Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Waiting too long to say "I'm Sorry" is dumb! Matthew 5:25-26

Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

- Matthew 5:25-26 

As Americans we hate waiting. We scan the Walmart lines to see which one we think we can get through the quickest. We destroy our bodies with fast "food." We gripe about lines at airports...even though the lines are for our own good! We can't stand a long wait at a restaurant. We complain when someone is supposed to meet us and they are late.

But there is at least one thing that most of us are all too ready to wait for. Sadly, we don't mind at all waiting to see if a relational storm will just blow over instead of following Jesus' advice and taking care of it now!

I don't have a ton to say about this passage because the bulk of what needed to be said, I said last week: making amends with our brothers and sisters for something we have done wrong or for something that has been perceived as us doing something wrong is such an urgent matter that it is better to postpone our worship in order to make things right with a brother or sister than to continue worshiping our mutual Father acting like we are not fighting with His beloved child.

But in verses 25-26, Jesus points out the practical reason for acting quickly when conflict brews. Whether you want to admit wrong-doing or not, in the end, it will just be much more likely to end well if you go ahead and humble yourself instead of waiting to see what will happen.

Of course He uses an earthly picture to explain the benefits of quick action in disputes. If you are being taken to court, it makes a lot of sense to do everything in your power to work things out before it actually gets to the judge because once it gets to the judge, you have absolutely ZERO say left in the matter. Whatever the judge says goes even if that means imprisonment until you have paid to the very last penny. But the judge that we are going to face some day will not just require us to pay gold or silver...the only just retribution that I can pay for wounding a child of the Eternal King of the universe is my eternal soul. THAT'S the point Jesus is making.

"I'll call them tomorrow."
"I'll wait until they cool down."
"I'll just see how things turn out because I'm not ready to deal with this yet."
"I'll wait till they apologize first."

That's about the dumbest attitude we can possibly have. What if there is no tomorrow, they never cool down, we are never ready to deal with it, or they never apologize? We will still have to stand in front of a righteous judge who will ask us to give an account for the words we have said, the attitudes we have shown, and the bitterness we have harbored....

...unless we have trusted in Jesus as Christ. And if we have done that, then we will stand before The Judge justified and free of guilt because the payment has already been made in full. But trusting in Christ means trusting his teachings about life...not just trusting his salvation. I can't have one without the other and it's silly to claim to trust in one without also trusting in the other. 

So how about it...who do you need to call today? Or you can put off thinking about it until the next time you start getting frustrated while waiting in line. Just remember that by then there might be absolutely nothing you can do about it.

Monday, April 22, 2013

When Empty Pews Mean Progress- Matthew 5:23-24

Photo by http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Alekjds

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5:23-24

Can you think of anything more important that worshiping our Lord and Savior, the Creator of the Universe, and the King of Kings? Now, I have to clarify that I am actually asking "should there be anything more important?" I must insert that should because in practice most of us seem to find many things more important than worship including rest from a long weekend, school projects that are due and have been procrastinated, entertainment, sports, or any number of other things that might come up and trump our desire to worship. But we are not thinking about what we actually practice; we are talking about what we hold as shoulds and oughts. Can  you think of anything in this world that should take precedence over worship? Is there any use of your time that ought to be listed as a higher priority than praising God?

I think most of us would say, "no." But Jesus says there is one thing that absolutely must be done before we come before the Almighty God to worship. In fact, he says that reconciling with those we have wronged is so important, that it is worth actually interrupting our worship to fix the matter immediately.

Why does Jesus present this matter with such urgency? Why must apologies happen right now instead of later?

I believe the answer to that lies in the passage that precedes this one and that we looked at last week. The one that says uncontrolled anger in one's heart is equivalent to murder in God's eyes. But still the question remains...why is the way we treat others so important to God?

