12/20/2015

Jesus says: Stop finger pointing

"Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." ~ (Matthew 7:1-5, NASB)
I have to admit, I'm really good at finger pointing.

If you need somebody who can point out the faults of others and dissect them with more precision than a brain surgeon, I'm your guy.  If it were possible to nitpick somebody else to death, the police would've probably issued a warrant for my arrest a long time ago.

As a Christian, I am not particularly proud of this ability.  It is not exactly a skill set that Jesus applauds.  Be that as it may, there is something in my heart of hearts that revels in the nonsense that I have often engaged in.  It makes me feel smarter and morally superior to somebody else.  It fills my tank up with enough self-righteousness to fuel a trip to the moon.

The older I've become the more I've learned I'm not alone in delighting myself in this behavior.  Much of my fellow man enjoys finger pointing too.  A person casually browsing through Facebook on about any day of the week will find more than enough evidence to prove my thesis quite nicely, especially on nights where a hot mess is erupting on the evening news, or during an election season.

Be careful with finger pointing.

When you point the finger at somebody else, you've got three pointing back at you. What you slam somebody else about says a lot more about you than them. Be careful, in judging somebody else you might find yourself to be looking in a mirror.  Just like all the times when you judge somebody else for judging somebody else, yet you remain blind to the fact of what you are doing.

There is a lot of hypocrisy in judging others.  It's attempting to take the speck of dust out of somebody else's eye while you have a 4x4 lodged in your own.  You are blind to your own problems as you obsess over the problems of another.

And if you've noticed, for all the judging we do, we've yet to learn that there isn't a whole lot of good that comes from "calling people out" and "telling it like it is."  Such activity might make for good talk radio and keep folks like Rush Limbaugh employed for decades after decades.  But when it comes to actually solving problems and helping other people, it usually doesn't, and often creates more problems than it solves.

However, in saying all of this, Jesus isn't entirely tossing aside the idea of pointing out the faults of others and making judgments.  He regularly pointed out the faults of others, and so did His closest of disciples.  Jesus isn't saying "don't judge" altogether, as some who are looking to escape their own guilt regularly claim He taught such an idea.  He didn't.

Jesus is actually ok with you judging others.

The thrust of Jesus teaching here in the Sermon on that Mount isn't to refrain from judging altogether, so much as it is an exhortation to look inward at yourself first and foremost, and to not shoot off your mouth every chance you get (as people were not likely looking for your opinion anyway).  It's an exhortation to be quiet on a lot of issues and problems that you see with others and in society as a whole.  It's an exhortation to second guess what you are seeing, and to second guess what you have to say.  It's an exhortation to look inward before you look outward, and to give others the benefit of the doubt, just as you would want others to do in regard to you.

We might correctly summarize this passage in saying that Jesus is simply telling us that before you start gun-slinging at others that "You need to check yourself before you wreck yourself."  

Only in dealing with yourself first will you ever become of the right temperament and gain the skills and vision necessary to go about removing the spec in the eyes of others.  In engaging in a little introspection, you will realize how difficult it was to remove the plank in your own eye before you attempt to remove the speck in somebody else's, and therefore, you will deal more carefully with the eye of another.

And in dealing with yourself first, you will realize how big your problems are compared to how small the problems of others are.  Yet experience would show that we often think of our own problems as trivial and the problems of others as larger than life.

I try to remind myself of this anytime I get into a deep conversation with somebody on an issue in which I am trying to persuade them.  It helps me to be more gentle, patient, and kind. I realize that I did not always believe the things that I believe, or act the way I act, and I have often changed my opinions and behaviors over the years... not to mention the fact that I have often failed to practice what I preach.  Therefore, I will always preach to myself before I dare preach to others.

Therefore, when looking to actually help somebody (instead of merely just judging them), I should speak to them in the same manner that I spoke to myself in my own internal dialogue and struggles over issues that I have wrestled with.  And knowing how I dealt with myself, I will show much more compassion in attempting to deal with others, knowing my own frailty, shortcomings, and tendency to error.

And together, we might become men who see instead of men whose eyes hurt.

12/07/2015

Jesus says: You love to worry


If Jesus ever had anything to say to us in America today, I think He would talk to us about worry.  Worry is something we excel at as Americans. 

We worry about our children.  We worry about our finances.  We worry about which political parties will get elected into office.  We worry about our constitutional rights being trampled on.  We worry about global warming.  We worry about radical Isalmic terrorism (and actively contemplate shooting a bunch of them dead). 

We worry so much and so often, I believe Jesus would tell us that we are a people who love to worry.  Otherwise, why would we worry as much as we do unless we love to do it so much? 

Worrying may feel like something of an involuntary action.  We feel like we can't help but worry.  It's just something mothers can't help but do, right? 

But Jesus is of another opinion on the matter. 

Worry is a choice.  Worry is something you voluntarily choose to do.  Worry gives us the illusion of control.  Worry invites us to play out little war games in our head as an attempt to solve our problems and to take control over our destinies.

Jesus says such is a losing battle.  Instead of attempting to war game our way through life, Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount:
"Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own."  ~ (Matthew 6:34; NASB)
Jesus commands us not to worry.  "Not worrying" is something we can and must actively do in our life and mind.  And by not worrying, we open up the opportunity in our lives to actively watch God work in our daily life, as we trust Him to put food in our stomach, pay our bills, and put clothes on our back. 


Jesus says that when we worry, our imagination is fundamentally no different than that of the pagan idolator, who deifies inanimate objects and sees imaginary forces as the root cause of all his ills.  And like the idolator, we think if we can but appease all these things and forces, with a little luck, we might just see things work out in our favor.  As a result, we start putting our trust in things other than the Lord to rescue us from all of our problems. 

Now, in saying all of this, I'm not dismissing the reality of the problems we face on a day-to-day basis.  Yes, absolutely, there are problems that we face that are very much real.  Jesus never dismisses the harsh reality of the world we live in.  We are in need of food, drink, clothing, shelter, and protection. 

But instead of war gaming our way through life and attempting to mitigate all of our risks, Jesus encourages us to stop fighting losing battles in our minds, and to transform all of our worries into thoughts and prayers that we take to God.

At the end of the day, when you really think about it, worry is all about worship. 

We will either deify the objects and forces in our imaginations, and go the way of the idolator, or we will find ourselves taking everything in our lives to our Heavenly Father, who knows what we need, and promises to meet us in the midst of our need.

It is no wonder that Jesus ended His teaching on worry in the Sermon on the Mount with an exhortation to "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33)  

For it is only in seeking first the kingdom of God and turning away from the idolatry of worry that we will overcome the fears and doubts about the future that plagues our minds.  Worship allows us to encounter the Great I Am in the trouble of every moment as we live out our lives in this world.

For only by turning to God will we avoid the trap of worrying like an idolator, and trying to solve our problems and the problems of this world exactly like an idolator would.  And instead of implementing paganized solutions in our world and the world around us, maybe our imaginations would dream up solutions that are in keeping with the teachings of Jesus and the reality of the kingdom of God. 

And in a world currently plagued by the worries associated with things like Islamic terrorism, I can't help but feel the church could dream up better solutions than doing things like bombing Muslims to hell and arming students at places like Liberty University with guns.  Such solutions seem birthed out of worry instead of solutions birthed out of actively trusting God to intervene in our daily affairs.

11/14/2015

Jesus says: Beware of Money!


Alcoholics have this tendency to think that they can hold their liquor really well.  They feel they can always have "just one more," and that they can quit drinking at any time.

People often have this same problem when it comes to wealth.  They don't think they have a problem with the love of money.  They just like to work hard, dream big, and pursue the American dream.

We have this tendency to look at money as a very neutral thing, and say things like "It's only a tool, it's neither good or bad, money is what you make out of it."  Such is fundamentally no different than the alcoholic that thinks they can hold their liquor.  We never view making one more dollar as a danger.

Yet this is the exact opposite view that the New Testament holds.

In the eyes of Jesus and the apostles, money was far from a neutral thing.  Money was something that had the power to transform you, and even damn your very soul.  And instead of looking at wealth as a sign of Divine favor and a great source of blessing, money was looked at as something that was to be handled very, very carefully.  

