26 August 2011

Jesus Values Faith Over Peace 2

"I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!  From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

The goal of the Christian is not to please everyone.  The goal of the Christian is to follow Christ.

24 August 2011

Jesus Values Faith Over Peace

Luke 12:49-53

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

John summarises the problem very well in his first chapter.

He created the world.  He created everything.  He created people.  And people rejected Him.  He is not enough.  He was not trusted.  He was not loved.  He must either be used or ignored in order to get what we really want.

14 August 2011

Jesus Wants Us To Live As Though Today Is Our Last

Luke 12:35-40

Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.

Why is it so important to love God with everything we are and have?  Why is it so important to love our neighbour as ourselves?  Because it is all His.  And, the King is coming to claim his Kingdom.

Followers of Jesus are to constantly live by faith.  In other words, we are to be sure of what we hope for and to be certain of what we do not see.  This is how the Christian is to live.  Jesus put it another way, "Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit."

31 July 2011

Jesus Wants Us To Use It Before We Lose It

Luke 12:13-21

Possessions.  Stuff.  Money.

It's a touchy subject, isn't it?  Talking about faith and money touches on sensitive areas like when we talk about faith and sex.

It would be easy to say that stuff is bad.  And, more pointedly, people who have a lot of stuff are evil.  In fact, people do it all the time in order to become popular.  After all, there is always someone richer than us.  So, we look at the problems in the world and say to one another, "Hey, if so and so didn't have so much, those other people would have more and the world would be a better place."  It's called class warfare and it has been all the rage since monarchies have had lessened influence.

06 July 2011

Jesus Wants Integrity

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, all your strength.  Love your neighbour as yourself.  All the other commandments hang on these two commands."
We have been told that Jesus knew the hearts of men; he knows what we are thinking in our heart.  It seems to be vitally important to Jesus' ministry.  He knows who has true intentions and who does not.

08 June 2011

Jesus Warns Against Loveless Theology

Tissot - Curses Against The Pharisees
Luke 11:37-54

He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty--Mary's Song (Luke 1:53)

He raises the dead.  "Wrong hometown."  He gives sight to the blind.  "Wrong day."  He teaches about the Kingdom of Heaven with authority.  "Wrong disciples."  He drives out demons.  "He didn't wash before the meal."

Throughout this study, the recorders of Jesus' ministry tell us over and over again that for every light there is a shadow.  Jesus would do something miraculous and the religious leaders would have an astoundingly callous reaction.

According to Paul, we are to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling"This world is broken.  Our world is full of fear, death and injustice.  Jesus makes it quite clear in his teachings that we either allow him to empower us to be part of the solution or we are part of the problem.

In these "Woes to the Pharisees", we can humbly determine whether we are part of the solution or part of the problem:

02 June 2011

Jesus Wants Us to Pray

Tissot - The Lord's Prayer
Luke 11:1-13

I struggle with prayer. 

But I know I can't have an intimate relationship with anyone without talking to them.  More importantly, I can't have an intimate relationship with anyone without listening to them.

If Jesus teaches us to do anything, disciples need to do it.  Not only does Jesus teach his disciples how to pray, we have seen that prayer was a vital part of Jesus' ministry.  He arranged his busy schedule in order to find silence and solitude in his prayers to his Father.  If He is Lord, we need to do the same.

19 May 2011

Jesus Wants Our Full Attention

Luke 10:38-42

During my time as a minister of the kingdom, whenever someone has responded to a request for help with, "When I sort out this thing, then I will help", they never come to help.

This rather short account recorded by one Gospel author has always struck a strong cord with me as a Western pastor.  Why?  Because the Western church is filled with Marthas.

16 May 2011

Jesus Wants Us to Be a Neighbour

Rembrandt- "The Good Samaritan"
Luke 10:25-37

Love is not just a feeling.  Infatuation, affection and compassion are feelings.  Love is not just a feeling.  How do I know this?  How does any Christian know anything?  Jesus teaches us.

