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.


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.  


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.


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.


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.


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.