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!  No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth." ~ Matthew 6:19-24 (NASB)
Here you have it, in black and white (or in red letters if that's your thing)! 

Jesus says the way you view money is of eternal importance.  Your perspective about wealth will shape your eternal destination, and it will define your religion and your relationship to God.

As Jesus says above, He wants us to look at money with clear eyes so that our souls can be full of God's light, and so that we can value things in their true and eternal perspective.  Such will keep us heavenly minded, and safeguard us against ruin.  He warns, however, that if our vision is bad and if we don't have a clear perspective, we are in danger of being lost in darkness, and will understand the world (and heaven) in a very warped and perverted way, though we claim to "really" understand (like some of you who are disagreeing with what I'm saying).

Jesus says that trappings of wealth are so dangerous that you are going to have to choose who you are going to have to a love for, and who you are going to hate.  Jesus says if you love money, you are going to hate God.  However, if you are going to love God, you are going to have to hate wealth.

Loving both simply does not mix, try as you might.

So let's get this straight:  Jesus says you will love money and hate God, OR, you will love God and hate money.

This is what Jesus leaves us with in His teaching on the Sermon on the Mount.  He doesn't leave us room for both.

Of course, such offends our American sensibilities.  It especially offends our American Christian sensibilities.  For we have this tendency to look at wealth as a blessing from God and a sign of Divine favor.  It's become the seal of our righteousness, the proof that God loves us, and that He is on our side!

Far from looking at money as a neutral thing, as Christians we should be as uncomfortable around it as we are idols.  And if we aren't, we can be assured that we are on the fast track to making money our idol and master.  And worst of all, far from being a sign of God's favor and blessing in our lives, it is a warning sign from God that we are on our way to hating Him instead of loving Him.

10/30/2015

Jesus says: Stop Praying Long Prayers



"And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.  So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him."  (Matthew 6:7-8; NASB)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us that prayer is not supposed to be a cardio vascular workout.

Yet in a great deal of irony, in some Christian circles, it is quite fashionable to connect one's spiritual strength and maturity to the amount of time one spends praying.  Lord knows I've been guilty of this.  And I've often guilt-tripped others for their lack of praying.  For in the Pentecostal tradition I come from, we have this tendency to think of prayer in terms of a long marathon, and liken it unto delivering a baby, whereas Jesus thought of prayer as something more like a short sprint or a power nap.

That of course is not to say that there aren't to be times in our lives that we engage in prayer for long periods of time.  The Bible talks about such things too.  After all, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness fasting and praying.  And the night when Jesus was betrayed, He "tarried" in prayer for over three hours.  And we read in the book of Acts that the apostles and church gathered together for long times of prayer.

But for the everydayness of life, prayer does not need to be this long drawn out thing.  While prayer is essential to the life of a Christian, you should't feel guilty if your prayer life doesn't measure up to the "giants" of the Christian faith.

God hears your prayers, whether you only spend 5 minutes in prayer a day or 5 hours!

If you were to study the Bible closely, you'll discover that the average time the great men of faith and power spent in prayer was actually pretty short.  Their prayers were marked by very few words. And when the Lord taught us to pray, His model prayer was marked by extreme brevity.  It was something you could say in well under a minute.

I think that your prayer life should be a lot like marriage.

My wife and I when we first got married, we spent two weeks together on our honeymoon.  And since then, we have times where we slip away for a few days just to be with each other.  But in the day-in-day-out of our relationship, we don't spend hours upon hours talking to one another.  We briefly acknowledge each other in our morning routine as we get ready for work.  We might send a text message or two back and forth throughout the day.  Then once we get off work and we settle in for the evening, we spend a little time chatting for the remainder of the night. And if we have something important to talk, we will spend a longer time conversing and hashing those things out.

But, the vast majority of the time my wife and I spend together, we don't spend in conversation, but we spend it simply just enjoying life together.  That is what we got married for after all!  And so it should be with us in the Lord.  In fact, I think if I spent hours upon hours talking to my wife every single day, it would probably hurt our relationship in the long run.

And so it is with God.  If you want to risk destroying your relationship with God, spending hours upon hours a day in prayer is a great way to do that!  Take that as a word of wisdom from somebody who used to spend a couple hours a day in prayer with God on a regular basis.  It did not make my relationship with the Lord any better, in fact, I would argue that it made things worse.  And such praying had a tendency to hurt my relationship with others as well.

Talk to the Lord.  Keep the lines of communication open.  Tell Him what you are thinking, and listen back.  Have some quiet time from time to time.  But above all, live your life in the mere enjoyment of the Lord.  And if you are in need of something or see somebody else in need of something, take a minute or two out of your day and simply let God know.  You don't have to work yourself into a psychotic frenzy to see God respond. You need not pray in tongues for hours upon hours to see God at work in your life, or the life of others.  Do all things by prayer, but don't spend forever and a day in your prayer closet.  Get out into the world.

For it's just as Jesus said.  God already knows what our need is.  He will respond simply by us entrusting all of our cares to Him, for we are in close relationship with Him.  He's walking along with us in the cool of the day, participating in our life.  We don't need to spend hours upon hours running our mouths and yapping God's head off.  We just need to point things out from time to time.

That's what prayer is really supposed to be like.

9/29/2015

Jesus says: Stop Taking Volunteer Selfies!!!


These days, an increasing number of churches are having a multi-day volunteer events, in which there is a big push from the pulpit for the church to come together corporately for the purpose of engaging in good works that impact the local community, to serve as a witness to our civic leaders and neighbors as to the value of our church in our city, and to demonstrate the love of Christ.

Mimicking what has long been a practice in corporate America, these "Love Week" events typically require volunteers to log and record the hours they spent volunteering and to report it back to the church.  Also, they generally require all the volunteers to wear a bright colored t-shirt with the church logo on it for advertising purposes, and to show our unity as a church.

And just as in corporate America, a camera always magically appears from nowhere to take a picture and record the event, so that the picture can be later used for promotional purposes, to show how awesome and valuable our church is at "giving back."  And often, volunteers readily whip out their cell phones, and take selfies of their group, and post these selfies on Facebook for all the world to see.

And we do all of this, because it's exactly what Jesus told us to do... right?

Interestingly enough, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us to just do the opposite:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.  ~ (Matthew 6:1-4; NASB)

We may not literally blow trumpets in the marketplace anymore when we seek to do a good deed.  But we sure as heck love to blow up Facebook and Instagram with us engaging in charitable works all around town with our friends.

Our most beloved corporations and churches just love to get their hands on as many recorded volunteer hours and photographs as possible.  Such is great fodder for advertising, or more importantly, to remind government officials making zoning decisions about how important your organization is to the community.  Plus, it gives volunteers warm fuzzies about being part of such an "important" organization that gives back to the community and "really makes a difference."

In other words, such activity at the end of the day is self-seeking and self-promoting.

And it is ultimately deceptive, because it gives the impression that such activity is being engaged in purely for the love of community, as a selfless act, when in fact such activity is being engaged for purely selfish purposes.  It gains the attention that is sought from others, and that attention is ultimately sought for the purpose of benefiting the corporation, the church, or the individual.

Of course, Jesus says if attention is something you crave, then feel free to soak up all the attention you want from this world.  The attention you crave is the reward you will receive in full.  But don't think you have any brownie points with God, or that you've done something of eternal significance.  You'll get your proverbial "pat on the back" and favor with the people you desire attention from.

But don't think you'll be receiving an ounce of favor from God.  God won't even notice what you've done.  You might get a few miles out of the attention you gain from others, but that's not going to gain you very much in the grand scheme of things.

Instead, Jesus says that when you engage in good deeds, do your good deeds as quietly as possible, and seek to be noticed by God, and God alone.  Jesus says to lay off all the volunteer selfies and blowing up Instagram with them.  Jesus says don't do a "check-in" a status update on Facebook every time you volunteer at the local homeless shelter or soup kitchen.  Jesus says stop recording your volunteer hours to report to your pastor.

