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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.