ last words are found in Matthew 24 and 25.  Modern Christians love to debate stuff about the second coming found here, but Jesus’ real message was simple: get ready and stay ready.  The whole point was to motivate us to prepare ourselves for our Lord’s return or our own death, whichever comes first.  For as long as we are stuck in this world, we can use our time wisely or foolishly.  We can be weak or strong, we can love or we can be selfish.  But know this: your capacity to love will always be limited by your strength, ability, and preparation. 

The teleios person is the one who is ready, alert and diligent.  She is the one who makes God smile.  He is the one who doubles his talents.  Their lamps are lit and they have plenty of oil left over in case the groom is late.  They look out for their fellow sheep, and expand the flock.  

But none of us starts out this way!  We must go into some training to become "ready" to become teleios, mature and strong.  Or - we can kick back and produce nothing of eternal value (no fruit), run out of oil, bury our talents, and eventually become lion food.  If the bible is true and God is real - this is not speculation.  It's fact.  

Becoming “ready” or teleios is very much like training for athletics.  Certain areas of our lives require attention.  Some of these things will be easy for you, and others will be hard.  Using the athletic metaphor, here are the things we need to work on:

  • Motive = love
  • Strength/Power = Faith
  • Endurance = Hope
  • Balance = Living Well
  • Toughness = Indestructible
  • Flexibility = adaptable, teachable … keep smiling

Motive = Love 

Christ-love compels us … because we are convinced that … he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. (2 Corinthians 5:14-16)
World class athletes all love what they do or they couldn't see it through.  Similarly, our single-minded focus is to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.  To be considerate, to heal, to rescue, to teach … these are all activities that reflect love. 

Strength/Power = Faith

 “Faith is the victory that overcomes” (1 John 5.4)  
The less faith you have the less you will be able do for God.  It’s the muscle that enables our love - not money or time or knowledge ... it's faith!  The stronger we get, the more we can love.  How do we get stronger, how do we build faith?  Exercise, diet and rest in the right measures.  Let me be clear: just as faith without love is nothing but noise, so love without faith is nothing.  A mother may love her children, but if she lacks the strength to take action on their behalf, her love is a mere frustration. 

Endurance = Hope

 “Let’s lay aside every encumbrance (and the sin which so easily entangles us) and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”  (Hebrews 12:1)  
Endurance is necessary because we all want to quit from time to time.  This desire to quit (or go back to Egypt) comes from many sources.  Distractions and disasters are big ones, but also for many it’s just about complacency.  But the cure is the same: hope.  Satan wants to you to believe things are hopeless so you’ll quit.  But God offers endless hope – even to eternity.  If you hold on to our the hope, you’ll be able to endure to the end. 
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering (for He who promised is faithful) Hebrews 10:23

Balance = Living Well

Don’t be excessively righteous and don’t be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? Don’t be excessively wicked and don’t be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them. Ecclesiastes 7:16-18
Following Jesus is a life of extremes; complete self-sacrifice with eternal consequences.  But it is important to remember that whereas God is omnipotent, we are not.  We need rest, we need fun, and we’re commanded to work (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 & 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).  Learn to balance your life and enjoy God’s generosity so you don’t burn out.  Work hard, play hard and never be lacking in zeal (Romans 12.11). God does not want robots - he wants zealots.  Balance your life and you can sustain your zeal without becoming a machine.  Find a job you can enjoy, a person to share life with, and a few hobbies that put a smile on your face and help you interact with the world.  The strongest fighter can be defeated if you can get him off balance.     

Toughness = Indestructible

 “Remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.”Hebrews 10:32-34
You hurt my feelings, you meanie!  

