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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Love Your Enemies and Turn the Other Cheek

 Love your Enemies and Turn the Other Cheek

Jesus knew that soon He would be leaving his followers and going back to Heaven.  He had so much more to tell them, but they still didn’t understand many of lessons He had already given them.  So He knew they were not ready for more.

 These are Jesus’ words to his beloved followers.  “I have much more to say to you, but you cannot bear these teachings now.  But when He, the Spirit of Truth comes to you, He will guide you into all truth.  He will not speak on His own: He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come.  The Holy Spirit will bring glory to Me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. “(John 16:12-14)

Jesus’ teachings are for all of His followers, past and present and future.  But we, like his followers back then, cannot appreciate some of His teachings without Gods’ help.  The Father takes what is Christs’ and gives it to us – but we sometimes miss the meaning of the spiritual mysteries we are given.  Seeds of truth falling into the soil of our hearts but not sprouting!  And precious spiritual treasures given to us for our joy and peace that we are not able to fully understand!

These teachings of Jesus are spiritually discerned and cannot be taken in by our earthly minds and hearts.  But God gives us the Help we need.  He gives us the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, to open our hearts so that we can understand these deep truths.  And we must listen for His still small Voice in our lives.   

We will go over several of Jesus’ teachings today.  But if we do not completely understand them, remember Jesus knows that.  And He also promises the Holy Spirit to us to help open our minds and hearts.  Today we will briefly go over two of Jesus’ teachings that some find difficult to follow.

First, Jesus teaches us to love our enemies.  Let’s listen to His words.  “You have heard that you should love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons and daughters of your Father in heaven.  He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your relatives, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  (Matthew 5:43-48)

Jesus is telling us here that it is the great duty of each Christian to love her or his enemies.  To be children of our Father in heaven who loves and gives to those who oppose Him. We must have compassion for those who ridicule us Jesus says.  Speak well of them and bless them when they curse us!  Do good to those who hate us!  And pray for those that despitefully use us and persecute us.  When Jesus warned that some of His teachings would be difficult for us to understand, maybe this is one of them.   

It goes against our natural instincts to love our enemies, doesn’t it?  But Jesus promises to send His Spirit to help us understand this teaching and also to give us the power to obey it. The power to be free to love and forgive our enemies.  As children of the loving Father we are to be loving like Him and to not get caught up in the cruel prison of hating and fighting and insulting others.  We are not to play the world’s games. And we are never to look for revenge.  We are to give our enemies to God and pray that He will put our relationship with them back together.  And we are to walk in love and forgiveness.  As His children, God calls us to this freedom!   

Along with this teaching on loving our enemies, Jesus also gives us another difficult teaching. He tells us that when we are slapped on one cheek we are to turn the other cheek!   Let’s listen to His words. ” You have heard it said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn the other cheek also.  And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”  (Matthew 5:38-42)

I do not believe that Jesus is telling us to stand aside and allow criminals to rob or murder us or family members or others.  Scripture tells us to resist evil doers. God helped the nation of Israel fight to protect their land from enemies.  There are times when we have to fight against aggressors, false teachers, murderers or robbers.  Every nation needs an army to protect their very existence. So this is not what Jesus meant here!

But many major wars that spread over large areas have started out from small disagreements.  One country envying another over something they had that the other didn’t have.  Or one group insulting or taking advantage of the other.  And all of this warring causing much devastation and misery to many innocent people.  Jesus calls us to make a treaty with the aggressor if possible. To negotiate before going to war. To do what we can to keep the peace. Turn the other cheek.  Speak kindly and respectfully to the enemy.   Stop an argument from growing into something much bigger and more deadly.  