After all, God notices what you are doing to help others. Every hour you've volunteered is recorded in heaven with Him.  He sees what you are doing in secret, without you seeking to bring attention to yourself.  And He who sees what you do in secret will grant you more favor than anybody in this world could possibly grant you, not only now, but throughout all eternity.

9/26/2015

Jesus says: Your Love is too Small. Love Bigger.


Jesus says that as humans, we are really good at loving those who love us back.  

Most of us manage to love those who we are supposed to love, like our immediate and somewhat extended family members (most of the time).  Most of us manage to love a couple of really close friends and some folks we know at church.  Some of us love a couple people that we work with.  And, one or two of us manages to even love our boss.

But that's usually where our love stops.  Beyond that, ice begins to form along the ridges of our heart, as we grow increasingly hard and cold towards others outside this circle of people that we love most.

As a result of our love growing colder the further somebody gets from the center of our hearts, we often begin to treat people very differently from the people we really love.  For example:

  • You demonize every former romantic interest you've ever had.
  • When some random person you don't know on Facebook openly disagrees with a comment you make about President Obama on a Fox News report, and then you proceed to hurl every insult your sanctified lips can muster at that person.  
  • Anytime you see a homeless person begging for money on the side of the road, you make sure to tell your kids never to give people like that money, because they will probably just use it for booze or drugs.
  • You gladly bend over backwards to help somebody you like, but get irritated and upset over inconveniences others cause you to experience.
  • When you see a black person walking down the side of a road that you are driving on, and you instinctively lock your car door.
  • You make it a point to vote for certain politicians because they promise to destroy every Islamic radical who wishes to do harm against the United States or the nation of Israel.  
  • When you talk badly about somebody because they are rich or because they are poor, and assume they are such because they lack some sort of virtue or mindset that you just so happen to possess. 
  • You never volunteer in the community, and you give little or no money to any person or organization besides your immediate family or local church.  
  • If you experience bad customer service somewhere, and you act like a jerk towards the people who work for that company because of it.
  • You feel happy when "karma" finally pays back somebody you don't like, or you find it impossible to be happy for them when something good comes there way.
  • When you try to out perform your peers at work or school instead of simply just doing your personal best every day.  
  • You are overly critical of others, and more than happy to point out their shortcomings.
  • When you regularly "forget" to follow through on promises you make to others.  
  • You don't respond to phone calls or text messages in a timely manner (...yeah, I just went there).  

I could probably rattle off a million other things other than what I have listed above.  And I don't do such simply as somebody who is nothing more than a finger-pointer.  I do such as somebody who is something of an expert at not showing love towards others.  

And naturally speaking, I think we all know what it means to be an expert at not showing love towards others.  We love those whom we love, and that's all there is too it.  To everybody else we are cold, callous, indifferent, rude, short-tempered, and even openly hostile and hateful.  

Yet, Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that heaven doesn't give out any rewards for loving those that love you back.  There is nothing particularly virtuous about this ability.  Jesus said even godless pagans are able to do the same.  Heck, even Hitler loved his mother and his wife.  So what makes you so special?

When Jesus goes so far as to say that you must "love your enemies, and to pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44; NASB), I am confronted with the reality that my ability to love is too small, and that I need to learn to love bigger that my heart's present abilities.  I need the type of love that can only come from God to fill up my heart, and make me the kind of person that can love those not only outside my bubble, but those who are openly my enemy and even want me dead.

Because my enemies... I want them dead, and I want them dead in a very Old Testament sorta way.  And the deader they are, the happier I usually am.  And, I think there is something like that in all of our hearts, to one degree or another.

It is no wonder then that Jesus linked the idea to be sons of God with the ability to love our enemies.  For such is something our hearts just don't naturally do.  It's only something those born of heaven can do, even as Jesus did on the cross.

We are more than happy to love our families and to love our country, and we are willing to defend both to the point of death.  But when it comes to loving somebody who is from another country or somebody that wants to harm or even kill us or somebody else that we love, then praying for their well being is something we leave off our to-do list for the day.  

Instead, we prefer to pack up the rucksacks of some soldiers and send them off to make war.  We'll even send these soldiers care packages just so they can keep up the morale necessary to kill people on our behalf.

Yet this ability to love our enemies is something that Jesus says indicates we are truly children of God.  Our ability to make war... not so much.

But loving those outside our heart's inner circle is something we fail so badly at.  And loving our enemies and those who actually wish us mortal harm is something entirely foreign to our way of thinking as American Christians.

It can't help but make me wonder, are we as saved as we think we are?  Our love is so small. We need to learn to love in a much bigger way.  

9/22/2015

Jesus says: Your smile is missing


Once upon a time when I was single, and I developed quite an extensive check list in my mind of things I was looking for in a future spouse.

The basic things I desired were pretty simple and standard.  She had to love the Lord, be smart, funny, have a decent job, and above all, she had to be good looking (because I just couldn't stomach the idea of presenting an ugly grandchild to my parents one day!)  

But the specifics were pretty specific.  In fact, some of my friends thought I was being too picky about some of the things I wanted in a wife.  They were pretty sure I would never find one!

Among those specific things I was looking for in my future wife was that she was a woman that enjoyed smiling, and that she also have pretty and expressive eyes that were full of life.  I kid you not when I say that there are many girls out there that made my short list and did not get very far with me when it came to a relationship because they were lacking in this area.

When some girls smiled, I noticed they did not show their teeth because they smiled with their lips clamped together.  Or, there was this one girl in which the white of her eyes were frequently red.  I don't know if she had a medical condition or if she was doing drugs (I didn't stick around long enough to find out).  Either way, these things tended to turn me off quite quickly once I noticed them.

I personally don't think any of that sounds too nit-picky, do you?

After all, as human beings we place a great deal of value on our eyes and our teeth when it comes to ourselves.  We like to have both of our eyes and all of our teeth.  We cherish the ability to see clearly and to chew all of our food.

Eyes and teeth are so important to us that Moses even used these two parts of our body as a means of explaining how we are to go about measuring and exacting justice under the Law of God.  "Eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" sorta stuff.  If somebody is guilty of plucking your eye out, justice is to be found in plucking their eye out.  The consequences of your actions are to be paid back in proportion to the crime you have committed, or had committed against you.  Justice is all about making things even.

But as Martin Luther King, Jr so aptly pointed out in the teaching of Jesus on this matter, the problem with "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" justice is that eventually the whole world ends up blind, and without much of a smile.

So, when somebody wrongs us, instead of seeking justice, and pursuing the desire to get even, Jesus says we start thinking about life beyond justice:
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.'  But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also.  If anyone wants to sue you and 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 do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you." ~ Matthew 5:38-42 (NASB)
Because of my prior profession, I had the opportunity to go to court many times.  And in court I noticed that there isn't a lot of smiling that goes on (such is a great reason to never become a lawyer).  And why should there be?  Everybody is busy plucking out eyes and teeth.  Everybody is busy defending or asserting their rights.  There is no joy in such occasions.

But for the person who has their rights violated, yet decides to not pursue justice, there is a great joy that can be found.

It's the type of joy that when somebody slaps you on one cheek, you are able to offer them the other. It's the type of joy that if somebody tries to sue you and take your shirt, you are able to give them your coat also.  It's the type of joy that if somebody forces you to go one mile, you are able to offer them a second mile.  And, it's the type of joy that if somebody wants to borrow from you, you find it's not such a big deal if they don't pay you back.

The Christian doesn't need to seek justice for themselves.  They don't need to defend their rights... even those granted by the U.S. Constitution.  Instead of getting caught up in the endless cycle to seek justice for themselves, they realize they serve a King who on a cross paid for all the justice that this world could ever imagine and hope for.

Knowing such things, we can do the aforementioned stuff that Jesus spoke about because we've discovered an inner joy deposited deep within our hearts from the Holy Spirit.  And, that joy from the Lord becomes our strength, and the type of stuff that makes us truly into saints.  It liberates us to find a freedom that no constitution or judge can ever grant us.

And. it lets us keep our smiles.