The original audience of the letter we call “Hebrews” had endured lots of suffering.  And how had they responded to it?  They “accepted joyfully” these hardships and kept on serving.  Most Christians today are spiritual wimps, sissies, pansies … pick your insult; Paul called them “babies.”  The slightest hardship today makes “Christians” burst into tears just as if we had no God at all.  Complaining, whining and bickering are all accepted as normal, and we are always expected to “be nice” as if God’s people are called to be so fragile that even the tiniest insult is cause for tears.  There is much suffering in this world, but  if you’re honest from the heart you must admit that you should be able to take a lot more than you can.  I'm not suggesting that it's a sin to be a wimp - it's just a sin to STAY one!  Accept the fragile and be compassionate, but for goodness sake don't let them stay that way. Don’t be such a little girl – we are warriors of the Most High God – we are called to be His “mighty men,” and so whimpering is unseemly and embarrassing.   Toughen up so you can be a rescuer of the weak instead of a persistent victim.  How easily can someone “hurt your feelings”?  There’s the measure of your wimp-meter.  Jesus was tough and sensitive – learn to be like Him. 

Flexibility = adaptable, teachable … keep smiling

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:4-7)
Athletes stretch, warm-up and loosen up before a competition.  The US Marines have an oft-repeated expression: “adapt, improvise, overcome.”  Disciples are called to be like this, too.  Satan uses strategies designed to upset us, but we need to be flexible, teachable and adaptable.  it’s impossible to prepare for everything, so we must be ready to make changes when necessary – and do so with a smile.  Getting tense or afraid … will make us prone to injury and/or cause us to choke in the moment when we most need to be ready to adapt. 


Yes, believe it or not … this has been the short version.  Some of us struggle with parts of this, but find other things easy.  But all of us needs to be deliberate, intentional and focused in our pursuit of teleios.  It’s an oft-repeated theme in the New Testament, and it’s a disaster that we chase after following rules and religious leaders, but neglect the simple and straight forward assignment to grow into the image of Jesus – strong, loving, compassionate and fruitful. 

Remember that Satan really is a hungry lion, and he’s looking to devour you and everyone you know and love.  He really is our only enemy – all others are merely his pawns.  If you truly love God and your neighbor, then it’s time to get serious about your training so you and your loved ones don’t have to be Satan’s victims.  You can do this with God’s help – but you gotta try (“make every effort” – 2 Peter 1.5).  Will you be his victim, will you survive, or will you become a survivor who rescues others? 

If you’re interested in really pursuing this, let me know, and also work with your group, or find someone to join you in this quest.  It’s crazy hard to do this alone, believe me.  But the promise of teleios is glorious! 

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:29-30

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Deliberate Discipleship – On Purpose Growth

“Be teleios, as your Heavenly Father is teleios.”
Matthew 5.48

Most people think that once one is saved, he or she is now living in a state of grace, and that’s it.  We go to church, try to be good, apologize when we fail, and then just go on living one’s life.  Unfortunately, this isn't the whole story. 

Being a disciple is more like being a student or an apprentice.  When we are born again, we become spiritual babies.  We become children of God – new babes in Christ.  And just as it is with all new babies, it’s a time of celebration – but it’s also just the beginning of a process. 

Lots of new Christians miss the importance of this.  They feel a since of relief and joy from their salvation, but then as time goes by their zeal loses some of it's fizz.  Many of them are taught that prayer and bible study and church attendance is what they need, and that is true, 
BUT: these things must be done with a purpose!  

The purpose is not to have so-called “spiritual disciplines,” which has become another popular (and unbiblical) teaching these days.  As you’ll see later in the SOM, memorizing bible passages, reading just because you’re “supposed to” and praying like common religious people do … these things are insufficient for growth or to please God.   

Before you get too upset with me for challenging these things, please consider the outcome of these practices today.  Christianity’s reputation is very poor.  Many who have been Christians for years are weak, shallow and still have to be fed milk instead of solid food (1 Cor. 3.2 & Hebrews 5.12-13, for example).  Most Christians get harder as they get older, but instead of becoming more durable they become more brittle & fragile.  They should be leaders, but they’re still small-minded and opinionated.  If they don’t have the preacher, pastor or priest to come hold their hands, they fall apart.  Marriages get weaker – not stronger.  Many are just plain pathetic.  And children grow up to leave church completely.  How is that the strength and glory of God giving peace beyond comprehension? 