This command also goes against our natural instincts.  Fighting is so much easier than forgiving. We do not want to appear weak to our enemies. Our reputations are so important to us.  We have been taught to fight for our “honor” and stand up for our rights.  And again Jesus is commanding us to leave all this behind and go down a different road.  To not to play the world’s games and not cut our enemies down to defend our own reputation. To let Jesus be our strong defense.   If we get down in the dirt and fight with our enemy in a war or the courts or elsewhere, we will lose our joy and our peace and our loving spirit.  We can become hateful and bitter, unforgiving and maybe even hard hearted.  Our Father has better things that that for us.

Without the Holy Spirit’s help and guidance these teachings of Jesus are almost impossible to follow.  But if we live with openness and humility to Christ’s Spirit and try to obey and allow Him to guide us, we can take this journey of learning to love the enemy step by step.  We are to open our hearts to all God has for us.  Let’s live the good life. 


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Jesus Speaks About Murder, Adultery and Divorce

Jesus Speaks About Murder, Adultery and Divorce

The Jewish crowd who listened to Jesus’ sermons knew that murder was very wrong.  They had grown up with the Law.  Murder or killing was forbidden by God throughout Scripture.  One of the Ten Commandments is God’s command not to kill.  But Jesus carried this command not to kill a step further.

Jesus told the people to be forgiving and peaceable and quickly settle disagreements before they got out of hand and before people got hurt.  He commanded His followers not to call their enemies bad names or become unduly angry.  Jesus knew that name calling and fights and hatreds could eventually lead to warring and killing and murder.  He is calling His people to live in peace and stop any mean spiritedness before it grows into explosive anger and innocent people get killed. 

These are Jesus’ words.  “You have heard, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.”  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. “ (Matthew 5:23-24)  Jesus went on to say that when we stir up anger by calling another person a “fool” or any other bad name, we will be judged.  He urged us to be forgiving and quickly reconcile and make peace with the “enemy” who has something against us, otherwise things can get much worse. 

These are Jesus’ words.  “If you are offering your gift at the altar and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  Fist go and be reconciled to your brother: then come and offer your gift.”  (Matthew 5:23-24) God planned for us to be part of loving communities and close families.  When people disagree and harden their hearts against one another, the family or the community can be harmed or broken and this breaks Gods’ heart.  Our heavenly Father places the job of healing a rift or making up with a brother or sister ahead of coming to Him and bringing our offerings. 

Of course there are some problems that are almost impossible to resolve without Gods’ intervention.  And Gods’ children are not being commanded to go along with evil plans in order to keep the peace.  But we as Christians are to do everything we can do to make peace if possible, in our families, our communities and in our country.  Scripture says: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  (Romans 12:18) 

Next Jesus spoke about adultery.  These are His words.  “You have heard that it was said, “Do not commit adultery.  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”  (Matthew 5:27-30)

Jesus not only taught that small insults and arguments can grow into large hatreds and killings, but also that secretly lusting after a person sexually can lead to open adultery.  Jesus is pointing out that first there is the hidden sinful thought that is entertained and played with inside the mind and heart before it grows and moves outside into the sinful action of the actual murder or the blatant adultery. 

Jesus is calling us to stop the evil process when it first gets started in our hearts.  To guard our very thoughts and feelings, don’t let them grow and multiply.  Pray for His help and it will be given.  Jesus doesn’t just want us to follow Him with our outward actions.  But He wants us to follow Him with our hearts and minds and emotions!  He wants it all!

I do not believe that Jesus was telling his followers to actually gouge out their eyes or to cut off their hands if they lusted or sinned.  Jesus was a great story teller and sometimes to get a point across He used metaphors.  I think He was making the point that there are lines that we should never cross and places that we should never go.  And adultery is one of those places.  We should never play around with breaking up another person’s marriage.  And murder is a crime so unthinkable that we cut off the possibility of such an action and gouge out any such idea from our thinking. 

If we belong to Christ, then our eyes and our hands, our thoughts and our actions also belong to Him.  Scripture says that our lives are not our own, we are bought with a price.  (the blood of Jesus)  (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)  Scripture also says: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.  And we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  ( 2 Corinthians 10:5)  Even our thoughts belong to Him! 