06 May 2011

Jesus Presides Over A Church Meeting

by Caleb Rosen
Luke 10:17-24

Churches are made up of disciples of Jesus.  Disciples of Jesus follow all of Jesus' commands including the vital command to make disciples.  Churches that are not filled with disciple-making disciples are dying churches.

Today, in the post-Christian West, our towns are littered with dying churches.  They are comprised of people who are not expected or trained to follow Jesus.  Rather, there is so much effort put into having chairs filled during a single meeting, if that occurs, the church is deemed to be a blessed success since their leaders do not expect anything more from them.  Most, if not all, of the West's dying churches are comprised of warm bodies because their leaders don't expect or want anything more than a warm body.

02 May 2011

Jesus Warns Those Who Reject Him

Luke 10:13-16

Jesus came from heaven.  Jesus was sent by God.  Before Abraham was, He is.  Jesus knew that many people would reject the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus knew he was going to die a painful death at the hands of His creation.  So, why don't more people think He was serious about what He taught?

26 April 2011

Jesus Gives Practical Instruction Toward Making Disciples

Luke 10:1-12

Jesus very clearly states the problem in proclaiming the essential news to the world,
"The kingdom of God has come near to you."

"The harvest is plentiful, but the money is few."  Sorry, typo.  "The harvest is plentiful, but the buildings are few."  Whoops, my bad.  "The harvest is plentiful, but the marketing is few."  Rats!  Thank you for your patience.  "The harvest is plentiful, but the harvest isn't really that plentiful."  OK, OK.  I'll put away the popular Revised Slandered Version of the Bible and will now get out the real thing.

22 April 2011

Jesus is the Good Shepherd

John 10:1-21

Quite often, more than I care to admit, I am reminded of just how stupid I really am.  On this occasion, I decided to save my wife the aggravation of driving with me early in the morning to drop the van off for some maintenance work.  So, I dropped the van off at the mechanic a little after 7:30am, walked to the nearest bus depot and took the bus as near to my destination as possible.  I walked up the street until I was 800m from my destination where I had to be at 9am.  It was 8.20am.  Plenty of time.  Looking good.  I got my exercise.  Didn't wake up the missus.  And I will be on-time for my bookkeeping class.

16 April 2011

Jesus Reveals Who Has Sight and Who Is Blind

John 9:13-41

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

All his life, this man was blind.  He lived off the scraps of others.  He was a beggar.  What was worse, the man was seen by the authorities as a sinner.  He lived under the horrible consequences of wrong spiritual presumptions.  He was shunned, despised, ignored.  This was the life of a man living in a world filled with slaves to sin.  And, there was no conceivable way to escape this existence.  This would be his life until his death.

12 April 2011

Jesus Reveals the Works of God

John 9:1-12

...he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.

Jesus is the light of the world.  It's not just the drug addict, the crimelord boss, the prostitute and the teenage destructive force who live in darkness.  Without Jesus, we all do.  Without Jesus, we are incapable of seeing things the way they really are. 

While we are living in darkness, we do what all of us do as we walk through this life in ignorance.  We stumble.  We clumsily feel our way around.  We guess.  And very often, we make a wrong guess.

09 April 2011

Jesus Doesn't Care What Your Last Name Is

"The Pharisees Question Jesus" Tissot
John 8:31-59

Jesus tells Israel's religious teachers as plainly as possible about their spiritual position.  They are slaves.

What is their reaction?  "Teacher, we see you are from God because no one without God can do the things you have been doing.  Please show us how to be free."  Sadly, no.  Instead they say, "We are descendents of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone."  (Coming from a people enslaved by Egyptians, scattered by Assyrians, captured by Babylonians and at this time occupied by Romans)

How many people have justified injustices because of misplaced pride in where they are from and who their family is?  How many of us feel the need to treat others however we choose because they are inferior anyway? 

05 April 2011

Jesus Frees Slaves

John 8:31-59

Lack of understanding, of reason, is not many people's barrier to following Jesus.  Many people understand all too well. 

We understand that if we are convinced that Jesus is Lord, then Jesus is Lord.  We understand that to follow Jesus' message of "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" is to completely turn away from the life we have led.  And, quite frankly, many of us do not want ot turn away from the life we lived before.