The failure is in the system.  Our churches are teaching us that we should study the bible, but they don’t tell us why (and very few teach how).  They have us attend church because we’re “supposed to,” but then they entertain us or yell at us when we get there, and they label their church gatherings as: worship, praise or worship services, when not one of these things is found in the bible.  Why do people accept giving church services a label that’s not in the bible?  Because they don’t know any better. 
“Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”  Matthew 15:14
The proper function of a New Testament church is to help you get stronger – not to worship God!  At least that’s what the bible teaches (1 Corinthians 14.26, Hebrews 10.24, Ephesians 4.11-16, etc.), and this is not the job of a “professional,” but it’s up to each person to participate.  (more on this in the next article)     

Since we get these misleading messages at church, it falls to each individual to seek the truth and learn how to develop from newly reborn baby into a teleios disciple.  That means you. 

The choice is clear: you can choose to be just another church-going nice person, or you can choose the way of discipleship. 

Being a typical Christian is much easier, and you’ll have lots of company. 
And what’s wrong with that?
Answer: the outcome. 

Muscles that aren't exercised atrophy.  If you (spiritually speaking) spend your life on the couch/pew watching TV/”worshiping” you will eventually be the spiritual equivalent of a fat, lazy slob.  Maybe you’re saved … but you’re good for nothing.  In the end you have become the one-talent Christian who buried it in the ground (Matthew 25.24-30) or you may be the fruitless plant (Mark 3.18-19), healthy big and strong, but with little or nothing to show. 

But even if this isn't your lot, you should understand that choosing this path is one of short term ease and long term pain.  Many older Christians today have their world rocked by things that are so minor it shouldn't faze them.  But since they haven’t developed spiritual calluses, they are way too easily angered or upset.  And when they get angry or upset … they don’t even have sense enough to be embarrassed for their behavior! 

Think for a moment, and consider how many seniors at your church can you name who are like this:
Love doesn't seek its own, isn't easily provoked, doesn't take into account a wrong suffered….  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:5-7
The alternative is to grow stronger spiritually each year.  Have a goal to be someday at a point where it’s very difficult to tempt you to be angry or hurt.  To become so strong that when the storms of life come your way, you can sleep in the boat like Jesus did instead of freaking-out like so many in our churches are today. 

When we learn to live and love like this, that’s when we’ll become attractive like Jesus was.  No one would want his life, but we’d all love to have his strength.  No one wants to suffer as he did, but everyone wants to be wise like he was, to heal and teach and have compassion like Jesus!

So … let me encourage you to consider this choice prayerfully.  If you want to take this difficult path, I’ll walk with you through it.  I will help some - God will help more.  I’ll show you how to make God smile and love you … not only as a cute baby, but later on for God to love you for what a fine adult you've become. 

God loves His children, but He doesn't always like us.  Choose wisely
He is our God, and we’re the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.
Today, if you would hear His voice, don’t harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness, “When your fathers tested Me, they tried Me, though they had seen My work.  For forty years I loathed that generation, and said they are a people who err in their heart, and they don’t know My ways.  Therefore I swore in My anger, Truly they shall not enter into My rest.”  Psalm 95:7-11
Consider this choice today.  Stop and pray about it.  Ask God to give you the wisdom to make the right choice, the strength to see it through and the love to help others to join us in the way.  Then, share your decision with another who may be like-minded; and with me in the comments section.

  Brothers, don’t be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be teleios.
1 Corinthians 14:20

Thursday, June 20, 2013



Therefore you are to be perfect, 
as your Heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5.48

Was Jesus crazy?  How can a man (even Jesus) command his followers to be perfect like God?  It just doesn't make sense.  And so, we generally just read over this and ignore it.  That’s too bad, because either Jesus was blathering on about nothing, or we’re ignoring something important.  There is no middle ground. 