Jesus went on to speak about divorce.  Let’s listen.  “It has been said, Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.  But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries her commits adultery.”  (Matthew 5:31-32)  It seems that Jesus is saying that marriage and family are all important to God and should not be dissolved except for extreme circumstances. 

When we read some of Jesus’ teachings we may feel that we can never reach His high holy standards.  We serve a holy God and we can never be good enough on our own.  But Jesus not only is our Teacher but He is also our Savior and He takes away our sins.  Makes us new creatures in Him and covers us with His righteousness!  It doesn't get any better than that!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Jesus' Teachings

Jesus’ Teachings

During his lifetime, Jesus went about teaching as well as healing people. Most of Jesus’ words, teachings and parables were faithfully copied down and are in our Bibles today.  Some of Jesus’ teachings call us to such high moral and ethical standards that we can never meet these demands in our own power.  Jesus knows that and He covers us with His righteousness.  And Jesus also gives his Holy Spirit to us to change and guide us. Only in the Spirit can we aim for Jesus’ high standards.

We will go over many of Jesus’ teachings in the next few blogs.  Today we will start with one of Jesus’ teachings where He tells his followers that they are “salt”. Here are Jesus’ words: “You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”  (Matthew 5:13) What is Jesus trying to teach us here?

Earlier Jesus told his disciples to be fishers of men.  Now he tells his followers that they are the “salt” of the earth.  They were to change the lives of people on the earth by going into all the world and preaching the good news. Christ sends us out into the world today to be seasoned with the gospel and to spread the salt of grace. The gospel of salvation in Jesus is like salt in that it gives flavor and seasons and penetrates and cleanses and preserves lives from spoilage.  When salt is added it spreads throughout and gives flavor to a flavorless dish.  And like salt the gospel changes lives wherever it goes, adding joy and purpose to a life that may have been lost and drifting before.

But then Jesus warns that if we Christians who he calls “salt” somehow lose our “saltiness” we will be useless. We will be unprofitable and good for nothing.  What good is a hateful Christian without grace?  Or someone who calls themselves a Christian but doesn’t believe that Jesus is Lord and Savior?  Does this mean that we started out with the salty message and of the gospel and then later changed that message or watered it down?  Or does it mean that we say all the right Christian words but there is no love or kindness in our actions?  When we walk in the Spirit we will be led to keep our precious “salt” salty.

And then Jesus also tells his followers that we are the light of the world.  These are His words: “You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on a lampstand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:14) 

Jesus is the “Light of the world” and when we have his Spirit in us we carry his light into the world.  We are perhaps little lights.  The gospel of Christ is so strong a light and carries with it so much of its own evidence, that, like a city on a hill, it cannot be hidden.  As lights to the world we are intended to shine and give light to others. So our calling as Christians is to be salt and light to a dark world by spreading the gospel of salvation in Christ along with loving others and doing good.  Jesus said that people would see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven.  To glorify God or praise our Father is what we aim at in everything we do. 

But along with Jesus’ warning us about losing our saltiness, He also warns us about covering up our light. Do we cover up the light of Christ within us when it isn’t fashionable to walk the Christian walk or talk the Christian talk?  We must not muffle ourselves up in privacy or modesty or self-preservation and keep our light hidden.  Do we join in to hate and ridicule and criticize when we know that these things cover up our light?  It is a joyful thing to hold our lights up high and let them shine out into the darkness.  People are drawn to our light when it is set upon a lampstand of love and mercy.   