9/19/2015

Jesus says: Stop Swearing to God (in a secular society)


In an increasingly secular society, it's becoming less and less common for people to assert the truthfulness of what they say by backing it up with a good old-fashioned "I swear to God..."

And to some degree, I'm pretty happy with that.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly condemned such behavior:
"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. But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil."  ~ Matthew 5:34-37 (NASB)
This is a pretty simple teaching from Jesus.  Jesus says we need to stop trying to manipulate others by invoking the name of God in order to back up the truthfulness of what we say.

Our lives should be so full of integrity that we are known to be a trustworthy person who follows through on what we say. If we promise something to our boss or to a customer at work, they should sleep well at night knowing that we are fully dependable and will deliver what we have promised exactly as we have said.

And of course, living in a secular society, invoking an oath in the name of God is increasingly out of fashion.  So we resort to other behavior which Jesus also condemned in the above teaching.

For example, salesmen have this tendency to over promise on what they plan on giving to a client.  They often make outlandish claims as to the superiority of their product and service, promise the sky, set unrealistic deadlines, and project expenses that often end up being drastically lower than what a project often ends up costing.

You also see this a lot in the world of politics too.  "We can build that new state of the art stadium for only 125 million dollars," only to see that stadium project costing the tax payers 200 million dollars.

Additionally, a lot of businesses will try to convince you they are the right man for the job because of testimonials they solicited from their clients; they have a strong reputation with the BBB; or because of a celebrity endorsement received from a beloved public figure.  Spectrum Brands sold over 100 million kitchen top grills because they were able to get George Foreman to back it with his image and reputation.

All of this stuff might make for great marketing.  It makes a lot of people filthy rich.

But at the end of the day, this behavior is fundamentally no different than the behavior that Jesus condemned.  It's all an attempt to manipulate others in engaging in a desired behavior based on the invoking of somebody or something else perceived as greater and more sacred than our own word.  Our word isn't holy enough.  But, if it comes from the mouth of George Foreman, then that is gospel.

We might not be swearing by God much these days, but we are definitely swearing to others "by Jerusalem," or in other words, things others perceive as holy and sacred, even in a secular society.

9/13/2015

Jesus says: Don't Get Married Twice.


I once knew a man that was married. But over the years, he fell in love with somebody else, and stopped being in love with his wife.  And, being a deeply moral church-going man who didn't want to break one of the Ten Commandments, it is my understanding that he refused to sleep with his new love interest.

So, wanting to be righteous and proper, he eventually divorced his wife and married the one he was in love with.  In doing so, he thought what he was doing was the righteous thing.  After all, he loved God and he didn't want to sleep with somebody that wasn't his wife, and commit adultery.  So he found a loophole that allowed him the freedom to marry and sleep with somebody else, and he found this freedom in divorce.

What do you think?  Was this man righteous in the eyes of God?

According to Jesus and His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus would say that this man committed adultery in what he was doing.  The Lord said:
"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; NASB)
Jesus's teaching on marriage is pretty simple and straight forward.

Jesus says you should only get married once, and unless there has been an affair that destroys your marriage, you shouldn't get divorced.  And, should you do get divorced on other grounds anyway, then you definitely should not get remarried.

Jesus equates getting remarried under such conditions with being fundamentally no different than committing adultery.  A divorce decree is just a loophole we use to justify what amounts to adultery.

That's some pretty heavy teaching, and the Lord taught on this subject more than once.  For divorce and remarriage was just as much a problem in His culture as it is in ours today.  So heavy are the implications that when the Lord later taught on the same subject again in Matthew 19, the apostles were astonished that Jesus was teaching such a thing, and challenged him on the matter.  To which Jesus told the apostles that if they wanted to be a part of the kingdom of God, that it would be better off for them to become like a castrated eunuch than to get married, divorced, and remarried.

You see, in the eyes of Jesus, marriage is fundamentally a spiritual act.

"To be fruitful and multiply" was the first thing human beings were commanded to do by God, and God designed mankind for marriage at the very start of creation.  One might say it's in our DNA to seek out romantic companionship and to long to be married.  And in getting married, a spiritual transaction takes place whereby we become "one" with each other.  And since it is a spiritual transaction mediated by God,  no amount of divorce decrees issued by a judge can undo what God Himself has joined and knitted together.

Therefore, once you are married, you are permanently married.  And in the eyes of God, the only thing that can destroy the bonds of matrimony is death, where you cease to exist, or adultery, wherein you become one with somebody else.

Yet in our society today, and even in the eyes of many Christians, a divorce decree is all that we feel like we morally need in order to make it ok to pursue other romantic interests. And for some people, it doesn't even take that.  Many people in our society begin dating again as soon as they get separated, and before they are even officially divorced.  In fact, I remember when I was single and on some dating websites, "separated" is an official relationship status that I would occasionally come across.  

In the eyes of Jesus, all of this is adultery.

Of course, in saying all of this, I am often reminded of my own family history, which makes me teaching this matter particularly personal.  One of my parents was previously married.  And I would not even exist today were it not for divorce and remarriage.  Had my parents done everything by the book, you would not be reading this blog today.

So in saying these sorta things, I am intimately and personally aware of the ramifications of the Lord's teaching on this matter.  But, I say these things with a heart full of compassion.  I'm casting no stones, as I've not been flawless when it comes to doing everything by the book in the romance department.  I have my own sins, and I know how challenging the teachings of Jesus can be for me!

The words of Jesus on this matter are no more comfortable for me to say than they are for most to hear.  I'm aware of the toughness of the Lord's teaching on this matter.  And, it was a hard thing for the apostles to hear when it came from the lips of Jesus himself.  So, believe me, I understand why people get upset at hearing this teaching today, especially because it is delivered by flawed men like me, who aren't Jesus.  And I understand why so many pastors shy away from this doctrine.  It simply gets up in our business like few other Biblical teachings.

In fact, I remember a time I preached a sermon on this very topic in a church, and at the end of the message during the invitation, somebody stood up and said "I am mad!"  That's not exactly something they train you to handle in Bible college, and I was pretty shocked when it happened.

Such a teaching is hard to hear.  And it does make us mad.  It makes us mad because it makes us deeply uncomfortable about the way we've lived or are living our lives.  We realize that the standard that Christ establishes for marriage is very high, and many of us know very well that we've failed in this department time and time again.  And we know what a beautiful thing marriage can be as designed by God, and we know how much we've allowed the devil into our lives to destroy that sacred and beautiful thing.  Such teaching makes us mad at others, ourselves, and the devil.

Ultimately, I truly believe it is the teaching of Jesus regarding our romantic lives that we most desperately need to allow to penetrate our hearts and minds if we are going to be full blown followers of Christ.  For, there are few things in our lives and in our culture that we regard as more important and sacred than our romantic relationships.  We are cool about Jesus talking on just about any other topic, but when it comes to what happens in the bedroom and between who and when, even we are tempted to tell the Lord to mind His own business, as we pursue the things our hearts want.

However, I believe there are few areas that test our commitment to being disciples of Jesus Christ than the area of surrendering our romantic lives to the Lord.  For if we allow the word of the Lord to deeply penetrate the depths of our heart so as to capture even our sexuality, then it is safe to say that there isn't any area in our life that is off limits to Jesus.

The heart wants what the heart wants.  And its matters of the heart that are often the most complicated.  But I'm convinced that if Jesus can take hold of that thing that beats so wildly in us, then He will have captured us lock, stock, and barrel.  For it is ultimately our hearts that the Lord wants above all things.  But we have to be willing to give it up and over to Him.

9/07/2015

Jesus says: You're self-righteous adulterers!


I remember talking to a man once who said, "I would never cheat on my wife, but she doesn't care where I get my appetite from so long as I am hungry by the time I get home for dinner."

There is something about our humanity that loves to lust.  We love it almost as much if not more-so than actual sex itself.  The erotic is something of a drug that we are capable of taking a hit from at almost any time.  Who hasn't had a fling in their mind with somebody real or imagined at some point in their life?  And who didn't love it?  We all have.

We love lust because lust allows us to enter into a secret world where we can indulge in others without actually indulging in others.  There is a certain sense of morality about lust.

