17 December 2010

Jesus Is Serious About Sin

Matthew 18:6-9
Followers of Jesus follow Jesus.  Apprentices of Jesus do what Jesus does.  Disciples of Jesus obey everything that Jesus commanded.

In the 2010 Western World, sin is like Santa Claus or the Boogie Man.  The concept of sin is for superstitious types who use fanciful stories to manipulate others.  Enlightened people don't talk about sin and definitely do not talk about what is right and wrong in relation to a mythical god they do not know or want to know.

Please notice that I did not say that in our time people don't talk about right and wrong.  EVERYONE talks about right and wrong.  EVERYONE discriminates.  Environmentalists don't preach to the masses?  Smokers aren't preached to?  They aren't told where they can smoke and where they can't?  The current American president recently told Americans that taxes aren't about raising revenue, but about fairness.  People who want nothing to do with God preach sermons all the time about what we should eat, how we should regard certain behaviours and who should and should not be worthy of living.

Many philosophers will tell you that we are living in a culture that has abandoned the concept of right and wrong.  This is nonsense if one pays attention to our culture.  What our culture has done is abandon God's definition of right and wrong, as revealed through His Word and His Son.

Jesus certainly was not embarrassed by His Father.  Jesus certainly was serious about the rejection of His Father's ways and why the creation continues to reject their creator.  In this teaching, there is no misunderstanding, Jesus regards sin as a matter of life and death.  Sin is not a human problem.  Sin is THE human problem.

Many of us have rejected God's institution of the family.  As a consequence, many more children have had a stumbling block put in their path to life.  All of us know the devastating effects sexual and physical abuse has on children.  It changes their path profoundly.  It changes how they view sex.  It changes how they trust and love others.  It changes their view of God and the one he sent.  All of us know the devastating effects constantly fighting parents have on children.  It teaches them how to treat others.  It teaches them how the world they live in operates.  All of us know the devastating effects divorce has on children.  The instability and the different people their parents bring into their homes teaches them dispair in regards to any kind of lasting commitment.

If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Sin is serious.  Sin is cancerous.  Jesus teaches us that sin must be dealt with immediately and decisively.  Sin is the street a toddler plays on.  Sin is the mole that must be cut out.  Sin is the tumour that must be removed.  Sin is the matches in a child's hands.

I pray that all of us who follow Christ will follow Christ.  I pray that all of us who enjoy living in the Kingdom of God will not be embarrased by our King.

14 December 2010

Jesus Determines Who is Great

Mark 9:38-41

All people long to be great.  That is an in-built longing from our Father in heaven.  As previously discussed, because we have rejected our Father's definition of greatness, we have tried to determine our own definition of greatness.  Therefore, instead of seeking true greatness, we arbitrarily seek what we think is great.

One such definition is to be "in".  From the schoolyard, to our workplace, to our families, to our churches and in all kinds of communities, we long to be "in".  Even when we reject what the majority feels is in, we act as though we are in and it is the majority who is really out. 

What makes this notion of in and out even more complicated is what makes a person in or out is constantly changing.  When I was a boy, a man piercing his ear was a social statement for those who did not like those who are in.  Tattoos used to be a mark of someone of someone who declared themselves as in and others as out.  Piercing all kinds of body parts is even becoming more common. 

Throughout our history, a group of people share things in common and for one reason or another, someone will reject those common things with the desire to find significance.  Usually, it is not enough just to be different.   The group of people who endeavour to seperate themselves justify their seperation by declaring the other as out.  And those who have been rejected by the other will declare themselves as in by arguing how out the other is.

This has been a human issue since Cain and Abel.  The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offereing he did not look with favor.  This made Cain very angry. The Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry?  Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you , but you must master it."

Cain was not happy with his position in life.  Cain now was faced with a choice.  Either, he could find favour with the Lord by doing what the Lord was asking or he could try elevating himself in the eyes of the Lord by eliminating the one favoured by the Lord. 

In psychological terms, this is called leveling and we do it all the time.  We see those who are blessed, who seem to be happy and doing well and it seems to magnify our own struggles.  This tends to make us angry and/or depressed.  So, we are faced with a choice in making ourselves better.  We can either raise our standard of living to those we try to emulate or we can lower those who are being regarded the way we wish we were.  So, we try to destroy through gossip, slander, unfriendliness, being argumentative, arrogance, ridicule, theft, rape, assault, murder, etc...

What a wonderful time it was to be one of the chosen disciples of Jesus.  The more they came to know who Jesus is, the more pride swelled within them.  The greatest man ever to walk the face of the earth was living with them.  Greater still, he chose them.  He gave them the best teachings.  He constantly worked with them.  They were doing things they could not imagine doing just a short time ago.

They knew what was happening was highly significant.  But this was not enough for them.  We know this because they started arguing with each other about who was the greatest.  Then, John tells Jesus they found a person doing good (casting out demons) in Jesus' name.  But, John and the others tried to stop him...from doing good, in Jesus' name.

Why?  Because "he was not following us". 

Sigh...The church of Christ follows the mistake of John all the time.  We have Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Episcopalians, Uniting, Salvation Army, Non-Instrumental, Wesleyan, Lutheran, Calvinist, Pentecostal, Seventh-Day Adventist, Methodist, Nazarene, etc...  Being in a denominational church is not wrong as long as the congregation is doing what is right.  As long as that group is doing good in Jesus' name.  But being in a denominational church that separates and/or tries to stop others from doing good in Jesus' name is sinning (rejecting our Father in heaven).

