Monday, March 25, 2013

Forget the blood pressure...we need more salt! Matthew 5:13

Salt is in pretty much everything! Just look at the contents of any processed food. Better yet, just check your blood pressure! Today, most of us see salt as an enemy. We try to limit our intake of salt. We jokingly ask the person sitting next to us if they would like a few fries with their salt!

But the fact of the matter is that it is absolutely essential.
Hyponatremia. That's what it's called when you don't have enough salt in your blood.

"Symptoms of hyponatremia include nausea and vomiting, headache, confusion, lethargy, fatigue, loss of appetite, restlessness and irritability, muscle weakness, spasms, or cramps, seizures, and decreased consciousness or coma." Don't worry, I collected that information from Wikipedia, so it must be accurate! :)

In order to really understand what Jesus was telling us, we're going to have to think more like a 1st century Jew  who viewed salt as an incredibly valuable commodity, necessity of life, and symbol of everlasting covenants than as a 21st century American who views salt as something that sure tastes good but is typically something to be avoided because we already over do it with the salt on our french fries!

Did you know that God commanded every grain offering to be seasoned with salt? (Lev. 2:13)

Of course we know that salt is and especially was a preservative. Without refrigeration, it was absolutely necessary. That helps us to see at least one aspect of what Jesus was saying. As followers of Christ and children of God, we are called to come into contact with the rest of the world in order to keep it from going completely rotten! If that is true, then we should probably look around and ask, "how's it going?"

How is it going? 
If the world is getting more and more sexually immoral, could it be because the Christians are watching the same shows, wearing the same clothes, telling the same jokes, and dating the same way? If the world is getting more and more violent, could it be because Christians are rejecting Jesus' calls for submission and sacrifice? If the world is getting more and more addicted to technology and constant updates via cell phones, could it be that Christians are not modeling an addiction to the bread of life and the everlasting water? If our school systems are seeing more and more cheating, could it be because Christians are also buying the idea that the end justifies the means?

Sadly, Jesus already knew that many Christians would simply become like the world. And "if salt loses its saltiness how can it be made salty again?" The answer, of course, is that it can't. At that point, it serves no better purpose than to be thrown in the street.

It's a ridiculous thought to think about salt not being salty. It's even more ridiculous to think about Christians becoming more and more rotten along with the rest of the world because instead of being transformed, we are conforming (Rom. 12:2).

Conforming to the world as a Christian won't just kill your soul it will cause the world around you to become rotten even quicker!

What a shame to see the rest of the world experiencing spiritual hyponatremia (Symptoms include nausea and vomiting from guilt, headache from stress, confusion from failed and misguided dreams, lethargy from selfishness, fatigue from being slaves to sin, loss of appetite for real food from God due to indulgence in cheap imitations of God's good gifts, restlessness and irritability from lack of purpose in life, muscle weakness due to never restraining impulses, spasms due to lack of emotional control, or cramps, seizures, and decreased consciousness or coma- i.e. the walking dead)

What an even greater shame for all of us who are Christians to cluck our tongues at the world's sickness and fail to see that hyponatremia is due to a lack of salt in the world...while we are the salt.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Do you really believe enough to quit complaining? Matthew 5:10-12

"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."

- Matthew 5:10-12

Warning! I am about to write an entire post about something I don't really believe! Please continue reading with the understanding that the author is a big hypocrite in this area.

Before I'm labeled as a heretic that doesn't believe the words of Jesus, let me explain! My head believes it heart and my emotions just haven't quite caught up yet. I'm praying that one day they will!

Do you remember what happened the first time Peter and the apostles were arrested and beaten for preaching about Jesus? You can read about it in Acts 5. Here's the cliff's notes version. Peter and the rest refused to obey the religious leaders and quit talking about Jesus because obeying God was more important to them (Acts 5:29).   Gamaliel, an incredibly well-respected Jewish leader, convinced the other leaders that they needed to let Peter and the others go because, after all, they might be wrong about Jesus not being from God. If it Jesus was from God, Gamaliel argued, you can't do anything about it anyway (Acts 5:39). And lo and behold, his argument won the day! But... just for good measure, they went ahead and flogged Peter and the others, anyway, and told them one more time to quit talking about Jesus!  