Like the man I once talked to, he would never ever dream on cheating on his wife.  He loved her very much.  But after many years of marriage to her, the honeymoon was over, and he needed a little something extra in his life to work up his "appetite."  But it's all good, because he was keeping his actions in check, and not stepping out on his wife.  In essence,  without realizing it, this man was arguing that lust helped him to be a faithful and dutiful husband.

It's amazing how deep our sense of self-righteousness runs.

And it is this sense of self-righteousness that makes it possible for books like "Fifty Shades of Grey" or websites like "Porn Hub" to make their way into all of our homes.  And I would argue that our struggle with lust isn't so much lust itself, as it is our own self-righteousness.

After all, most women don't want to be seen as whores with a past.  And most guys don't want to be known as a player or a cheat.  So we never engage in acting out in the physical what we do in the mental. And that makes us feel good about ourselves.  It's the, "I would never cheat on my wife, but I will work up my appetite" attitude that takes hold on us more powerfully than anything else.

But to such Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'; but I say to you that everyone  who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:27-28; NASB)
So, before you start patting yourself on the back about what a good person you've been, consider the words of Jesus regarding lust.  You can pat yourself on the back all you want about being single and a virgin.  But your Internet Service Provider knows what sort of websites you like to visit.  You may never chaet on your spouse, but Facebook knows how frequently you visit the profile page of an old high school crush, or the one that got away.  And what harm is there in a little flirtation you indulge in with the guy or gal at work or at the gym?

All these activities (and more) are simply self-righteousness mascarading as lust.

And I think that is ultimately what makes lust so intoxicating and such a difficult sin to overcome.  That's why we clear internet browser histories, or only hit on others when our spouse isn't around.  We hate the idea of being exposed more than the behavior we are actually engaging in.  We want to continue to keep up appearances and making sure we have a squeaky clean reptuation.  

But Jesus has us figured all out.

And, in order to deal a crippling blow to the power of lust, Jesus exposes and categorizes us as adulterers in our hearts.  Wearing a Scarlet "A" is an identity few of us are really willing embrace.  Instead, we like to say we just have a problem with porn or flirting with others.  We say we like the ladies, or we like the attention.

But Jesus says our true problem is with self-righteousness.

And until we deal with the root problem of the intoxication we have over feeling good about ourselves, we will never be able to truly defeat any struggles we have with lust.  You'll never cut lust out of your life until you are willing to believe and confess that you are an adulterer at heart.  But most of us who struggle with lust would never really confess to being an adulterer.

Instead, we shun that label for a million other labels, as we don't think our sin is that severe.  So we make light of it.  But to Jesus, our sin is that severe.  And our trivializing lust as a million other things than what it truly is, adultery, keeps us enslaved to the grasp that sin has on our life all the more.  And all because we want to think of ourselves as a little more righteousness than we in fact are.

8/28/2015

Jesus Says: You might be a murderer if...


"Well, at least I'm not like so and so!"  

Have you ever noticed this tendency we have as humans to toss angry fits of self-righteousness whenever we feel the need to vindicate ourselves?

In the process, we throw everybody in our cross-hairs under the proverbial bus for all the wrong things they've done.  We push somebody else down in order to lift us up.  And, to really drive the point home and just to make sure you know what a wonderful person I am, we then proceed to put the bus in reverse and back it right over them again.  We double down on our abusive language, and make no apologies for it.

You see this sort of thing all the time on cable news, the Jerry Springer show, and in countless "debates" on Facebook.

The longer I live, the more I am convinced there is nothing that we love more than gossipy slander and the straight out character assassination of others.  Putting others down Donald Trump style is where the real action is at.  No wonder he's such a popular political candidate.  There are few things more entertaining than watching somebody tell somebody else off, and really letting them have it.  And as Bible believing Christians, we love such things!

Yet in the eyes of Jesus, such heated exchanges and mincing of words are quite destructive.  In fact, Jesus says they are so destructive that He likens them unto murder.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
"You have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not commit murder' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell." ~ (Matthew 5:21-22; NASB)
How many times have we told somebody they were a "good-for-nothing" or a "fool?"  Sadly, some know all too well what it means to be told by their parents and teachers "you'll never amount to anything!"  Such words are destructive and murderous.

Yeah, I know, you've never literally put a knife in somebody's back.  You've just cut them down with the words of your mouth until there isn't much left.  Such might not get you arrested for murder these days.  But Jesus says that such words are enough to convict you in His court just the same, and to send you to the same place where murderers go for all eternity.

That's some serious stuff.

You might not be Adolf Hitler, but in the eyes of Jesus, you aren't too far removed.  You are closely enough related to him in your character to spend all eternity in hell with him.

You see, the Bible teaches that you and I are created in the image and likeness of God.  That is what makes humanity unique and special when compared to animals, which are not.  Therefore, when we kill another person, we become guilty of destroying the image of God in which humanity was created.  To attack another person is to attack God Himself.

Such is why God considers murder such a serious offense.

Likewise in the same spirit, Jesus sees our words having the same effect.  When we slander somebody else, we end up using our words in such a way to destroy somebody who is created in the image and likeness of God.  It makes us no different than somebody who is guilty of murder.  We both are guilty of destroying somebody created in God's image.  The only difference is the nature of our weapons.

So, the next time you get all worked up and feel like you really need to give somebody a piece of your mind, and let them know what you are really thinking, carefully consider the things you are about to say.  Instead of being the type of person who speaks words that have the power to kill the souls of others, become the type of person who speaks words of life.

If you really wish to prove yourself righteous, talk to somebody else as if you were talking about God.  After all, they are created in His very likeness.  They might appear to be an awful good-for-nothing person.  But at the end of the day, they still look more like God than looking like nothing.

8/18/2015

Jesus Says: Your Ethics Stink


In the Sermon on the Mount, there are few verses more controversial than the bomb Jesus drops in Matthew 5:17-20:
"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill... For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven" (NASB)
So much could be said about this passage of Scripture, and a lot of commentary has been written on it.  Unfortunately, I have not neither the time, space, nor intention to give you a fully digested breakdown of this passage.  So, I'll cut to the short of it and give you the "King Jimmy" version of what Jesus is saying:
"Your ethics stink." ~ Jesus (King Jimmy Version)
The religious leaders of Jesus's day were amazing Bible scholars and students of the Word.  If you wanted to study theology, you studied it under these guys.  They had everything nice and neatly organized and categorized.  If you had the time and mental energy, you could memorize everything they said and know almost exactly how a good Torah observant Jew should behave in just about every situation.

But in spite their exegetical exactitude in their handling of the Scriptures and attempting to apply it faithfully to their real life context, Jesus found this sort of precision to be out of step with the heart and mind of God.  Jesus felt that for all their rigors in attempting to genuinely obey the Law of Moses, they still hadn't gone far enough in their quest, and were falling woefully short.

Such a thought would've come across almost as insane to Jesus's hearers.  How in the world do you get more exacting than the scholars and religious leaders of their day?  They so prided themselves as their exactness that they called themselves the Pharisees--- or "the Holy One's." 

How in God's name would you exceed and surpass the standard of righteousness which they had so carefully measured and upheld for all to follow?

In the mind of Christ, there was only one way to satisfy and fulfill the righteous demands of the Law and the Prophets.  Such would never come through attempting to obey the Law and the Prophets down to the slightest jot and tittle. Such would require an inward transformation and reprogramming of the heart of a person at their very core.

Jesus did not discard the Law or the Prophets in His ministry.  Rather than simply discarding them as many think He did, Jesus actually became in His very person the embodiment of everything taught in the Law and the Prophets.

Jesus didn't handle the Law with Pharisaical exactitude and a measuring tape.  He didn't need to figure out (unlike the Pharisees) how far one could venture from home on a Sabbath day without violating the commandment to keep the Sabbath day as a day of rest.  Rather, because He lived as one with a heart that no law could condemn, every single action Jesus undertook was always in keeping with the Law of God.  So much so that He deeply upset the Pharisees by doing things they were convinced violated the Sabbath observation laws, such as healing the lame and blind, or even plucking the head of grain in a field.  To such a thing Jesus could declare that He was "Lord of the Sabbath," and continue on His way without so much as having a crisis of conscience over what He was doing on the Sabbath.