03 April 2011

Jesus Is Home

Homecoming - Danny Halbolm
John 8:21-30

There are many, many people who believe that Jesus was a brilliant moral teacher who never made any extraordinary claims about himself.  The more I read John through this study and read John's letters to the church, it is clear John is reporting as an eye-witness to Jesus' ministry that this is simply not true.

John is focusing a lot of attention and much of his account on Jesus' argument with the religious leaders during the Jewish Festival of Booths.  Allow me to go into the circumstances of Jesus' teachings, please?

11 March 2011

Jesus Is The Light of the World

John 8:12-20

Stub your toe, stumble over, break your wrist, and become even more scared than you already are.  You tend to hear sounds more and more because your body is desperate to understand where it is and where to go.  But, because you can't see the source of the sound, the mind makes educated guesses.  And, more often than not that guess will be determined by your current state of mind.  When we are scared, the default setting for any noise is something we are scared of.  Maybe this is just our imagination or maybe it is legitimate.

04 March 2011

Jesus Is From Where We Should Go

A scene from "Jesus of Nazareth"
John 7:25-52

How are we able to "judge with righteous judgement"?  As several of my young friends said whenever we engaged in a playful insult match, "consider the source". 

One of the ways I can judge whether something is worth my money and attention is knowing where it is from.  A butterscotch pie from my late grandmother was always worth more than one from the supermarket.  A computer custom built at Navada in Perth has served me far better and longer than computers mass-assembled and placed on the shelves of Best Buy.

22 February 2011

Jesus Relates Obedience and Judgment

John 7:10-24

A few years ago I was hiking along a trail near a cove in Southwest Australia.  3 of my 4 children were with me.  We had the opportunity to jump the trail and head out to a spectacular sight on top of a cliff overlooking the ocean.  We spent a few moments there and I decided to find our way back to their mom and baby brother. 

Instead of doing the smart thing and going back the way we came, I saw a faint trail going back inland.  The kids and I followed this "trail" for a while as the bush became thicker and thicker around us.  After we had to duck a log in order to stay on that trail, I realised that we were lost.  I didn't want to frighten the kids so I tried acting like I knew where I was and we would be back on the main trail soon.  But, after a time, the older two children knew what I knew.  We were lost.

Thankfully, we finally found our way back to the main trail after hearing some voices nearby.  We were able to follow the voices of the ones who were on the main trail so we could find the main trail.

That reminded me how easy it is to become lost.

There were a number of citizens of God's nation who were trying to determine whether Jesus is the Messiah.  Jesus, knowing the hearts of men, made his reasoned appeal to the people, "Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own."

The Father and The Son are one.  Jesus never, ever contradicts his Father in Heaven.  The Father sent His Son so that we may follow Him as He shows us the way to the Father.  A way, clearly, that we can not find on our own.

But, there are some who are not sure.  Worse, there are some that are so convinced that he is not the Messiah, they want to kill him.  Why is this?  According to Jesus, they do not do the will of God.  Jesus skillfully warns them that they do not know God, so they will not know him.  Their priorities are not God's priorities.

Jesus points out their hypocracy.  They are angry at Jesus for healing on the Sabbath.  After all, God told them to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy (or cleanly seperate).  Jesus, speaking the Word of His Father, points out they do things on the Sabbath all the time.  They circumcise children whose eighth day falls on the Sabbath.  They do this clearly because they deem the precise keeping of circumcision as more important than the keeping of a day.

Healing someone, loving people is always the priority of our Father in Heaven.  If someone needs help, the will of our Father is to help them.  We see a need.  We meet a need.  This is the will of our Father in Heaven.  The religious leaders of Jesus' day had placed holy days ahead of loving God and loving people.  They had become lost.  They had left the true trail and could not find their way back even though that way back was living among them.  The reason they did not recognise this is because they did not think they were lost.  They thought they were on the trail.  But, if they had honestly examined the hardness of their hearts toward their neighbours who desperately needed help, they might have realised their plight and repented.

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.