Perhaps James 3:9-12 can help shed some light on God's perspective for us:
"With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water."
I liken it to the "Mother Bear Syndrome" that I've heard my dad talk about. Mother Bear Syndrome refers to the fact that my mom is one of the most patient people I know (she had 5 children!). She does not anger easily and she is quick to believe the best about someone...until you mess with one of her five children! If she feels that someone is hurting one of her cubs, then you'd better look out! Mother Bear just might pull her claws out and show some fangs! Can you imagine someone who has purposefully-- or even just carelessly--hurt me or one of my siblings approaching my mom and telling her how wonderful she is as a person and as a mother as if nothing had happened between that person and her child!? Do you really think my mom would care to hear from that person at that moment no matter how sincere the praise for her was!?

If we recognize that about a human mother, then why do we dare to approach the throne of our heavenly Father with praise on our lips when we have made no attempt to repair a relationship that we have damaged with one of His children who is created in His image !

Maybe one of the reasons the Bible Belt has so many different congregations on every block, and so many fluctuations in numbers as members of the body of Christ "change membership" when things get rough is that we have never really taken this instruction from Jesus seriously. Maybe one reason young people leave the church in huge numbers is that they have witnessed their parents abusing each other and their children over being late to worship and tempers are out of control until the car pulls into the parking lot of the building where we praise God. Maybe the church across America is struggling to grow and gain new converts to Christianity because Jesus said that others will know we are His disciples by our love for one another, and yet we have been content to hold worship services without first doing everything in our power to mend broken relationships before we bow in worship on Sunday morning.

People worry about numbers declining in churches all the time. But I can't think of anything I'd rather thank God for than if next Sunday church buildings across the nation were only half full because the folks who usually fill the pews have left their offering at the door of the church building in order to track down a brother or sister that they know...or just think they might have wronged.

Can you imagine the joy of worship that would result when all of those who are fulfilling Jesus' command here in Matthew 5:23-24 returned to worship arm in arm with the one they had been at odds with on Saturday!?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The hardest teaching of Jesus for brothers! Matthew 5:21-22

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Matthew 5:21-22 

I am the middle child of 5 and all of my siblings are about 1.5 years apart...and we are all pretty competitive. Let's just say the quote below from Phillip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew hit close to home!
"Growing up with an older brother, I fretted this verse. Can two brothers weather the storms of adolescence without relying on words such as "stupid" and "fool"?
We must remember as we look at this verse what we talked about last week...that Jesus introduced this part of the sermon by stating that unless our righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees we will not enter the kingdom heaven. I like what Yancey wrote about the six "You have heard that it was said/ but I say to you" statements that Jesus makes in the sermon on the mount. In fact, I like them better than I feel that I can write about them, so most of this post will be his writing. First he points out that,
"Using the Torah as a starting point, Jesus pushed the law in the same direction, further than any Pharisee had dared push it, further than any monk has dared live it....Jesus made the law impossible for anyone to keep, then charged us to keep it."

But then he says,
"For years I had thought of the Sermon on the Mount as a blueprint for human behavior that no one could possibly follow. Reading it again, I found that Jesus gave these words not to cumber us, but to tell us what God is like....Why should we love our enemies? Because our clement Father causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good. Why be perfect? Because God is perfect....How could I have missed it? Jesus did not proclaim the Sermon on the Mount so that we would...furrow our brows in despair over our failure to achieve perfection. He gave it to impart to us God's Ideal toward which we should never stop striving, but also to show that none of us will ever reach that Ideal. The Sermon on the Mount forces us to recognize the great distance between God and us, and any attempt to reduce that distance by somehow moderating its demands misses the point altogether.
The worst tragedy would be to turn the Sermon on the Mount into another form of legalism; it should rather put an end to all legalism. Legalism like the Pharisees' will always fail, not because it is too strict but because it is not strict enough. Thunderously, inarguably, the Sermon on the Mount proves that before God we all stand on level ground: murderers and temper throwers.... We are all desperate, and that is in fact the only state appropriate to a human being who wants to know God. Having fallen from the absolute Ideal, we have nowhere to land but in the safety net of absolute grace."
We say we know it...that all sins are equal before God. But we never think twice about losing our temper with our families or with a particularly worrisome, annoying, or selfish person in front of us. And we typically feel justified in our lashing out. Do we not take seriously Jesus' instruction about bursts of anger being liable to the fires of hell? Are we willing to bet our eternal souls that He didn't really mean what He was saying and was simply exaggerating to make a point!? Or do we despair, because try as we might to change our attitudes and control our tongues, the fire keeps fanning into flames that burn our families and neighbors occasionally?