Christians are to follow Christ in all things.  In all things, Christians are to follow Christ.  Wisdom comes from submitting our will to our the King's will.  Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

We do not determine what makes others great.  We do not determine who is great.  We do not determine who is in or who is out.  We are not the judge.  It is foolish for us to follow our own standard of greatness anyway since it changes all the time.  That is building our life on sand and that house will not last. 

Jesus is the judge.  Jesus determines who is great.  Jesus doesn't care who is following him as long as they are following him.  As long as they are doing good in Jesus' name.  That is the standard.  These are the people we should encourage, help, befriend:  the ones who are doing good in Jesus' name.

Father, I'm so sorry when I fall into cliquish ways.  I do not know men's hearts.  I don't know jack about what is really going on.  You do.  Help me to trust you.  Help me to see people the way you see people.  Give me wisdom in seeing how I can do good in Your Son's name and how I can help anyone who is doing good in Your Son's name.  Thank you for your grace and allowing me to grow in your grace every day.

09 December 2010

Jesus Wants Us To Be Great

Jesus and Child - MyImmortal
  Mark 9:33-37

Jesus wants us to be great.  That is a phrase not often said, if at all, around many of our churches today.  Jesus came that we would have life and have it more abundantly.  He wants us to live the best life possible.  But, because we wanted to live life apart from the one who made life, we have very different ideas about greatness.

Jesus and his disciples did quite a bit of traveling.  They walked hither and yon.  I know that whenever I travel with people, the most interesting conversations ensue.  This conversation was no different.

Now, the disciples knew they were having a "silly" discussion, because they didn't want to answer Jesus' question about what they were talking about.  Now, did Jesus call their conversation silly?  Did he chastise the disciples for their pride and arrogance?  Did he warn them about pursuing greatness?

No.  He uses the occasion to teach his disciples about greatness.  "'Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.' Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 'Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.'"

Anyone can serve those who will help them.  That is the way the world works; you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. 

But, what can children offer?  Can a child give you a job?  Can a child give you money?  Can a child give you a home?

What's worse, children are high maintenance.  Children need just about everything done for them.  They need to be fed.  They need to be dressed.  They don't have proper social decorum.  Some are quite loud and energetic.  They need to be placed in their beds.  They are dry sponges eager and quick to absorb how the world works and quickly adapt to what they are being taught.

And yet, Jesus says that if we want to be great, if we want to be considered great in our Father's eyes, we must welcome children in the name of Jesus.  Jesus' brother James echoes Jesus' teaching when talking about faultless religion, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."

Jesus wants us to be great.  Do we want to be great?  Who are we trying to please?  What do we want out of this life that we have been given?  Are we willing to be a servant to all?  Even those who cannot serve us in return?

07 December 2010

Jesus Knew Which Hill to Die On

Matthew 17:24-27

Many people, lately, have said to me that Jesus never claimed to be anything more than a great prophet or teacher.

Those who make such claims never read through the ministry of Jesus.  I have made this point before, but it is so important that it demands repetition.  Jesus said things that no mere prophet of God would say.  A prophet's task is to speak the words/truths of God to who God wanted to speak them to.  A true prophet never sought glory for himself, a true prophet always directed the glory to God.

Jesus uses this occasion of the temple tax, a tax collected from those in Israel for maintenance of the temple in Jerusalem, to once again explain his place in the Kingdom of God.  (It is interesting to note that the tax collector-disciple is the only gospel writer to relay this occasion to us.)  "Then the children are free."

The temple was the presence of God among his people.  It is where God "lived".  People would come to the temple to remember the Lord their God; to pray and to worship in festivals and holy days as the living God had commanded them.  It was certainly right for the people who used the temple for these good purposes to pay toward the upkeep of the facilities they used.

Jesus went to the temple also.  But, Jesus seemed to treat the temple differently than the others.  For Jesus, it seemed more personal.  As he drove out the businessmen from the Court of the Gentiles, he referred to the temple as "my Father's house".

To Peter, in private, he once again refers to the personal relationship to his Father.  Jesus is the Heavenly Father's son.  Because of this, he is exempt from paying the tax, because it is his Father's house.  Jesus rightly points out through his usual manner of logical questions that children of kings do not pay tax.  The tax is collected from others.  The children are free.  (It is interesting to note that Jesus seems to link the concepts of taxation and freedom, but maybe this would stretch the point.)

Please note, did Jesus use the occasion of the temple tax to exert his rightful authority over the religious class?  Did Jesus use the questioning about the temple tax to overtly proclaim that he was the Son of God?  Did Jesus tightly cling to his right to not pay the tax? 

No.  Jesus explained himself to the one who answered for him, Peter.  And then instructed Peter on how to pay the tax not just for Jesus, but for Peter as well.  Jesus humbly submitted himself to the authorities.  He did what he always does, he humbles himself and stays on the task that his Father sends Him to do.

Jesus didn't feed off a need for everyone to think he was right.  Jesus was mature enough to know what arguments to have and what arguments to ignore.  Too many times, I find myself expending so much energy arguing minutiae that I have little to nothing left for the tasks that truly require my effort.

Oh, Father.  As a follower of your Son Jesus, please help me to know when to argue and when to serve.  Give me your Son's wisdom in dealing with those who do not understand the nature of your kingdom.