But I thought Jesus told us not to judge?  He did.  But in that context, he was warning us not to try to decide who was and was not worthy of the grace of God.  But, in that same sermon, he taught about distinguishing between true and false prophets and teachers. 

Yes, there is good teaching and bad teaching.  There is a true Word of God and teaching that God never said.  Not all teaching is good.  Not all teaching is profitable or useful.  Jesus never, ever told his followers to turn off their brains.  Quite the opposite, he wants us to turn on our hearts by aligning our hearts with His heart. 

Jesus' words, no doubt, turned many of the crowd's recollection to when Samuel went to find a successor to King Saul at the home of Jesse.  The prophet Samuel thought for certain that God had chosen the tall, strong and handsome as King.  But the Lord tells Samuel,

for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.

We must learn to see as our Father in heaven sees.  We must learn to see with our Father's heart.  And our Father's heart is His Son Jesus' heart.  By His grace, by the gift of His Word, the gift of His Son, the gift of His Spirit, we are able to choose to do the will of God.  When we do the will of God, we are able to see Him more clearly.  We are able to see where He is going, so that we are able to tell what is the true trail and what trail is false.

10 February 2011

Jesus Is First

Luke 9:57-62

"Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first..."

Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but..."

Jesus is Lord.  Period.  If we believe that Jesus is Lord and Saviour, then Jesus is our Lord and our Saviour.  If we believe that Jesus is THE teacher, then Jesus is THE teacher.

This seems harsh to those of us who like to keep our options open, but do the responses of Jesus to these would-be followers surprise us knowing the God of the Bible?

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

Yes, this reality is hard to accept for this American-Western citizen.  I value my freedom.  I value my ability to choose my life's path.  One way makes me nervous.  I like believing that whatever is available to me to make me happy is available.  What if my commitment to something cuts off an option that I may find valuable later?  Is this wise?

Throughout man's story, we hear about the heavenly Father who continually attempts to convince his people that He is good, that He is trustworthy, that He is faithful.  Through the same man and woman who allowed evil into paradise, God brings a way to purge the evil.  Through the same woman who laughed when told she would give birth to a son, God brings a nation that would be a light to the nations.  Through a people grumbling about being rescued from slavery, God brings a way to free all of creation.  It's the story of the Bible; people reject, God forgives and restores.  There are no "Bible heroes".  There is only one Bible hero and that is God.

This is why Jesus is amazed at the centurion's faith and proclaims that he has not found such faith in all of Israel.  The military officer knows what it is to follow orders without full understanding.  Soldiers follow orders to the point of giving their lives all the time.  Why?  Because they are absolutely convinced that their lives are worth a cause that is greater than themselves.

But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

When we are convinced that Jesus is good, we will follow Him whereever He leads us.  When we are convinced that Jesus is trustworthy, we will not hesitate when He calls us to be His disciple.  When we are convinced that Jesus is faithful, we will not even think of telling him "but..." 

Jesus is the way.  Jesus is the truth.  Jesus is the life.

What else do we need?

02 February 2011

Jesus Confronts Our Prejudices

 Luke 9:51-56

Disciples are students.  Disciples should be constantly learning from their teacher.  In becoming disciples or apprentices to anyone, we recognise the expertise of the master that we do not have but want to gain.  In recognising the expertise of the master, we are wise to be willing to change every habit and every thought that may keep us from following our master's instructions.

If we recognise Jesus as the master of life, we are wise to be willing to change every habit and every thought about life that may keep us from following our His instructions. 

This is why disciples of Jesus find many ways of Jesus difficult.  We have been learning about life since conception.  We have many habits and many thoughts that are just plain wrong.  If this wasn't the case then we would be making life better for everyone.  But, we only need a brief, truthful examination to know this is not the case.

The message that Jesus preaches is a call to discipleship, "Repent.  For the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  At it's core, discipleship is about change.  Proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Saviour is about humbling ourselves and submitting our way so that we can learn His way.

This is why Jesus cannot work with people who have hard hearts.  If we are set in our ways, we cannot follow Jesus' instructions.