The answer in Christ...is a resounding neither.

We aim for God's "absolute Ideal," as Yancey calls it, with everything that we have...not out of legalism, but out of desire to imitate the love that we have seen and experienced in God. Picture it as a child who looks pitifully cute standing in his daddy's clothes that are way too big for him to fill. But he puts them on anyway because he wants to be like his daddy. And the scrawny little boy trying to fill his daddy's full-grown clothes couldn't possibly make his dad any prouder.

Yes, we aim for the absolute Ideal and when we fail and fall short of it, we glory even more in God's grace as we see through scripture his smile at our desire to "wear his clothes." And that smile causes our desire to be as forgiving and as loving to others as our Father is to us grow even more. And one day...even if it is the day we meet Jesus in the air, we will finally fill out those clothes and they will fit perfectly naturally for the rest of our eternal lives.



What are you aiming for? What are you trusting in? What would it look like for you to aim for God's patience, God's "slow to anger" nature, God's love, and God's forgiveness this week?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Surpassing Righteousness- Matthew 5:20




"For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."

Matthew 5:20

I have to admit....I was pretty tied up yesterday and wasn't able to get to writing the VOW. However, part of the reason for that is that I was a little taken back when I read verse 17-20 and had to do a little digging. I made peace with verses 17-19 yesterday, but was still having trouble with verse 20 until just now. Take a minute to read the context of verse 20 and then I'll explain why I needed a little more time with it.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."
 Up until this passage, Jesus has really been just setting the stage...giving the introduction. He flipped everything about religion on its head with the Beatitudes and then called those who would heed his words to view themselves as salt and light. And then before he gets into the practical aspects of living that are the rest of the sermon, He makes it absolutely clear to the Jewish audience He was preaching to that He was in no way going to teach that the Law of Moses was anything but the inspired word of God and direction for life. It was to be held and followed by those who would follow God. Now before you run to the nearest sheep farm for a live sacrifice because Jesus did not in fact set the law aside, remember that while he said he didn't come to "abolish the law," He did say that he had come to "fulfill the law." Read Colossians 2:9-15.
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Well, in my mind, that is the answer to verses 17-19. Jesus didn't cancel the law, He finished (fulfilled) it! His fulfillment of the law meant that the law wasn't "cancelled" for us, but the "charge of legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us" was cancelled and nailed to the cross!

I hope you are screaming "AMEN" at the computer screen right now, because that statement in itself is enough to celebrate! If the impact of it hasn't hit you yet...go back and read through the books of the Law and behold the love and the severity of God and then come back and shout "AMEN" for joy!

But what about verse 20? Jesus' message throughout His ministry and the message throughout the NT was that we can't trust in ourselves and our righteousness. Take a look at Isaiah 64:6 which says that "all our righteous acts are like a filthy rag." Translating it as a "filthy rag" is a pretty polite way of putting it. The Orthodox Jewish Bible puts it "garments of menstruation." He wanted us to be very clear in our understanding that we can NEVER earn our way into God's favor with our righteous living, because when we compare it to God's, it doesn't look anywhere near what righteousness actually is.

Then why did Jesus say that "unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven"?