In the next few lessons I’m going to cover this single line in greater depth, and if you stick with it … it’ll be one of the most rewarding experiences of your Christian life. 

Before I get too far into this, let’s see where this fits in the SOM.  This line is a sort of “hinge” in the sermon between two sections. 
Prior to this we had the “Rabbi” section, with the six teachings. 
In the next section, we’ll see Jesus teaching disciples they have to be better than religious people.  The tie that binds them together is that disciples aren't supposed to be like pagans or religious people – Jesus says we are to become like God. 

We love God because He created us – He gives us life and love and hope and healing, and He even saves us.  So Jesus tells us that our behavior should be just like Yahweh – we should be healing and loving.  We should be rescuers and caretakers.  So – the link between these two sections is this simple idea: Become God-like. 

Note: this isn't about becoming divine!  Rather, it’s about living our lives in a way that look like what God would do.  This is what Jesus did … he showed us how God would behave if He was a human being.  This is why we imitate Jesus – because he was the human version of God. 

So next time you’re tempted to hate your enemies; ask yourself “What did God do”? 
Answer: He loved us while we were His enemies. 
Response: we should do likewise


OK, now on to some good stuff. 

The Greek word translated as ‘perfect’ here is: teleios (pronounced: tell-ay-oss).  There are varying forms of the word, but I’ll just use teleios for all of them to keep it simple.  New Testament translators have a problem with this word because they need to put a word there – but really the word represents a whole philosophical idea that goes way beyond a simple definition.  Allow me to illustrate:

Old MacDonald had a farm, and on his farm were chickens and cows … and he had them for specific reasons – they’re not pets! 
Chickens make tasty dinners, but they also lay eggs and … they make more chickens. 
Cows give milk, they give ribs and steak and burgers … and they make more cows. 

But all these animals are useless when they are newborns.  One still has to feed and care for calves and chicks, but they don’t give milk or eggs and they’re too small to be worth eating.  If old MacDonald were Greek, he’d say that when a calf grows to the point where she has a calf of her own and starts giving milk … the cow is now teleios.  When the chickens are old enough to lay, eat and reproduce, they are teleios chickens.  When they are old or mature enough to serve their purpose, then they’re teleios.  Then they’re useful and productive.

In the same way, a human was said to be teleios when he or she was working and married and having kids (usually in their mid-teens). 

But then it became a philosophical question.  Kind of like when we ask “What makes a real man,” they may ask … when is a man really teleios?  There would be lots of answers, but the Greek ideal would include a man being excellent physically, a decent mathematician, a musician, a philosopher and an accomplished public speaker.  We might say a teleios man is kind but strong, physically fit, is a good dad … or whatever.  Hopefully you get the idea – we all have notions of what makes an ideal man. 

So that’s why when teleios is in the New Testament, translators use words like “mature” or “complete” or “perfect.”  There really isn't a good single word for it in English … it’s more about being an ideal version of yourself. 

Disciples are teleios when we become useful for the kingdom like old MacDonald’s critters:
  • When we are reproducing (bearing fruit)
  • When we are always thinking of others ahead of ourselves
  • When we’re merciful, full of compassion, loving and kind
  • When our faith is stronger than our fears or anxieties
  • When we become the “Jesus” version of ourselves

And that’s why Matthew uses that word here.  He understood that what Jesus was saying was that we needed to strive to become the ideal versions of ourselves … as God was the ideal.  God has a choice.  He doesn't have to love us.  He doesn't have to forgive us, and has little reason at all to want to give His son to this world.  But we are thankful that He did, because without that, we’d be doomed!

Do you see that this isn't about being perfect?  It doesn't mean we never make mistakes, that we never fail.  Rather, it’s about becoming something that in general is good, strong, loving and faithful.  And when we fail, we get back up and go again, just like Peter or David did when they committed their great sins. 

