Friday, December 31, 2021

Sermon on the Mount - Part 3

 I see the Sermon on the Mount as the manifesto of the ministry of Jesus. Not that Jesus is seeking to bring something new, but rather a resetting of God's intention. 

Matthew 5:17,18

(17)“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (18)For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished."

The corruption of God's intention for relationship with man started in the Garden when Adam and Eve partook of the fruit, and it has not stopped since. It certainly did not stop with the advent of the Gospel. From the book of Acts on, much of the New Testament deals with correcting issues of  corruption of the Gospel. It did not take long for the sinful ways of man to enter into the church. Even as early as the book of Acts, we see issues such as Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) and Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:18-24). In Corinthians we find sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1,2). In Galatians we have the preaching of a different gospel (Galatians 1:6). The list goes on.

Yet I get the feeling that many believe that finally, 2,000 plus years later, we finally have it figured out. Well, at least our denomination does. 

Matthew 5:3

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Why these words? Or perhaps more importantly, what is being mourned? Who or what has died? 

Romans 6:1,2  What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Does the mourning that Jesus is speaking of here have anything to do with our own death? Not our physical death, but the death of our old self, the putting away of our past way of life and now walking in newness of life? Some might argue, why would we mourn the death of our old self? But I believe it is healthy to do that. We should see the destructive force of that old way of living, and all of the misery it caused both for ourselves and those we love, and work through the emotions that go with that that we might be set free from a return to that life. (Matthew 12:43-45)

Again, I am reminded of the 12 Steps of AA:

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character

Do you see a mourning process here, because I do. First, we take an honest look at our past way of life. Then we admit where we were wrong and how it played out in our actions. We see the path and toll of destruction we have forged. Next, we lay that old self on the altar before God, closing the casket and sealing it up. If that isn't a reason to be mourning, what is? So now, being at rock bottom, gasping for breath, mourning over the death of our own past, we are finally ready to go to God and ask Him to bury that person. Step 7:

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

You don't have to know the steps to go through the process. Maybe you didn't write out an inventory, or share it with another, but did you not see the destruction? Do you not see your need for a Savior?

Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to finding a treasure in a field. (Matthew 13:44) Once found, the man saw the value of the treasure, and sold all that he had to possess it. Did this man mourn over some of what he had to lose in order to gain that treasure? I would imagine he did. It is difficult for me to think about selling ALL I own to possess anything. All my tools? All my Legos? All my trinkets and family memories? I might do it, but I would definitely miss some of those things. That is what the man in the parable did, he sold ALL he had because he saw the greater value in possessing the treasure. He mourned the loss of his present possessions, but the value of what he would now possess is where he found comfort.

Jesus talks about dying to ourselves often. He tells us to pick up our cross and follow Him. Is this not an invitation to our own death? What more powerful image could He have chosen that to tell us to pick up our cross? Did some picture the times they had seen men on the side of the road who were on Roman crosses? This was not an uncommon sight. Jesus did this, I believe, knowing that He would have to perform this very act Himself! When you pick up your cross, it is only for one reason, to carry it to the place of your crucifixion. Think about that. Can you imagine the thoughts running through your head as you walk down the street toward the pain and suffering that you know lies ahead? Would you not be mourning your own death? 

Jesus tells us to love everyone and pray for those who persecute us. Do you not have to die to yourself to perform such an act? Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" My thought is, how can you truly love even those who persecute you, and pray for them, if you have not first died to yourself that you might live for Christ? And why would you choose to do such a thing unless you see the beauty and value of who Christ is and what it is he offers? 

Don't many preach a different gospel today? Have we not watered down and emasculated the gospel message when we say that salvation is simply a matter of belief (head knowledge) that Jesus is Lord, and that accepting His as Savior simply means praying a prayer or even being baptized in His name? If we have not recognized the death that we must die, and what the newness of life is that we must now live in, and mourned that death, if we have not laid aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, (Hebrews 12:1), if we have do not believe that there is no treasure greater than the salvation found only in Jesus, should we really call ourselves saved? 

Edited 2/3/2022

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Sermon on the Mount - Part 2

 Matthew 5:1

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

Interesting tidbit found in this verse. It mentions that Jesus sat down. This is significant, because I understand that Jews stood to read Scripture, but when giving instruction if they stood, it was seen as informal. For formal teaching, they sat. This would seem to be in line with the idea that Jesus is giving this first recorded sermon as a manifesto, or at least as a formal instruction into what He believes to be of great importance.

Matthew 5:2-3

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Looking at the big picture, I see this as Jesus setting the foundation for His earthly ministry. This stuff in important. And His audience can be divided into two parts, depending on your point of view. Jewish leaders and common Jews, or sheep and wolves. 