I think it's worth mentioning that a flogging for the Jews meant being hit 39 times with either a rod or some sort of pretty barbaric whip. Do you know why it was 39 times? Because the law only allowed 40 times for fear the person would die if they took too many more. To be sure they didn't violate the law by miscounting, they stopped at 39. Pretty considerate, huh?

And do you remember how much Peter complained about the hypocritical leaders beating him after acknowledging that they might be wrong and Peter might just be right about Jesus after all? Do you remember how the apostles told everyone in Jerusalem how unfair the council was therefore proving that people should listen to the apostles instead of the council? Do you remember that?

No, you don't. And here's why:
"So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ."   - Acts 5:41-42
 Wanna know the worst that anyone has ever done to me? They've talked about me behind my back, assigned false motives for different decisions that I've made and twisted my words to say what they wanted them to say. Wanna know my reaction? I felt sorry for myself, complained to my wife, my dad, my brother, and my father-in-law, and eventually complained to God about it and asked God to fix the situation.

And that is why I have to admit that while I believe in my head that Jesus was telling the truth in the last beatitude above about being blessed if you are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, if I'm honest, I have a lot of trouble believing it enough to put it into practice the way Peter did. I feel very confident that when Peter left the council beaten and bloodied, the first words that went through his mind were those of Jesus saying, "Rejoice and be glad! For in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you!" And Peter obeyed. He rejoiced and he kept at his work joyfully. I imagine it was a discipline for Peter to remind himself to rejoice instead of complain when he painfully rolled out of bed the next morning. I imagine it was difficult at first to train his mind to think, "Blessed am I!" instead of "woe is me!" each time his scabs were reopened. 

But I know that the same Holy Spirit that filled Peter and gave him enough strength and enough faith in Jesus' teachings to allow him to rejoice also fills me and offers the same strength and faith to me today. And he does the same for you if He is in you through Christ!

So how about it? What do you need to quit complaining and start rejoicing about today?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Caught in the Middle! - Matthew 5:9

Drawn by Lindsay Bradford

"Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they shall be called sons of God."

  Matthew 5:9

Have you ever been caught in the middle of an ugly fight? Maybe it wasn't even that big of a deal, but as a Christian, you've read God's admonitions for Christians to be known by their love (John 13:34-35), for brothers to work out their problems (Matthew 5:21-26), and for followers of God to live peaceably and in harmony with each other (Philippians 2:1-5; 4:2-3). Not only have you read them, but you have felt compelled to help others live them out as well as yourself.

In Philippians 4:2, Paul begged Euodia and Syntyche  to get along and then in verse three asked Syzygus to help  them get along. In other words, Paul asked him to come between these two women to help them make peace. Why? Because the rest of the world understands conflict, selfishness, and war. They need to be shown the different and better way of the kingdom of heaven. They can see that better way when the subjects of the kingdom are sometimes willing to give up their individual rights when necessary in order to live in peace with each other.

Perhaps you have found yourself in the place of Syzygus...trying to bring two parties together who are at odds with each other. And you know what happens as often as not when someone tries to come between two battling people, right? The peacemaker gets caught in the cross fire. Both sides turn on him because he is speaking the truth about the faults that lie on both sides. He is calling for both sides to repent instead of choosing sides. Because his eyes are opened to both of their faults and he loves them anyway enough to point out those faults, he is accused of being blinded by "the other side."

Is that where you are right now?

If so, there is good news in this Beatitude, because while being caught in the middle is often a miserable and thankless place to be, Jesus assures us that inside the kingdom of heaven, that person is called a son of God!

Dallas Willard points out that
"under God's rule there is recognition that in bringing good to people who are in the wrong (as both sides usually are) you show the diving family resemblance, 'because God himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked' (Luke 6:35 REB). The peacemaker deals precisely with the ungrateful and the wicked, as anyone who has tried it well knows" (The Divine Conspiracy. p 118).
I guess the challenge & really the comfort for this week as you notice conflict brewing and are trying to decide whether or not it is worth another ulcer if you jump in the middle is to simply remind yourself that as miserable a position of peacemaker usually is also a position that is referred to as a "son of God."
Does that make the decision to intervene more attractive?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Who are the "pure in heart?"- Matthew 5:8


"Blessed are  

the pure in heart,

for they shall see God."