And since this is not about being flawless, we must not so easily dismiss this teaching of Jesus.  Rather, you should move it to the very top of your “to do” list.  When you do your three column thing … you should have “becoming teleios” as number one. 

The Gospel of Teleios

The good news is that whatever we are today, we can all become teleios if we’re faithful to God. 

This is a message we need to teach over and over again.  We do the work, He gives the growth.
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become teleios, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are teleios, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.
Brothers, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.
Philippians 3:12-17
Do you see that Paul is instructing the disciples in Philippi (and really all of us) to press on toward the goal … to work toward being teleios?  We should follow Paul’s example, and live accordingly.  Can you honestly say that you are leaving the past behind you and straining forward to to goal?  Are you giving it your best effort; or much deliberate effort at all?  
(Note: Paul was not working to be saved.  The work is to grow to teleios.)  
The word occurs several times in the New Testament, but we miss this idea because we don’t understand the word and concept.  In future lessons, I’ll write more about this.  But for now, spend some time considering … spend some time praying … spend some time and energy contemplating and planning to see what your life would look like if you understood that your job is to grow yourself to spiritual maturity, and also coach/shepherd/mentor others to also become teleios. 

 Things to consider

When we view Jesus as our Lord and Master, and consider that we are trying to become teleios, or the Jesus version of ourselves, we will see ourselves as Jesus’ apprentices.  This will change us.  Just the different way of looking at our walk will actually change us:
  • When we understand ourselves to be growing and developing, we won’t be so judgmental.  We understand that spiritual children make mistakes, and we must help them and keep encouraging them/ourselves. 
  • When we think of discipleship this way we’ll never be content to be “good enough,” but we’ll always want to get better
  • We will become merciful and humble, for we’ll know how hard it is
  • We will understand how discipleship is actually a personal thing … not a big church/system thing, but it’s about small groups intimately invested in each others’ growth
  • We won’t start teaching or sharing our opinions while we are yet learning.  Instead, we’ll focus on learning our lessons before we presume to be teachers.  
  • We will be teachable, correctable and love a good rebuke – for it helps us grow
  • We will understand that we must work, but still only God causes growth
  • We will work hard to become teleios – to be useful – to lay eggs, give milk, or offer ourselves as sacrifices. 

In future lessons I’ll try to motivate you to be deliberate in your quest for becoming teleios.  Our age is a lot like Jesus’ time, with the blind leading the blind:
“A blind man can’t guide a blind man, can he? Won’t they both fall into a pit?  A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.”
Luke 6:39-40“You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”
Matthew 23:24
It will fall to the younger readers of this blog to develop into someone who can lead responsibly and with your eyes open.  Preachers, teachers, parents and others these days are comfortable sharing their ignorant opinions (Proverbs 18.2).  I want to encourage you to discover God – and God alone.  Don’t merely talk about having a “personal relationship” with God, but rather actively partner with Him and participate in His kingdom work. 

Then develop yourselves into the kind of loving, working, growing spiritual warrior/athletes you can become.  And one day you’ll be ready to coach others. 

Carry this version around in your head:

Become teleios, as your Heavenly Father is teleios.
Matthew 5.48

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Love Practice – Love Your Enemies

I say to you:
Love your enemies & pray for those who persecute you

If you don’t obey this one, you’ll never have that house on the rock. 

Remember the end of the SOM (Matthew 7.24-27) where Jesus said the wise man builds his house on the rock?  Remember that storms will come to blow us away in this life.  Storms cannot be stopped - but they can be survived!  The one who actually obeys Jesus’ teachings … he’s the rock-house-guy. 

Loving one’s enemies is a valuable exercise that helps build spiritual strength.  It’s very simple … but it’s not easy.  It is simple and effective like running or push-ups.  What they do for your body, this does for your spiritual strength. 