Another teaching Jesus gave us was that He did not come to change or take away the laws that had been given to the Jewish nation by God and written down in the Old Testament.  And He also told us that we are never to teach others that some of God’s laws don’t need to be obeyed any longer. Jesus taught that “The word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:25)

 Here is part of what Jesus said: “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them…”  (Matthew 5:17) And Jesus went on to tell his followers more: “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. “(Matthew 5:19)

We sinful humans can never keep all of God’s laws all of the time because God’s laws call for purity and perfection. Scripture says that “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”  (Romans 3:23)    Without Christ we are all guilty of breaking God’s laws.  We are changed by having the Holy Spirit in our lives.  The Spirit helps us want to fulfill Gods’ Law. God requires righteousness and Jesus through the cross has become our righteousness.  He has fulfilled the Law in our place and He covers us with His righteousness so that we can stand before God.

Jesus goes on to say that it is a dangerous thing to not take the commandments in the Bible seriously.  He warns us not to break Gods’ commands on purpose and even worse not to teach others to break Gods’ commands.  Whoever does this, Jesus says, will be least in the kingdom.  We cannot pick and choose which of God’s laws we want to follow and which we don’t.  And worse yet to teach others to break the commands in Scripture that we don’t like.  We do not want to build up with one hand and tear down with the other. Are the Christians who teach others to disregard Gods’ laws covering their light or passing on flavorless salt?

When we think of Gods’ laws we think of the Ten Commandments.  (Exodus 20:3-17) But Jesus spoke of keeping the Law and also the Prophets.  The Jewish people knew what Jesus meant when He spoke of the Law and the Prophets.  Over the many hundreds of years of Jewish history, God had sent many prophets to warn the Jewish nation against sin (usually idol worshipping and not helping the poor) ) and guide them into right living.

 Some people argue that the Bible is filled with many laws that don’t pertain to us today.  Perhaps that is true. There were laws about clean and un-clean food and ceremonial laws that the Jewish priests had to obey when they brought their sacrifices.  More laws about cleanliness and protection from communicable disease.  I don’t think Jesus was talking about those laws.  

 Jesus was asked which of Gods’ laws was the most important, and He answered with this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul and all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.  All of the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:37-40)   

Jesus taught these three teachings about (1) his followers being salt and also (2) being light and about (3) the importance of obeying Gods’ commandments and that He came to fulfill the Law.   He taught these three teachings while He was preaching the Sermon on the Mount.  But Jesus was constantly teaching spiritual truths and wonderful stories and we will look at more of His teachings in the next few blogs.  Stay tuned!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Beatitudes (Blessings)

The Beatitudes (Blessings)

The Beatitudes are blessings that Jesus gave us when He preached his Sermon on the Mount.  (Matthew 5:3-12) Christ began his sermon with these blessings, because He came into the world to bless us.  (Acts 3:26)

The worldly opinion is that people are blessed if they are rich or famous or good looking. Folk who spend their years in pleasure, playing games, eating good food and not having big problems.  These proud ones are considered blessed by worldly standards.  He who dies with the most toys wins!  But here Jesus comes to give us quite a different and spiritual view of what real blessedness is.  

We Christians must take our measure of blessedness from different standards than the world’s standards.  We must break with the world. And live our lives accordingly.  The standards for blessedness that Jesus gives in His sermon remove the discouragements of the weak and poor who receive the gospel.  Christ’s standards bring freedom and joy and peace and love. 

The Beatitudes of Jesus let us know what God expects from us, and what we may then expect from Him. Jesus gives us eight characteristics of blessed people.  Eight graces of a Christian that God will bless.  On each of these eight characteristics a blessing is pronounced along with a future blessing too!

 Jesus begins with the 1st blessing.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) This being “poor in spirit” I believe means to be humble, to be contentedly poor, or willing to be empty of worldly wealth if God orders that to be our lot.  It is to sit loose to all worldly wealth and not set our hearts upon it.

  If we are blessed with worldly goods we share with the needy.  To be poor in spirit is to be willing to make ourselves cheap and little if we have to in order to do good.  Paul says he knows “how to be abased,” (Philippians 4:12) These ones who are “poor in spirit” inherit the kingdom of grace and glory – the kingdom of heaven.   