Jesus had performed many wonderful miracles in Samaria before.  He had convinced many Samaritans that he is the Messiah, the one who was sent by God to save his people.  And yet, this time he is rejected.  Why?  Because he is going to Jerusalem.  In their mind, Jesus going to Jerusalem is Jesus taking sides in the generations-old debate between Jew and Samaritan about where was the proper place to worship God.

Was Jesus really taking sides in this debate?  No.  He already explained his position to one Samaritan woman.  He would do in Jerusalem what he had done in other Galilean and Samaritan towns, announce to his people, "Repent.  For the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  Ultimately, he would go to Jerusalem because that is where he is supposed to be judged and killed by his people.

Do these facts and teachings matter to these Samaritans?  No.  Anyone who goes to Jerusalem to worship is an enemy of Samaria, period.  They were set in their hearts on this.  They would not learn otherwise.  So, Jesus is not welcome there.

In turn, Jesus' Jewish disciples want to punish the Samaritans.  The disappointment and anger in Jesus' rebuke must have been clear.  How quickly did James and John allow the hardness of their hearts to cause them to forget what Jesus had been teaching them all along?

Father, I know nothing.  You and your Son know everything.  Change my heart, O God.  Keep it soft and tender so that you can change it into the heart that you need to serve in Your kingdom.

23 January 2011

Jesus Is Hated

 John 7:1-8

You are wrong.  What you are doing is evil.  What you are doing is making the world worse.  Stop it.  Stop it now.

It isn't exactly a feel good message is it?

Years ago, my apartment was a mess. There were dirty dishes in the sink. There were dirty clothes on the floor. A dusty layer coated most of my possessions. And, there were roaches crawling here and there.

I always knew I had to clean it up, but I never seemed to have the time or the energy.  I worked.  I studied.  And my apartment just got worse.  I knew it could have been a lot better.  But, after a little time it became normal and I got used to the smell.  And, I convinced myself that it wasn't that bad as I learned how to eat and rest within my mound of filth.

When the place a person lives in gets to such a state, one of the worst fears that flashes through them is for someone to see it. If they turn on that light switch and reveal just how bad it is. I feel ashamed. I then feel angry because I don't like the idea of being looked down upon. This is MY house. This is MY life. How dare you put your nose where it doesn't belong! This is when I start to hate and despise that person and I see them as my enemy. My pride has caused me to value my filth over someone who knows that my life should be better.

The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil.

This is the cold, hard reality about Jesus that challenges many caring, loving people.  There are a lot of Christians who rightly see Jesus as the great physician and the good shepherd.  They naively believe, contrary to Jesus' teachings, that most people are accidentally lost.   They mistakenly think that if they would just help people in Jesus' name then Jesus and his church will grow in popularity.

This was the thinking of Jesus' brothers, "Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world." 

They grew up with Jesus.  They had spent time with their older brother as children.  It's hard to think of the wisdom and the power coming from one who worked beside them in their dad's workshop or caused mom and dad so much grief the time everyone thought he was lost, but was found in the temple and didn't seem to care that mom and dad were worried silly.

And so, they didn't really believe that Jesus was the Messiah.  Besides, he wasn't acting like the Messiah.  Sure, they had heard he was doing wonderful things for people.  But, he was doing them in the rural areas.  They knew that if anyone wanted to become famous throughout Israel, they had to go to Judea and Jerusalem.  There was a big festival where all of Israel would gather.  Surely, now is the perfect time for their brother Jesus to make a big splash.

But, as Luke correctly points out, they neither understood nor believed their brother and/or the Messiah.  They thought the intent of the Messiah was to be widely known, in other words, to be popular.  But, Jesus makes it clear in his response that the intent of the Messiah was not to be popular but that the intent of the Messiah is to save.

Jesus knew, more than anyone else, that in order to save people, you have to meet people where they are, turn on the light and show them that they are in trouble.  He had to show people that they are wrong.  That what they are doing is evil.  That they are making the world worse.  For their sake and the sake of everyone in the world, they had to stop it and stop it now.  Only when they stop struggling and fighting the lifeguard, can the lifeguard bring them to safety.