If you've been following along in my teachings (or from scripture) … you know that spiritual/emotional strength can be built and developed in the same way an athlete develops muscle:
  • Proper diet/nutrition
  • Exercise/work
  • Rest/Sabbath

This is true of all living organisms, and it’s true of our spiritual selves. 

Consider today’s so-called “Christians.”  They sing nice songs and praise God and go to church and claim victory and love.  But – they also live with stress, anxiety, worry and fear.  Do you see the contradiction?  Jesus promised us rest for our souls (Matthew 11.28-30), and Paul promised that our hearts and minds would be guarded by peace that surpasses all comprehension (Phil 4.7). 

So are Jesus and Paul lying? 
I suspect the “Christians” who claim victory with their mouths while also living desperate, sad, fearful, stressed lives are the dishonest ones.  They live in sand-castles.  Their beach-front property looks very good … but every storm demolishes their mansion, and then they quickly rebuild the facade so others won’t notice.  And they look for answers in books and sermons written by men and "share" the so-called wisdom found therein. 

The simple fact is that they aren't getting enough exercise.  Just like in our physical life – we get lazy and gluttonous and become fat and out of shape, and then even the mildest activity causes blisters and sore muscles.  After a hard day’s work, do you want to eat a nice dinner and watch sports, or do you want to go for a run?  buah-ha-ha-ha!  Likewise, you can pray for your enemies or you can wish God will give you peace - relief from your anxiety.  

Jesus (who many call Lord, Boss, Master or King) is giving you an explicit, clear and direct command of “exercise:” pray for your enemies. 

The question is simple: will you - today - obey or not? 

This morning I prayed for my enemies.  It made me kinda sick at my stomach.  Praying that God would bless Bob, Rod … (I’d better not continue that list – you get the point).  It’s no fun.  Then again … I’d rather be praying for them than to BE one of them.  I’m happy that God reached out to me when I was His enemy, and I want to extend the same grace to my enemies someday.  May God grant me growth! 

He will grant my request.  He always has been faithful, but we have to be faithful, too.  God’s promises are conditional.  We must submit to His will and turn our backs on the world.  Jesus forces himself on no one.  He is only a King to those who willingly bow to him.  Question is … will YOU allow him to truly be your king – or merely say it? 

Pray for your enemies.  Do it right now, and then at least three times a day and make it a regular habit.  Or don’t.  It’s your house, build it where you want … on sand or rock. 

This is a nice lead-in to our next lesson which will cover only one verse.  It’s Matthew 5.48, and it fits nicely with this one.  Get ready, because I’m about to put you on a training program, and if you’re up for it … I promise you that God will honor your efforts and give you superhuman strength.  And once you have this strength, you’ll have a house on the rock – and no storm will defeat you.  You may (as I have) sustain a bit of damage … but if your foundation’s strong your house will stand. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Who’s Your Daddy?

You've heard that it was said,
‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But I say to you:
Love your enemies & pray for those who persecute you,
So that
you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven;
…He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

If you love those who love you, what reward do you have?
  Don’t even the tax collectors do the same?
If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?
  Don’t even the gentiles do the same?
Matthew 5.43-47

Before you read on, stop for a moment and meditate, think and pray about Jesus’ words above.  Think specifically about your enemies and what it would be like to love them and pray for them. 

Ok, if you’ve really pictured this in your mind, you’ve taken an important first step in obeying this command.  This is one most Christians feel perfectly comfortable accepting and teaching, but completely ignoring in practice.  Here’s a simple challenge: think back over your life … how many times have you heard a person pray for his enemies?  I don’t think I’ve heard it even once.  Will you obey this teaching this week?  Will you love and pray for your enemies, and encourage your fellow disciples to do the same? 

I put the challenge at the beginning of this article because if you won’t accept the challenge, there’s no point in reading on. 