The 2nd Beatitude or blessing is to those who mourn.  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  (Matthew 5:4) This is another strange blessing.  It is a godly sorrow to live a life of repentance and mourning for our own sins, and the sins of others.  There is the sympathetic mourning for the suffering of others and also for the sins of others.  The mourning of a parent for a wayward child. 

But the promise for the mourner is that “they shall be comforted”.  Their prayers will be answered!   Light is shown for them!  The joy of heaven is that sorrows will be turned to joy and the “wiping away of all tears from their eyes.”  (Revelations 21:4)

The 3rd Beatitude or blessing is for the meek.  “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”  (Matthew 5:5) The meek are those who quietly submit themselves to God.  They are gentle towards others, not easily angered, patient, forgiving and unassuming.  Christ was meek and we are to follow His example.  Meekness perhaps has a tendency to promote health, comfort, safety and wealth in this world.   We don’t know all that this blessing encompasses. 

Jesus’ 4th blessing is given to those who long for righteousness and perhaps work for justice.   “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”  (Matthew 5:6) Those who bear oppression and refer themselves to God shall in due time be satisfied.  We as believers are covered with the righteousness of Christ.  We become a “new person” and we bear the image of Christ and we have an interest in Christ and His promises. When we truly desire more of Christ and His righteousness and our appetites are spiritual, God will grant us our desires and we shall be filled. 

The 5th of Christ’s blessings is given to the merciful.  “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”  (Matthew 5:7)   We must not only bear our own troubles patiently, but the Lord asks us to sympathize and share the sufferings of our brothers and sisters.  We are to “put on mercy, compassion, kindness, humility, patience and gentleness.  Bear with one another and forgive one another as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:12) In this Beatitude Christ promises God’s mercy to those who show mercy to one another.

Jesus’ 6th blessing is to those who have a pure heart.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  (Matthew 5:8) True Christianity lies in the heart, in the purity of the heart.  Our hearts must be washed from wickedness. (Jeremiah 4:14) (1 John 1:9) Only the Lord can purify our hearts.  Only He will wash us if we allow Him.   Jesus told his disciples that if they didn’t allow Him to wash them then they would have no part of Him. (John 13:8) We must clothe ourselves in Jesus Christ because He is our righteousness. We cannot clean up our own hearts.  But when we reach out to Christ in faith He will wash us and create in us a clean heart.  Making our hearts pure is a process called sanctification. If we allow Him, the Holy Spirit sanctifies us. And when we allow Christ to give us His righteousness we are given the blessing of seeing God.    

The 7th Beatitude is a blessing for peace-makers.  “Blessed are the peace makers for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) We are working with Christ when we do our best to make and keep the peace.  Christ came into the world to proclaim peace on earth.  Are the peace-makers given a blessing that the peace-breakers miss out on? 

And the 8th and last Beatitude or blessing is for those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.  Jesus says these folk who are treated badly will receive a wonderful reward in heaven.  “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you falsely because of Me (Jesus).  Rejoice and be very glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  (Matthew 5:11-12)

You notice that Scripture says these insults and bad reports about the person being persecuted are false.  If you are treated badly for something bad that you did, this blessing doesn’t apply.  But Jesus was persecuted and crucified because He didn’t fit into the sinful world.  And we won’t always fit into our world either if we are following Him.  We are called to take up our cross and follow Him. There is a long list of Christians martyrs who have died for their faith.

Down through the ages the Beatitudes have been a favorite part of Scripture for Christians.  Jesus gives all Christians his joy and his peace.  But then He gives even more.  In the Beatitudes Christ gives special blessings for special situations. Eight blessings for eight characteristics or graces of blessed people.  Graces that we can try to cultivate in our lives.  Do we want or have these characteristics? Are we humble?  Do we make peace with those who hate us?  Are we kind and merciful to others in need?  Do we allow Christ to make our hearts pure?  Do we long for righteousness and justice?  I don’t know about you, but I have more work to do. Christ is waiting to pour more blessings out over us.