Jesus knew, more than anyone else, that when you meet people where they are, when you reveal them as evil, a lot of people will turn on the very one that is trying to help because their pride allows them to value their filth over the very person who is trying to help.

Some people don't like being told that they must change.  Some of us don't respond with kindness to those who challenge how we spend our money, how we ruin the reputations of others, how we harm themselves and others by their sex lives, how they cheat and steal, how we waste our lives in activities that are good for nothing or no one.  Some of us do not respond with "Yeah, you're right!  Thank you so much for loving me and introducing me to someone who really loves me and wants me to live."  No.  Instead some of us respond with "How dare you?  Just shut up.  You are now my enemy.  I want you to die so that you will shut up."

Jesus came to save.  Jesus is hated.  He sent his disciples in order to save.  They are hated.  In the face of such hatred, Jesus kept loving, kept teaching, kept showing people who his Father in Heaven truly is and what life truly is.  In the face of such hatred, Jesus' disciples keep loving, keep teaching, keep showing people who his Father in Heaven truly is and what life truly is.

Our Father in Heaven, please teach me how to love my enemies and how to pray for those who want to harm me.  Thank you for saving me.  Thank you for using me to save others as I have been saved.

11 January 2011

Jesus Teaches About The Reality of Forgiveness

Harold Copping (British illustrator, 1863-1932),
"The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant."
Matthew 18:21-35

Watching children try to manuever around life is sometimes wonderful and sometimes painful.  There's hardly any toddler who hasn't had the goose egg on their skull from trying to get their legs to support their weight.  There's hardly any mother who doesn't have wet-wipes in her bag just waiting for the next mishap.

All of us have gone through the disappointment of red ink on a school assignment.  We have suffered the humiliation of dropping a ball or not being able to run fast enough.  Each of us have felt the rejection of our dreams.

Growing up is hard.  What happens when you assemble a group of people who are growing up?  There are a lot of awkward moments.  There are many mistakes.  There are tears, fights and tantrums.  There are cuts, scrapes and scars.  What is an assembly of people who are growing up?  The church.

What would anyone see in a real church photo?  Some smiles and some missing teeth.  Some suits and some jeans.  Some nice heads of hair and some bald.  Some with limbs and some with no limbs.  Some with absolute joy and some with stern seriousness.

These are my brothers and sisters in Christ.  These are my fellow heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven.  I didn't choose them.  They didn't choose me.  But here we are in the same house living together.  Sometimes it is wonderful.  Sometimes it is not so wonderful.

Anyone who reads the history of God's people know this is the case.  For example, Abraham lied about his wife to save his own skin and encouraged her to be with another man.  Judah got drunk and had sex with a prostitute who turned out to be his daughter.  Moses flew into rage and killed a man.  David killed a man so that he could have sex with his wife.  Paul hunted down and killed Christians.

The only one, in fact, who looks any good at all in the history of God's people is our Heavenly Father.  His grace, mercy and forgiveness shine through time and time again as He rescues and helps His people time and time and time again.

With the backdrop of God's family history come another motley crew chosen by our Lord, the disciples.  These uneducated fishermen, tax collector, rural zealots, etc... knew they were a part of something very special.  They were witnessing things they never dreamed possible.  They knew the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.  And, they started thinking about their own place in it.  And so, like most immature people, they started arguing with each other about who was the greatest.

Jesus hears their bickering and tells them how to be great.  He also gives clear instructions of how to deal with brothers and sisters who sin.  Peter then comes in with a logical question, "Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?"  In other words, how many times should I put up with someone who hurts me?

Anyone who has lived with a family knows that grace and forgiveness must be a part of the home.  It's a very short term relationship without it.  Good parents have asked their children to apologise to each other countless times.  Good marriages are laced with much grace and forgiveness.

Forgiveness says "I know you are better than this."  Forgiveness is hope.  Forgiveness has faith in the one who mercifully allows us to grow in His grace.  Forgiveness loves the other because we always see the other's best potential and not the past misses of the target. 