Jesus could do these things, because in His very person-hood, He was and is the very righteousness of God, and is exactly what a person ought to be in relation to the Lord.  As such, He didn't need a law telling Him to observe the Sabbath.  For in His heart, the Lord was always observing the Sabbath, even if He was healing the sick or plucking grain in a field.  Likewise, Jesus didn't need a law telling Him not to murder, for He was not a murderer in His heart.

And the Lord taught us in the Sermon on the Mount, such is how we ought to be.  As followers of Jesus, we shouldn't need laws telling us not to steal, not to kill, and not to commit adultery.  We need to become the very embodiment of the Law of Moses and the Prophets, even as the Lord was.  And such requires a spiritual renewal and inward disposition of the heart that can never be gained through the strictest of Jewish observations.  Such can only come by means of receiving and living your life in the Holy Spirit.

Such can only ultimately only come as a gift from above.  Such can only come from our perfect Heavenly Father, in whose image we have been made.  Such can never come from adhering to the toughest of ethical systems and standards.  For those systems are ultimately broken, and never quite get to the heart of anybody.

8/14/2015

Jesus Says: God made you to stand out!!!


In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that as His followers we are called to be salt and light in this world.

Salt, though having many uses, has found its most common use as a basic food seasoning.  I would venture to say that 99 percent of the meals you've ever eaten in your entire life have had at least a pinch of salt in it.

Light is one of the most basic elements of our universe, and was the very first thing that God created. By means of light (and our eyeballs), we have the ability to see everything else within creation.

In and of themselves, there isn't anything overly impressive with either salt and light.  Both are very common, and we tend to take both for granted.  Yet, without salt and light, this world would be a very different place, and the absence of either would instantly be noticed.

Salt and light may have many overlapping qualities, but in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus linked the two together for their ability to "stand out" and be apprehended by the personal senses of others.  Salt is noticed because of its "yummy goodness" (a phrase my wife uses).  And likewise, light is something that cannot be ignored because of its brilliance and ability to illuminate.

Wherever either salt or light exists, their "presence" is instantaneously discernible.

As followers of Jesus, our lives ought to have a certain presence about them that causes us to stand out.  This should be discernible by others in their common everyday interactions with us, to where they take notice that we do something besides occupy space.

Being salt and light should make us outstanding customers at the checkout line, great neighbors to live next door to, and some of the best employees to work at wherever we are employed.

There should just be something "different" about us that causes us to be noticed.  After all, we have the Spirit of the living God dwelling in us.  We are blessed and highly favored by the Lord!  That is something that billions of people in this world know little to nothing of.  It is something people should notice about us, even if you live like I do, in the heart of the Bible Belt, where everybody knows that there is a Christian under just about every rock.

Once upon a time, I used to take it for granted that just about everybody in the South knew the basics of the Gospel, and had regular interactions with deeply committed Christians.  It was pretty easy to operate under the assumption that the vast majority of the people you know are saved.

But one event forever changed my presumptions about such things.

A few years ago I was doing a door-to-door ministry with a group of folks less than a mile from a church I used to go to.  It was around Christmas time, so we thought this would be a great opportunity to invite neighbors to our church.

We knocked on the door of one older gentleman, who invited us in from the cold to talk to him.  Sitting on his couch, I couldn't help but notice he had a large Christmas tree up.  Admiring his tree and making some general conversation, I eventually asked him how much he knew about the Lord, and the story of the birth of Jesus.  I was shocked to hear his response: He didn't really know much of anything about Jesus.  He knew Christmas was his birthday, but beyond that, he confessed he didn't know too much about Jesus, His life, or the gospel message.

Such a thing floored my Bible-college trained butt.

Here was this man, who had spent the majority of his adult life living less than a mile away from the church I attended, which is in the heart of the Bible Belt, and he ended up admitting that he really didn't know much of anything about Jesus beyond that Christmas was his birthday, and that's why we put up a tree and exchanged gifts every year.

Just think: If this sort of thing exists in the heart of the Bible Belt, imagine what it is like in the rest of America, and even the rest of this world!

Therefore, I would encourage you to never take for granted that God has put you where He has in life for a very specific purpose.  You might not like where you live, where you go to school, or where you work.  But you are where you are by Divine appointment.  It's no accident.  It's part of God's greater plan.

God has you where you are at so that you can salt and light in this world.  He needs you to carry His presence wherever it is that you are.  He made you to stand out, and to do so on His behalf, for this world is full of men who have no knowledge of God whatsoever.  He needs you to be salt and light to a world that has yet to notice Jesus.  And ultimately, their only hope in noticing Jesus will be in their noticing you.

Be salt and light my friends.

8/10/2015

Jesus says: Adjust Your Attitude


In my first post on the "Sermon on the Mount," I looked at how Jesus turned the concept of blessing and Divine favor upside down.  The blessed life is one that is marked by suffering, not good times and endless prosperity.  

To accept such a notion is foreign to the way we think.  So different and radical is this way of thinking that you'll never embrace these teachings without experiencing an internal rewiring of your heart and mind.  For the ideas tend to offend our sensibilities.  And they ultimately require a real attitude adjustment on our part.    

Let's look at the "attitudes"  and deeply ingrained mindsets that Jesus addressed in Matthew 5:3-11:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God" (Matthew 5:3; NASB)
Looking again at the Beatitudes, we see Jesus associates the idea of being blessed with being poor. He lived in a religious minded society, that like our society, saw no such association.  If you were rich and of good health, you were considered blessed by God.  Mingling blessing and poverty together are not two things we usually associate with each other.  We associate health, wealth, and prosperity, with blessings, not suffering from want.  But to those who suffer such (and embrace that suffering), there is a kingdom for such people.  Wealth and riches often have a way of taking God's place in our life, and such is a threat to those to whom belongs the kingdom of God.  If you are wealthy and a Christian, you should live in a state of high alert.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." (Matthew 5:4)
Sadness? Ain't nobody got time for that!  Nobody wants to mourn.  We'd rather every sermon we listen to end on a high note.  We want to feel uplifted as often as possible.  But the truth of the matter is, the everlasting joy that Jesus gives never comes without a heavy dose of godly sorrow.  And as your heart grows closer to the heart of God, you are going to begin to see things as God sees them.  And when you see things as God sees them, you'll see some things that break your heart.  But, therein you will find comfort.  For when you learn to see this world with the heart of God, you'll see what God's ultimate plans and purposes are for this world, and you'll learn to rest in the fact that God is getting ready to act.
"Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5) 
In case you haven't studied history, or haven't watched CNN or Fox News lately, let me tell you a little secret:  We live in a world where violent men think they can take over the world.  We live in a world where might makes right; where you have to kill or be killed; and where, as politicians are so fond of saying, "We have to lead from a position of strength."    Jesus is unimpressed with our justified theories for waging war.  Jesus says our strength comes from our weaknesses.  Fight all you want and claim that God is on your side, but such will never buy you any sense of true security.  Even the strongest of war lords will be overthrown one day, and they'll never be able to so much as keep one square inch of this world.  For ultimately, it is the gentle who will inherit the earth.  The gentle may be killed in the process. But they are ok with that.  For, they are looking forward in hope, clinging to the promises of God, in which the Lord gives them an everlasting possession that no man will take away.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." (Matthew 5:6)
The word "righteousness" is one of those complex Bible words that we hear tossed around a bit, but few know its actual meaning.  In its essence, righteousness is the state of being in a right and whole relationship, where we owe nothing to anybody, and are on equal footing.  At times, this means to be in right relationship with your neighbor, and at other times this means to be in right relationship with God.  So what does it mean to hunger and thirst for righteousness?  A lot of that depends on where you are at in your life.  Do you have some personally soured relationships where division exists?  Seek to be reconciled and bridge those gaps.  Do you see injustice in this world?  Look to stamp it out.  Are you lingering in some unrepentant sin before God?  Then you need to quit that stuff.  We usually don't have an appetite for such things.  Such things are hard.   But if you pursue them like a hungry man, God promises to fill you up.
  "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy." (Matthew 5:7)
Let's be honest, when somebody wrongs us, the last thing we want to do is show them mercy.  We want to see them get what's coming to them!  We hope karma bites them hard in the butt.  And if somebody kills somebody we love, we hope we can be there to throw the switch on execution day.  And after that, we hope they burn in hell.  Such an attitude in pervasive in our human nature.  We love justice and retribution.  If Islamic terrorists behead Christians in Syria or Iraq, we can't wait to petition the United States government to wage a war on our behalf.  And in doing all this, we throw mercy out the window.  But it is in such terrible things that God wants us to learn to show mercy.  Mercy is a gift we give the undeserving.  It is a gift God has given us.  So, let's share that gift with others.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."  (Matthew 5:8)
When we do stupid things and wish to justify them so as to linger in our stupidity, we are quick to point out "But God knows my heart!"   Indeed, He does, and what He sees He doesn't like.  Your heart is a terrible problem.  It loves the things that God hates.  That heart needs to change, and it needs to change quickly.  For without that change of heart, you are in danger of spending eternity apart from God and away from His presence.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God." (Matthew 5:9)
This would've been troubling for the ears of an ancient Jew to hear.  Peacemakers?  But what about those pagan and wicked Romans who do nothing but wage war against us, steal our homeland, and kill our people?  Peace?  Are you nuts!!!  And so the attitude persists even today.  A two state solution with the Palestinians?  A nuclear peace treaty with Iran?  Jesus... what crack are you smoking?  As an American Christian, I can't help but notice we have such an appetite for war and bloodshed.  There is hardly a "cause" we aren't willing to back, and a war that we aren't willing to baptize.  I think we should reconsider our sons of God status in light of such a thing.
"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)
How can there be any blessing whatsoever associated with such terrible and unjust mistreatment at the hands of others?  How is such a good thing?  Well, if all you are thinking about is this life and your attachment to it, then this is a terrible thing and should be avoided at all costs.  But, if you are willing to identify with the legendary men and women of God who came before you, then such suffering will ultimately be worth it.  For we are looking forward to the resurrection of the dead.  And however miserable our lives are, or if those lives are cut short, we know that death is not the final answer.  We know that we shall live yet again, and the eternal reward that God has prepared for us will consume whatever trial it is that we endured in this world in His name, and on His behalf.  The suffering in this life is nothing compared to the joy that will follow.  And that is something worth getting excited about, even in the present.