Matthew 5:8 

I've tried to reiterate each week the approach I am taking in looking at the beatitudes, but I'm not sure I've done a good job of explaining it. As I've said before, I'm not entirely sure this is the absolute correct approach, but in many ways, it makes more sense to me than other approaches. The idea for looking at the Beatitudes as facts of kingdom living rather than as what we are to do to get into the state of blessedness inside the kingdom comes from Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy. I don't agree with all of what he says or teaches, but I appreciate his approach to looking at scripture at least in this book. (I am not too familiar with his other works.) Anyway, I thought it might be beneficial to use his words to try to explain this view of the Beatitudes a little better.
We have already indicated the key to understanding the Beatitudes. They serve to clarify Jesus' fundamental message: the free availability of God's rule and righteousness to all of humanity through reliance upon Jesus himself, the person now loose in the world among us. They do this simply by taking those who, from the human point of view, are regarded as most hopeless, most beyond all possibility of God's blessing or even interest, and exhibiting them as enjoying God's touch and abundant provision from the heavens.
This fact of God's care and provision proves to all that no human condition exludes blessedness, that God may come to any person with his care and deliverance. God does sometimes help those who cannot, or perhaps just do not, help themselves. (So much for another well-known generalization!) The religious system of his day left the multitudes out, but Jesus welcomed them all into his kingdom. Anyone could come as well as any other. They still can. That is the gospel of the Beatitudes (Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p. 116).
 I would encourage you to look into the book a little more if anything I've said has peaked your curiosity.

I, do, however, disagree with Willard on his assessment of the "pure in heart."

Based on his assertion that Jesus is only looking at the "lowest of the low," Willard describes the pure in heart as the perfectionist who is never satisfied because nothing is ever good enough for them. They are hard on others and harder on themselves. But inside the kingdom, yes, even they will be blessed because one day, they will finally actually see and realize perfection because they will see God and therefore finally be satisfied.

While I agree with the truth of that principle, I have a hard time agreeing that Jesus is using the "pure in heart" in that negative sense. It seems to go against the desire for purity of heart that we are encouraged to have everywhere else in scripture (2 Sam. 22:27; Ps 18:26; 24:3-5; 73:1; Is 52:11; 2 Cor 11:2-3; Phil 1:10; 2:15; 1 Tim 1:5; 5:22; 2 Tim 2:22; Tit 2:5; 1 John 3:3). When talking about being pure, we are talking about being free from contamination. My understanding of "pure in heart" then is all about  being absolutely pure in our devotion to God. There is no desire in our heart that competes with the desire to know God. I think of Paul's words in Philippians 3: 7-11:
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him,...
 The only possible way I could agree with Willards idea that Jesus is referring to the pure in heart in a negative sense would be more in line with someone who is pure in their own eyes. Proverbs 20:9 speaks to that when it says "Who can say, 'I have kept my heart pure. I am clean and without sin?'" But that context doesn't seem to fit naturally with Jesus' words.

So what could Jesus be saying then?

I believe it's very simple. The principle of the openness of the kingdom of heaven to all who will enter through Christ is still the same. Jesus has talked about those who are spiritually poor being able to be welcomed and blessed inside the kingdom, but at the other end of the spectrum, those, like Saul of Tarsus, who have tried their entire lives to serve God, but have failed- those who are "the pure in heart"-  they are ALSO beautifully and wonderfully welcomed and blessed inside the kingdom! And that which is their heart's greatest desire- to see God- will be given them!

To me, this is a message of comfort as much as anything else. What person who is seeking to follow God's will in their life but gets confused about the details does not get frustrated and impatient for God to show up in a more obvious way? What Christian who is pure in heart doesn't ask the question with Paul about which is better- to die and be with Christ or to live and serve him longer on the earth (Phil 1:22-24)? And to that person, Jesus says, "you can be blessed! You can rest assured that you will be given what you so earnestly desire. You  WILL one day see God!"

That's great news to me! What difference will it make in your life today?