As Paul says, "Love keeps no record of wrongs."  During the opening scenes of the film "Almost Famous", the mother of 11-year-old William Miller encourages him, giving him lots of praise.  The older daughter asks, "What about me?"  The mother responds, "You are rebellious and ungrateful of my love."  Instantly, you can feel the remaining air coming out of her and she deflates within her seat.

When we refuse to forgive someone, we label them.  We tell them actively and/or passively that this is who they are.  And, being the social creatures people are, especially when we draw so much identity from the ones we love, we begin to believe that we are the label.  We see ourselves as others see us and respond to that label in our own way.  We start living out our lives as stupid, mean, hopeless, gullible, loser, ugly, hateful, etc...

Our Father in Heaven, however, doesn't see us this way.  He reaches out through His Son Jesus and says, "I know you are better than this."  He quickly picks us up when we bang our head into the coffee table.  He hugs us when we had a hurtful fight with a sister.  He tells us its okay after we wreck his car after just getting our driver's license.  He walks with us every step of the way as long as we want him to as he teaches us everything we need to know about life.

Darwin says that if we the strong must rid themselves of the weak for the good of the whole species.  Karma says that we are living the lives we are supposed to live.  Karma allows castes.  It is perfect justice to have those who have much not help those who have little because they deserve it.  It is easy to leave when we are hurt.  It's instinct.  It's self-preservation.

Mercy and forgiveness is what allows us to be better people.  Mercy and forgiveness is the philosophy behind hospitals and schools for all.  Mercy and forgiveness allows those who have to help others to have as well.  The realisation of God's mercy quickly sheds any veneer of pride and arrogance that keeps us from loving one another.  It's better to stay when we are hurt and use our pain to remind others that they are better than what they have done to hurt us.

Our Father who is in Heaven, forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.

05 January 2011

Jesus Wants Us To Help Each Other To Be Great

Matthew 18:15-20

Bring a group of people together for any sustained length of time and there will be trouble.  This is what the church is:  an assembly of people.  The church is not a building.  The church is not an event.  The church ("ecclesia" in Koine Greek) is an assembly of people.  Therefore, to put the opening sentence another way, establish a church and there will be trouble.  Why is there fear of commitment?  Because we don't do it very well.

As soon as we decided to go our own way and stop following our Father in Heaven, we got lost.  As soon as we stopped listening to the instructions of the Creator, we tried to hide from him, we failed to take responsibility for our actions and blame each other, and made life much, much more difficult for ourselves.

That's why Jesus came:  in order for us to have life to the full.  He came to save us.  He came to save us from our sin (our rebellion against God; missing the mark).

And so, Jesus speaks plainly to his disciples about what happens when one of them sins (misses the mark).  He doesn't tell a parable.  He doesn't give a riddle.  He doesn't ask a question that we are to seek the answer to.  Why?  Because Jesus wants to be clear on this inevitably important circumstance within his church.

Yes, sin is inevitable.  We are imperfect creations striving to mature under a perfect Creator.  Someone who is a part of a church who sins does not show a church that has failed.  It's not the act of sin that disproves the effectiveness of making disciples.  A church is failing when it fails to deal with the sin, especially when it fails to deal with the sin in the plain manner that Jesus prescribes.

Whenever someone within God's people is living against God, Jesus tells us to deal with it privately, directly and decisively.

When considering Jesus' instructions, it is important to remember that Jesus is responding to his disciple's question of "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"  Jesus answers initially with, "Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." 

Whenever we deal with one another, we must be humble.  Regarding ourselves as servants of others is the safest place to be.  There is no competition.  There is no leveling.  In humility, we are to regard others more important than ourselves.  How do we commit to one another?  How do we become a cohesive group of people striving together after Christ?  How do we become great?  By humbling ourselves and helping our brother and sister to become great.

As brothers and sisters who share the same name, therefore, it should disturb us greatly when we think that a family member is destroying themselves by living contrary to the King.  We should hope beyond hope that we are mistaken.  We should easily think of a time when we have behaved similarly and were thankful that someone reminded us of who we are supposed to be and what we have turned away from.