So what is He saying in the very first words of this message? A closer look at the words. Blessed  (can also mean happy) are the poor (as in a beggar, but also can be used to indicate distress) in spirit (as in an angel, demon, or God. Also can mean a breath of air or one's mental disposition). So in a sense, He is saying, blessed are those who are gasping for air, blessed are those who are in a place of deep distress and discomfort, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Why would He say something like that? I look to His audience and their mindset. The Jews looked to their leaders as the ultimate example of piety. Don't we do that too? If not, can someone please explain to me why many in leadership (celebrity preachers) live in mansions, have private jets, expensive clothes, etc., and we continue to send them money to fund these projects? Do we not also take their words as truth, with little or no regard for what the Bible says? Of course, there is a reason for this. Perhaps because we do not spend enough time studying our own Bibles and praying ourselves. Some might say, "But isn't all of that success and those possessions proof of God's blessing on them?" I think Jesus would say no, that real blessing and happiness comes from God alone, and unless you know what it means to be dependent on Him, you might never find it. (Matt 19:22-23) I believe that the common believers of today are not really that much different than the sheep in Jesus's time. So for whatever reason Jesus is saying this, it still applies very much today.

Jesus did not come for the righteous. (Romans 3:10; Luke 19:10). He came to seek and save the lost, the poor in spirit, the beggars for breath. And He did not come to give us material or physical blessing, He came to set us free. (John 8:31-36; Heb 13:5-6) I think of the first 3 steps of AA:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

AA does not have the power to save you from your sins. Neither does working the 12 Steps. But if your sin drives you to your knees, perhaps because you are gasping for breath and don't know where else to turn, it might just give you the clarity to turn to the one who can.

Jesus did not come to claim the righteous. He came to claim His own though His righteousness. He came to claim the poor in spirit. The broken. Much like the tax collector in Luke 18:13, who was so ashamed of his sin that he could not even lift his eyes to heaven as he pleaded for God's mercy. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Edited 2/3/2022

Monday, December 27, 2021

Sermon on the Mount - Part 1

God has place the Sermon on the Mount on my heart and brain lately. Not bits and pieces, but the whole thing. He has shown me that if I look at it as a whole, parts take on a different meaning, and there is a definite flow and message to this sermon. Not that this invalidates the messages we get from looking at the individual parts, just a different take that I think I was missing before.

THE AUDIENCE

One of the pieces that I sometimes don't completely consider when trying to understand a passage is the audience. Who was Jesus originally speaking to and perhaps even why was He speaking to them? I believe that His audience was the Jews of the time, both the leadership and the common folk. 

A quick look at the leaders. They were the ones who had it all. They had the power, prestige, knowledge, respect, etc. of the people. They were there most likely there to see what would be said by this man that they had likely been hearing about. This mystical person who others claimed had the ability to heal people, or maybe they had even been witness to some of the miracles. I believe they most likely stood together, wanting to be with their peers and not wanting to mingle with the common folk. This was common for them, seeing themselves and separate, not wanting to mingle in with others lest they contaminate themselves and become unclean. I don't believe that this was God's intention for leadership, but it was what it had become. It was what man had made it into.

That brings me to the other group. The common Jews, the have nots. The sheep, following these leaders wherever they would take them. Ignorant people. I don't say that as an insult, but as a statement of fact. They did not study the Scriptures the way the leaders did. They did not get to interpret them, or decide what rules needed to be followed. They trusted the leaders to do this for them, for they were the ones who had the knowledge and experience to do so, at least in the minds of good Jewish people.

RELIGION

So this is what religion had become in the time of Jesus. People trusting in leaders, leaders trusting in themselves and their traditions. It was organized, specific, ritualistic. It was also cold, calculated, and done in a manner that kept those in control in control. Does this still exist today? Well, has the heart of man really changed? I am sure that there are some leaders who are good people, but I wonder if this is a minority. The New Testament reveals that it did not take long for things to go south as far as the church was concerned. Just read pretty much any book after the Gospels and you will find issues that arose and needed to be confronted. Ananias and Sapphira? Judaizers? Adultery and fornication in the church? Simon wanting to buy the ability to impart the Spirit? The list goes on. So for us today not to be vigilant about what is going on in the church seems a bit unrealistic. Beware of the wolves, for they come in sheep's clothes.