I think I've always had the reverse "pharisee and the publican" attitude when I've read that. "God, I thank you that I'm not like the self-righteous pharisee!" I understood Jesus' instruction to be saying that they were really just hypocrites and weren't really righteous at all. Well...that was true for a lot of them. But what about the sincere ones...the ones who did believe and put their faith in Jesus? Besides, even without them, there is still the problem of having to "surpass" anyone's righteousness as a means of getting into heaven! And we've already established that no amount of our righteousness can do that!

And then it finally hit me while I was just staring at the verse. He had already answered the question back in verse 17 when he said, "I have come...TO FULFILL THE LAW."

Jesus' whole point with the question in verse 20 was to reiterate that we can't do it ourselves! The Pharisees and the teachers of the law worked harder than anyone to be righteous and they failed miserably! But if they had to stand on their own righteousness in front of the almighty, righteous God, He would have cast them aside just like we would trash a "filthy garment!" (read the note above for the specific imagery if you've forgotten...it's not pretty!)

So how do we "surpass the righteousness" of them and enter the kingdom?



And so, not by our might or by our power, we surpass the righteousness of the pharisees and the teachers of the law.

Does that not give you reason to rejoice today!?

Next week, as we start looking at the practical instruction on day-to-day living in the sermon on the mount, I think it is absolutely necessary that we establish and keep in our minds exactly where "surpassing righteousness" does and does not come from. I am so thankful that it depends on God instead of me!

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Light of the World- Part I

photo by Osezaki_lighthouse.jpg
Originally, I was going to write about this passage as a whole this week. However, the more I think about it, the more I don't want to rush past the first statement to the second. So next week, you'll have to join me again if you want to talk about the absurdity of a lamp under a bowl! :) Today, I just want us to let the first seven words really sink in.

You are the light of the world.

First, before we even begin discussing it, in order to really let it sink in, change the "you are" to "I am" so it is easy to apply personally. Then read it out loud several times but with slightly different emphasis. (Don't worry, it will only take a minute!)
  1. Emphasize the "I"- Stop thinking about what anyone else is or isn't doing. Jesus is talking to you.
  2. Emphasize the "am"- Don't let it just be a neat churchy statement. This is a fact for a Christian.
  3. Emphasize the "the"- What if you were the only Christian left? Could the world see? The truth is that you might actually be the only light that someone sees.
  4. Emphasize the "light"- It won't really do any good for me to point out the different aspects of how we are lights. What does it mean to you?
  5. Emphasize the "world"- Do you really believe that God has purpose and designs for you that will have an impact on the world or do you secretly just want to not cause too much trouble while you are here?
If you just spent that time meditating on that one statement, that would be enough. I hope you'll stay with me for a few more paragraphs to think about what it means to be the light of the world, though. :)

How are we the light of the world if Jesus is the light of the world? The statement that Jesus is the Light of the world is made several times by Him and about Him especially in the book of John. (See John 1:4, 9; 8:12; 9:5; 12:35-36, etc.) Is it possible for Christians to be the Light of the World and for Jesus to be the Light or do the two statements contradict?

John 12:35-36 ties the two statements together beautifully.
"Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. 36 Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them." (Emph. mine)
C.S. Lewis said, "Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else."

I was talking to my wife last night about The Bible miniseries and the enormity of someone playing the part of Jesus. Isn't that a little presumptuous!? But the truth is that anyone who has sworn their allegiance to Christ has done just that in a sense. Paul says it as if we wear Christ like a costume, "for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Galatians 3:27). He uses the clothing wording again in Colossians to say that we "have taken off (our) old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator" (Col. 3:9-10). He also says that God "made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). If I am understanding it correctly then it is both our job to assume the role of Christ in our section of the world much the same way that an actor assumes a role in his world. And it is the Spirit's job to slowly transform us more and more into the actual image so that we are no longer acting, but being.

So for us, the question is simple. If you are the light of the world, then what are the people in your world looking at? Is your light shining at all? Verse 14 says, 

"Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."

 Marshall Keeble used to say, "The Bible does not say to make your light shine, but it says to let it shine!"
How will you do that today?