Keeping this attitude, we approach the person privately.  No need to humiliate or make ourselves look better.  We aren't.  Besides, we may be completely wrong.  It is easier to have an honest conversation privately, isn't it?  No need to save face or make a show.  It's just me and you.  No cameras.  No audience.  Just us, off the record.

If you find that you were mistaken, there is no embarrassment for you.  If he/she finds that he/she is mistaken, there is no embarrassment for them.  If they stop, if they turn, you have accomplished what your King wanted you to do.  And you continue worshipping Jesus together.

But, if it becomes clear that he/she is still harming the church through their rebellion against the head of the church, then it is still private, but with only one or two others who are witnesses.  Jesus is referring to the way prescribed in the Law.  One could not simply accuse someone of wrong and expect them to be punished.  There needed to be two or more witness to corroborate the breaking of the Law.

Maybe the witnesses will show you your fault.  Maybe the witnesses will be an excellent intervention to the one you are trying to convince to change.  Either way, the desired outcome of this horrible exercise is the elimination of rebellious living.  If that occurs, you continue worshipping Jesus together.

But, if it becomes clear that he/she is still harming the church through their rebellion against the head of the church, then it must be brought before the entire church in a loving manner.  If it gets to this point, it will be a mess.  One who is standing on their rebellious pride will be incapable of acting with the humility that Christ prescribes.

"...let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."

Do these sound like harsh words to you?  Think about how Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors.  He continally preached to them to "Repent. For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand"  It was up to them whether to become a part of the family.  As a part of the family, Jesus shared intimate details of the Kingdom.  He taught them about how the Spirit moved among them.  He demonstrated how they could do what he was doing. 

But, for those who insisted on being outside the family, Jesus could only ask them to "Repent.  For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."  Trying to serve with someone who refuses to serve with you is like depending on a toddler to help put out a house fire.  You end up spending more energy, time and resources on the toddler instead of putting out the fire you were called to put out in the first place.

Churches do not exist to put on rock concerts, help us feel better, teach our children values, serve us tea and coffee, give us a ritual to check off our religious to-do list, entertain or give us friends and jobs.  Churches exist, Jesus gathers people together, for one primary reason:  to make disciples of Jesus, full-stop.

Father, please remind me to be humble, serve my brothers and sister in Christ well, and help them to be great.  Thank you for including me in your wonderful, powerful family.

01 January 2011

Jesus Wants Us To Care For The Ones He Cares For

Matthew 18:10-14

Children's ministry is one of the most important ministries of God's people.  Why?  Because Godly children are Godly people.

Have you ever been around a baby's parent?  Some fathers and mothers are insistent on showing you how smart and cute their children are by having them perform some kind of "trick" for whoever is paying attention.  "Mary.  Who's this?"  Sometimes the baby will point and say, "Gandma."  Other times the baby will not be interested in playing the game and focus their attention on what they are really interested in.

The wonderful and scarily sobering fact about children is that they are always learning.  Always.  They are not just learning when we are actively teaching them.  They are learning even when we are not paying attention.

How does this world I find myself in operate?  What do I need?  How can I get what I need?  What is important?  What is valuable?  Who should I trust?  How should I treat people who show me kindness?  How should I treat people who ignore me?  How should I treat people who are cruel?  How should I talk?  What should I do?  What should I learn? Etc...

"See that you do not look down on one of these little ones.  For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven."

Parents and all of us who live around children are given a responsibility that we will be held to account.  Make no mistake.  Our Father in Heaven and His Son Jesus loves children.  Jesus tells us this plainly.  Why?  Because everything that is done to and around children has profound consequences toward the world we all live in.

Lost children are lost people.  Lost people do not know where they are going.  Lost people do not know who to trust.  Lost people are desperate.  Lost people take as many people with them so they will feel better and less alone while they are lost.  Lost people become angry.  Lost people become lazy and apathetic.  Lost people lose hope.  Some lost people don't realise they are lost until it is too late.

Be careful church.  Be careful parents.  Be careful neighbours.  "In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost."

Father, forgive me when I ignore the words of your Son.  Please always remind me through your Spirit.  Wisdom teaches me that many wounds will never heal completely.