MANIFESTO

So along comes Jesus. He did become a rabbi through the usual means as far as I know. He was not on the radar as coming from good stock, but rather of questionable lineage, the son of a peasant girl and a carpenter. Perhaps there were even rumors of His illegitimacy. Probably did not have the highest level of mentors as far as the Jewish leaders were concerned. And then there were those challenging questions He kept asking. But surely He showed some promise.

In the series, The Chosen, Jesus makes a comment prior to giving the sermon, that this sermon is His manifesto. I agree with that thought. This is His first recorded sermon, and will set the stage for His ministry. I believe it will bear a message of great importance and foundation for His ministry. I also believe that many of the future things He will say and do can be directly tied to parts or all of this sermon. So it deserves a lot of thought and examination. And even though I will not go through with it in one setting, I will attempt to always look at each piece in conjunction with the whole.

Starting with my next post in this theme. Today I will close with this question: If Jesus were to address the masses today, would He need to change His message?

My answer is, no. While we might not be Jewish, I do believe that there are still two distinct groups who would be in attendance. One side being those who lead, and who expect their leadership to be followed. I recall sitting in an elder's meeting when a suggestion was brought up. The chairman said, "If that happens here, it will be might last day as an elder." End of discussion. Then there is the other side, the one that I sat on that day in the meeting. The one who worships the leader instead of the Lord. The one who sits back and says nothing, even though they question the wisdom. There are so many on that side. People who blindly trust the wolves who lead them because they do not know Jesus, they only know the Jesus the wolves present to them. Jesus wants this to change. He came to set us free, not to change the chains of bondage.

Edited 2/2/2022

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Sing Unto the Lord...as long as you do it my way.

Found this in my drafts. 

I went to a small (around 500 students?), conservative, Christian college. I had worked a year after graduating High School, but the realities of adult life were confusing. I had a job as an apprentice mechanic in a small shop (7 mechanics) that would have been a satisfying and decent paying career, but the drama and politics of the adults in that place were sometimes beyond childish. Although I enjoyed the work, I wanted something different. I decided to go to college. I would probably just go a year or two. I wanted a Christian college, because I felt that I had so much to learn about my faith and the Bible. 

And I thought the shop guys were childish.

I ended up going 4 years and graduating from this institution. I learned a lot along the way, some things in class, some things outside of class. This story deals with something that happened outside of class.

My freshman year I was a part of a male quartet that traveled for the school. We were ambassadors for the school that did church events for churches that supported the school. We were the only all male group (we had a female pianist), and somewhat popular. Going in to the second semester, we had several appearances booked, including one at the home church of the pianist and another at the home church of two of the men in the group. That's when we got the news.

Apparently, two of our members grades were below the expected standard for extra-curricular participation, and our group was put on academic probation. This meant we could still practice, but not travel for the school. They were graciously (sarcasm) willing to allow us to fulfill our January obligations (which happened to be traveling to churches where school trustees were members), but then probation would take affect until the next grades in March. This was disappointing to us, as our 2 February dates were to churches of members of the group. When this was brought to the schools attention, the made accommodations for us to be able to travel to those as well. So now, we are only two weeks away from being off probation because grades come out mid-March. 

Now I had a problem with this. If the purpose of academic probation is to allow the students the extra time to focus on getting their grades back up to par, and we were going to be given accommodations to travel in January and February, was the purpose of the probation being accomplished? I thought no, can't remember what the others felt, but this was brought to the administration's attention. Their response was to keep us on probation, and they wanted our group to meet with the president and vice president of the college. At the meeting, they explained their position, which was since the other dates were already set, to avoid any embarrassment, they would be fulfilled, and we would serve out our probation for the first half of March. Just to add some context, I want to state that I was not one of the students on probation, so my problem with this was more about doing what I believed was right rather than defending my own issues. Also, I wonder if this same logic would apply to other areas as well. Example: Since the basketball schedule is already out, we should let the players fulfill their obligation to avoid embarrassment. Don't think that would fly.

If an athlete were on probation, even a star one, would they be granted the accommodation to be able to continue to play games that had already been scheduled? I wanted the rules to be consistent and fair. Silly me. They did not agree. To me, it came down to either we were on probation and should not travel, or we were not on probation, and we could continue a regular schedule. I voiced this, and was told that if it was an either/or situation, then we would not travel and in fact, they would disband our group. Hardball. So we had a decision to make, and we ended up disbanding. Not a big issue for me, as it freed up more time in my schedule, but disappointing because we enjoyed doing this and enjoyed one another.

Footnote: The other two members that were not on probation were offered the opportunity to join another group, the school's chorale, and not lose their 1 credit hour this would earn them. I was never given this choice, and in fact did not find this out until talking to one of the other members years later. They showed me.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Back to Church - Part 3

My journey through high school was fairly uneventful. Life in the youth group was fun, and gave me a sense of belonging. But not all was roses.