In closing, I just have to ask:  How is your attitude?  Where does it need to be adjusted?  And do you want to be among the blessed, those whom God highly favors?

8/09/2015

Jesus Says: You Are Blessed...


"I am blessed!!!"

Have you ever heard somebody say such about themselves?  Or have you ever said it?  I'm not sure where you are from, but where I live at in the South, it's a pretty common saying.

We usually say "I am blessed" as we reflect upon how wonderful we feel about our lives.  We feel that God in some measure has smiled upon us, and has thrown some pretty awesome things our way.  Things like a wonderful and loving family, a solid job, a nice home, a nice car, and a little leftover in our savings account every month.

In essence, if our lives are the embodiment of the American Dream, we consider ourselves among those whom God favors.

But did you know that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus considered none of these things a sign that God was pleased with you and your life, and that Divine favor is resting on you?   

Looking at Matthew 5:3-11, in what theologians call "The Beatitudes" portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives some signs of God's favor on your life.  None of them sound exactly as American as apple pie, but they are pretty good indicators that you are truly blessed, and that God likes you.

For example, Jesus says if you are poor and suffering from want, you should consider yourself blessed and highly favored by God.  And, Jesus said another indicator that God thinks highly of you is if you find yourself among those who have something to genuinely be sad about.  And, if that were not enough sign of Divine favor in your life, Jesus also said that if people verbally assault, talk badly about you, and even conspire to kill you, then you should really consider yourself among those whom God thinks about pretty highly.

These are not exactly the blessings one parades around on stage, or stands up and testifies of after your local prayer meeting.  And it is definitely far removed from the health, wealth, and prosperity stuff you hear so much about today.  They are not exactly something we intuitively crave by nature, and get in the way of living our best life now.

But, if these seemingly dreadful things are in your life, Jesus said they are the supernatural markings of God's favor on you.  Find comfort in that.  For it means whatever you are doing, you are doing something right, and you are in the company of the legendary men and women that God has used the most in the history of this world.  You may have to endure some pretty hard times, but that's ok, for the most brilliant diamonds in all the world are the formed under immense pressure.

And if the signs of God's blessing that Jesus expounds on in the Beatitudes are rather absent from your life, and everything is just full of sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, then you should reconsider where you even stand in your relationship with God.  Perhaps God isn't so thrilled about where you are in your life.  Perhaps God has given you everything in this world, because you don't want Him.  And in absence of Him, the Lord has just chosen to give you nothing but stuff.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to go through this life and having nothing but stuff.  I want to have God.

8/05/2015

Pastors Aren't Accountable to God Alone


In some Christian circles it is taught that while you are accountable to your pastor, your pastor is ultimately accountable to God, and to God alone.

The ministry of Moses is generally upheld up as the Biblical basis for this model of ministry.  It's a pyramid shaped, top-down approach to doing church.  Under this structure, the pastor hears from God, and then directs the entire life of the church.  After all, like Moses he climbed to the top of a mountain, obtained a vision from God, and has come down to speak to the people.  His word is law, and questionable practices are to remain unquestioned.  Dissenters are looked down upon, chastised as rebellious, or counseled to find another church.

In a nutshell, the pastor is viewed as the boss of the church.

For many, this seems like a perfectly Biblical way to do church.  After all, it is based on the ministry of Moses.  And Moses is in the Bible.

The major problem I find with this idea though, is that as "Biblical" as this model of ministry might be, I can't help but feel that such a model of ministry today is actually "demonic" in its nature.  And it is demonic, not because it's not Biblical, but because it's not Biblical enough.

As I've previously pointed out, Moses is dead.

Therefore, being dead, we should look to move on from our dear brother Moses.  Moses had a specific calling for a specific time and place, and that calling died with him.  God called Moses to establish the Old Covenant, and therefore his ministry took on a structure that was in keeping with Old Covenant religion.

But, the problem with this idea is that we are now under the New Covenant, and instead of having a dead Moses to model ourselves after, we have a living Christ that we are to follow and serve.

Jesus's model of ministry is very different from that of Moses, and trying to emulate the model of Moses under the New Covenant should be as sternly rebuked as the Galatians were by the apostle Paul, for attempting to impose Old Covenant legislation on gentile converts to Christianity.

There are some things that just don't mix.  We need new wine-skins.

We need a wine-skin that is compatible with the fact that Jesus Christ is alive and is the head of the church.  And while there is not disagreement among any that Jesus Christ is the head of the church, they teach such only in some abstract theoretical and esoteric way.  But when it comes to practical application of this doctrine in church life, we inevitably appoint a  "senior" pastor or pope-type/Moses-like figure to be the head of our churches, locally and universally.  And in doing such, we subvert the ministry of Christ by appointing somebody else to be in charge besides Him.

Biblically speaking though, Jesus Christ alone is the head of the church, both locally and universally, and is such without appointing some folks to fill in on His behalf here on earth.  That is, Jesus Christ hasn't given the church another Moses.  Jesus Christ has given us Himself, and Himself alone.  No church needs a senior pastor or pope.  It just needs Jesus.

And under the rule and reign of Christ over the church both locally and universally, we as Christians are called to submit ourselves to one another.  Under this model of ministry, pastors aren't calling all the shots.  In the church, we are to have no pope but Christ.  Jesus Christ alone is boss.

Instead of being called to call all the shots, God has called pastors to merely be those who come along side other believers, and teach them how to follow Jesus in their daily lives.  And seeing the authentic Christ-like life of their pastors, those in the church should gladly submit themselves to the teaching and way of life that these pastors both practice and teach.