This is the sixth of six teachings where Jesus has been teaching like a Rabbi.  Here are the earlier teachings, just to remind you:
  1. Don’t be angry with your brother
  2. Don’t look at women as sex objects
  3. Don’t divorce for selfish reasons
  4. Don’t make promises; always tell the truth
  5. Don’t resist an evil person
  6. Don’t hate – but love and pray for your enemy

If you pay attention, you’ll see that what these all have in common is that they’re about inter-personal relationships.  Jesus is teaching his disciples in that crowd of Jewish people how to be different than the ordinary religious person.  Like them, we who want to be disciples of Jesus, will be different than the typical “Christian,” and these teachings about relationships are the most important. 

Most modern “Christians” and their churches and religions concern themselves with doctrine, church activities and ministries.  They’re concerned about your attendance, participation, and volunteering.  There are bible studies and tons of ministries for each possible segment. 

True disciples of Jesus are different.  We are focused on how you treat other people while you’re doing whatever it is you do.  Jesus said, “While you’re going along the way … make disciples” (Matthew 28.19).  While you’re at work or at home or interacting with others … how do you treat them?  You see, it’s not mostly about your religious beliefs, but about how you treat people.  Remember the second most important command? 
“Love your neighbor as yourself”
This is our Lord’s command, and these six parts of this lesson have been these teachings on relationships. 

But with this last one there’s something different.  This last one has a different kind of motive than we’ve seen before.  In the beatitudes Jesus taught about things that make one “blessed,” and he said why.  In this last section if anything is said at all … it’s usually warning about hell.  But now there’s a shift in the motive.  This time it’s about our identity.  We do this because we want to be like someone and different from others.  Specifically, we behave this one so we’ll be like God and different than non-disciples.  Read it again and see … Jesus is telling us to love our enemies because that’s what God does, and it’s the opposite of what the world does. 

In the world, everything is about justice, fairness, or payback.  
But God is (thankfully) very different! 
“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own 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 5:6-11
Do you see what Paul is saying?  That while we were still sinners (and therefore God’s enemies), that He sent His son to die so that His enemies (us) could be forgiven and reconciled back into relationship with God!  You may not think of yourself this way, but the fact is that before your sins were washed away in baptism, you were an enemy of God. 

Son of a …

In the bible, the term “son of” doesn’t mean the same thing as it does to us.  It’s their way of saying that you’re like someone or something, because kids tend to be like their parents.  In the bible this is used to describe personality traits.  The man in Acts we know as “Barnabas” is really named Joe, but they gave him the nickname Barnabas (son of encouragement) because he was an encourager.  (Acts 4.36)  And Satan is called “the father of lies,” and religious people of his day are called his children.  (John 8.44)

So whereas most people expect to hate their enemies, we are called to love them because that’s the nature of God.  And if it weren’t for God being like this, we would have no hope at all!

Now go back and review your thinking about your enemies, and realize that to be like God toward them, you need to be willing to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and even love them and pray for them so that: you can be reconciled.  And it’s that reconciliation that often bothers people the most. 

Consider that someone has wronged you.  You (to be like God) must find a way to want that person to be back in your fellowship – to pray for him, to love him, and to be reconciled.  And why?  Because we want to be like God and offer hope.  Satan and people of the world offer revenge or (at best) justice.  Sometimes they just overlook wrongs because they don’t care enough about others to help the person get better.  But God’s people, like God Himself, offer a rebuke for sins to help the person, then forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation.  All of these things add up to hope. 

Discipleship is about becoming like Jesus, and this is a hard thing to do.  It’s hard, but not impossible.  If you want to be like the people in the world or ordinary “church” people … then go ahead and love only those people who love you.  Be nice only to people who are nice to you.  You will be just like the older brother in the prodigal son story – good and judgmental and unmerciful.  No one will ever take advantage of you, boy!

But remember that being like God means offering hope – even to the ugly, sinful, fat, drunken, hateful, slutty dishonest people of the world.  No matter the cost or the evil: To be like God, you must love the unlovable  

So who’s your Daddy? 
It’s pretty easy to call yourself a Christian or a child of God – but it’s a whole other thing to act like it.