My brother was 2 and a half years younger that me. He got involved in youth after the choir thing had died down and disappeared. A new youth minister or two, neither of whom was musically inclined. Basketball became one of the next big things. We even had enough players to have 2 teams. The "A" team was the older, better players and the "B" team was the younger, less experienced players. 

When one of your major draws to church is sports, you pick up people who are there just for the sports. I think that the hope is that being with strong Christians will help draw you in to a relationship with Jesus. I am not sure we had many strong Christians. I do know that we had those there who were only there for the sports. The group that was a few years behind the group I was involved with had a lot of those kids. That would be the group my brother was mostly involved with. I think the adults assume the best, and turn a blind eye to some of the worst.

I believe my brother was in a time of life that would shape who he would become. 

But here is my question: When we use things like sports (or any other activity for that matter) as a means to draw people in to the church, is that an acceptable approach to evangelism? I know that this is a widely practiced method, but is it right? As someone who has been in ministry, and has used activities to draw people in, I now stand and question this tactic.

Perhaps the answer is found in the way it is done. My fear is that we use some events to get people to come to church to see that it is not that bad a place, that we are not the bizarre weirdos they might think, and if the opportunity arises to sneak in some Jesus, great! But what does that teach about Christianity, and about the salvation that Jesus offers? (I will ask lots of questions, but really won't present many answers, mostly because I don't know them.) Perhaps at least a part of the answer lies in the idea that there is a right way and a wrong way to do this. 

I think back to my high school days. One of the teams in our softball league had several members arrested as part of a chop shop operation. How did that witness work out for the church? 

Perhaps a part of the issue is the idea that we have to sneak Jesus in to stuff, like getting used to the water one toe at a time rather than diving in. Which approach is best? Again, just a question for thought. Yet it is a question that should be asked when planning such methods.

I like what I heard Matt Chandler say about why they don't have a coffee bar at their church. He said (not an exact quote) that they don't offer coffee in church to encourage their people to go out and buy coffee on the way to church and interact with the people they meet as they do. Tip the barista. Say thank you and don't cause a scene when the order is wrong. Seems to be in line with Matthew 28:19-20. Jesus said GO, he didn't say, Bring them in with cool activities and nice buildings and etc. Of course, this approach has its drawbacks too. It might take longer. In some instances, the desired result might not happen. And, of course, it takes mature and grounded Christians to pull it off. Whereas the other approach puts the task mostly on the church staff. Did the preacher give a good sermon? Did the Youth Minister give a good devotion? Does the Music Minister look good in skinny jeans and a knit cap?

One of my greatest concerns today is that we have an audience of people who think they are Christian because they go to church. It is as if God is taking attendance. Just as in the days of Jesus, only instead of looking to the scribes and Pharisees, we look to those on stage. Is there any depth? The pool goes on for miles, but there is no need to part the water because if you walk across, only the bottom of your shoes gets wet. And no one wants to get their feet wet.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Back Again

 2021 has been a challenging year. I have had so many urgent issues to deal with (such as family illnesses) that blogging has had to take a back seat again. But the issues have not changed. I was just reading the post I had written before taking that break, and I find myself in a similar situation again. I won't go into that now. 

Jesus's Sermon on the Mount has been on my mind a lot lately. Not little bits and pieces of it, but the whole thing. There is a message in this sermon that I had missed because I was looking at the details instead of the whole. This was his first recorded public sermon. What was He trying to get across?

I believe He was setting the stage for His ministry. Out with the old and in with the new. The old way of doing things had become corrupted. Corrupted by man's ways of doing things. Trying to put God in our debt, instead of recognizing the debt we owe to God. Leaders had become proud and arrogant. Followers had become worshippers of leaders rather than of God. Jesus sought to correct this while still giving the items of importance their appropriate honor. 

Matthew 5:17-18 (ESV)

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished."

Look at the beginning of the message. He attacks the ideology of current thought by highlighting behaviors such as meekness and mercy. 

I am not sure where I will go from here. Or when that will be. Still a lot of things that I have to deal with on several fronts. Should I continue with my prior thread? Maybe that would be good for me to finish. I still have some drafts started that I probably should go through. Or should I address my current issue that has been laid on my heart? Perhaps a return to the Sermon on the Mount? Or another popular book to discuss. The one I just read has my head spinning, and not in a good way. More like the ways that you might see in a Linda Blair movie (The Exorcist). 

Time will tell. Whatever the course, it will be done mostly out of therapy for me. Sometimes I just need to vent.