But those pastors who are getting too big for their britches, such men need to be reminded who is really in charge of the church.  And it's not them.  God did not call them to be the boss. God called them to simply serve alongside others, and to teach them the ways of Jesus.  And such isn't really complicated.  It doesn't require a degree from seminary to do.  It doesn't require the leadership skills of a famous CEO.  It simply requires two brothers who are committed to serving God together, with the stronger being able to help along the weaker.

7/30/2015

Church Stages that Look like a TV Game Show



A couple months ago, I was a contestant on the stage version of "The Price is Right."  It was something of a childhood dream come true. I won the opening bid on contestants row after successfully outbidding three other women on a pair of designer high heels (don't question my manliness), but was unable to sink a putt on the famous game, "Hole in One."  Even so, it was a pretty cool experience.

Recently, I was watching an online video of certain preacher that I've followed a little bit over the years.  I noticed that he was speaking at a church I wasn't directly familiar with.  But as he was speaking, I became somewhat bothered about the platform he was standing on.  In my mind, I couldn't help but feel that the super trendy church that he was speaking at had a stage that looked like something you might see on a TV game show.

As I sat there and wondered about the stage of this particular church, something in my heart just felt a bit unsettled.  I couldn't help but wonder, "To what degree does the architecture and aesthetic design of a church building and sanctuary have on a local congregation?"   Of course, questions like this are things that get fleshed out primarily in places like seminary. It is something you've probably never considered, and have little concern about.

Most people just shrug at such questions as these.  "Architecture and building designs are completely neutral!" you probably say.  "All that matters is that God is there when we show up!"

And part of me would be inclined to agree with you.

Except for the fact that no architect or designer worth their salt would ever say that the design of a structure is a completely benign and neutral thing.  Such would be like an author saying books in themselves have no meaning and are completely neutral things.  Both notions are equally absurd on face value.

Whether we like it or not, the design of a church building and the stage of a church is one that is full of great meaning and purpose.  They are not theologically neutral buildings or rooms, and I believe that the design that goes into a sanctuary says a lot about what that church thinks about its relationship to God, and to each other.

And if you think that the design of a church is still a completely neutral thing, then ask yourself a simple question: Why is it that churches often go out of their way to design a sanctuary in a certain manner?  Why is so much money spent on jumbo screen monitors, giant crosses, stained-glass windows, pulpits, multi-colored stage lights, fog machines, scented air (and yes... you read that right, some churches pump in their own scented air), back-drops, and a host of other bells and whistles?  If it's all the same, why not just make churches giant concrete cement blocks with four walls and no windows?  It would save churches a ton of money.

No matter what mental gymnastics you might use to shrug off stage designs, at the end of the day remains the fact that how you build a church building conveys a subtle message about what is happening on and off stage.

And if the stage looks like a TV game show or American Idol, what's that say about the people on the platform?  And equally important, what's that say about the people who are not on the platform?

I fear that our increasingly flashy platforms at church are changing the dynamic of what the church has been.

Increasingly, "the congregation" is becoming nothing more than a mere "audience," compossed of nothing but mere "attendees."  And if you have ever had the opportunity to stand up on such stages (I have), then you'll understand that those on stage are practically overwhelmed by the brightness of the stage lights, and in most cases, can seldom see anybody in the congregation beyond the first couple of rows.

Imagine the impact that such a thing has on a preacher and his relationship to his congregation.

Increasingly, the preacher on such a stage becomes further and further removed from his congregation.  As a result, he may be tempted to look at his congregation as mere pawns to be used to further his own agenda, and exploited for his own personal gain.  And to the congregation, the preacher will become something of a celebrity.  After all, he is on an awfully big stage surrounded by a lot of lights. And due to the multi-site church phenomenon today, many don't even get to see their pastor in person.  He's just a guy on a jumbo sized monitor.  He becomes something of a TV game show host.

We should find that troubling.

Especially in light of the fact that when we open up the Scriptures, we see that ministry was a very intimate and personal thing.  Even when Jesus was surrounded by the crowds, he was still able to single out one person to minister to.  And when the apostles established the churches that they planted, the primary meeting place that the church would gather would be in the living room of other members of the church.

We've come a long way from those days. And instead of continuing down the road of new trends, I believe we need to seek out the ancient paths of those who came before us, and walk the roads they walked. And we need to increasingly think about the way we do church, and what impact that has on the life and ministry of our churches, as we seek to be faithful to calling placed on us.

7/28/2015

Running Your Mouth



For those of you who don't know me very well, one thing you should know about me is that I have this awful tendency to speak without thinking.

Perhaps you can identify?

It's like my mouth is connected to this strange stream of consciousness in which thoughts exit my mouth before they are processed in my brain, and I don't hear what I am thinking until I actually hear myself thinking it out loud in a room full of people.

Sometimes this is a good thing.  I can be somewhat funny, so such a thing will get often make other people laugh, and it helps for making conversation.  Or, should I be speaking in public or giving a presentation, I seldom suffer from awkward pauses, nor do I find myself without words.

Sometimes this is a bad thing.  Sometimes I find myself caught up in the heat of the moment, and say something rash, harsh, unloving, unkind, and unfiltered.  Sometimes I don't know when or how to stop, and I'll find myself ripping somebody a new one.

I don't think I'm alone in such an experience.  Regardless of how fluid your tongue is, controlling what rolls off it is something we all seem to suffer from, no matter how smart or important we are.  Just look at the people that appear on Jerry Springer, and compare them to political leaders appearing on the evening news.  There isn't much difference.  The inability we have to control our mouths runs deep.

This problem doesn't cease once we become Christians either.

Churches and Facebook pages alike are often torn to shreds by otherwise good appearing church people.  We find it necessary to speak up first, to take a hard stand for the truth, and to lambaste everybody that doesn't understand every nuanced iota of Scripture or political theory in the exact same way we do.  At a moments notice, we stand prepared to wrestle every last person to the ground, as we scornfully dismiss them as haters, the unsaved, or even regard them as wolves in sheep's clothing.

And we will do it all in the mighty name of Jesus of course.

Don't get me wrong, I among the guilty in this arena.  Sometimes I fear the terrible things I've said over the years will echo throughout the world for a lot longer than the wonderful things I've said.  And deep down inside, I think we all fear that because we know it is true.  We could say a thousand wonderful things, only to find that it is the one terrible thing we said that ends up becoming the very thing that others remember about us forever.  The legacy we leave will be paved by our own words.

Jesus taught us that we will stand in judgment for every idle word that we've ever spoken.  "By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."  That thought alone should shut us up for the next few years.  We should speak more cautiously and carefully.  Our words should be refined, calculated, and precise.  Instead of being the first idiot in the room to spout off our idea whenever we get the chance, we should do as the apostle James taught, and be "quick to listen and slow to speak."  

The fact that we are so quick to fill the silence of a room with the noise of our speaking shows that the weight of eternity hasn't quite set into our hearts yet.  Instead of fearing the silence, we should embrace it.  For in quietness and rest we will find our salvation.

We speak as if we are atheists.  We speak without any sense that God in heaven is keeping track of every idle word we say.  Therefore, if we are to give an account for every idle word we say, then when we speak, we should make sure every word counts for something.  And if we take on such an attitude, I believe we will discover that we never needed to say half the amount of words that we use on any given day.

I am reminded of a time when I was in Bible college.  There was an old Coptic priest who was attending our classes.  He seldom said very much, even in the midst of some pretty intense debates.  Yet the few times he ever decided to interject his opinion on a topic, he would gently raise his hand, and softly speak his peace.  And when he spoke, silence would always fall over the room, and everybody would lean forward to hear what this man had to say. Everybody would always give him their uttermost attention.

I was not that guy.  I spoke so much that one of my friends made a small sign that said "Shut Up Jimmy!"  Anytime they thought I was running my mouth far too long, they would simply flash their sign.  I said so much, but in the process, I ended up saying very little. I should've picked up on the wisdom of that priest.  He accomplished more with his few words than I did with my many.

There is no wisdom in running your mouth.  Sometimes the wisest thing you can say is nothing.