Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Matthew 24:1-2). Jesus sounds at first like the ultimate killjoy in this account. Imagine walking with some friends this [oh-please, please, please-come-quickly] spring, looking up, and mentioning how beautiful the blue sky looked only to have have somebody say, the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood (Joel 2:31). That would be a bit of a conversation stopper. With all social niceties aside, Jesus went on to tell them about the coming end of the world as humanity knows it. He had a short three years to build into His disciples the type of perspective that would launch them into a hot passion for God's glory and gospel--a passion that would lead to their persecution, martyrdom, and establishing of the global church. He clued them in to the seriousness of troubles ahead by informing them that only those who endured to the end would be saved (V. 13). The fact of life for most of us today is that we've got it pretty good--lots of creature comforts, a huge network of acceptance of our Christian values, and (as far as we can tell) a hopeful road ahead. To be sure, these are gifts, and we should be thankful for them. For a break in the middle of a couple hours of reading in my riveting Hebrew grammar text last night, Gen and I streamed an episode of "Duck Dynasty." "I'm really enjoying this new TV," I said. It was a nice 22 minutes of refreshment, and ended with a typical Robertson family prayer before a meal...good stuff. But I was reminded this morning that I need to experience that enjoyment while also hearing Jesus's interrupting words so that I long for ultimate refreshment in Him at the willing expense of countless temporary ones. It was a nudge I needed and one that hopefully strengthens you too.
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Monday, September 9, 2013
Jesus to His disciples:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
The command for disciples to love one another is not an abstract idea that we need to figure out how to do. It is quite to the contrary. Jesus spent His ministry showing love to His disciples, discipling them in love. They were to love one another in the ways that He had loved them. This fully formed love was one that always told the truth, that repeatedly served, that continuously prayed, that regularly corrected, and that diligently protected. And so, in the ways that Jesus loved His disciples, all brothers and sisters following Him are commanded to model their lives after His love: as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. The result would be that others would see the stamp of Jesus on our lives and identify us with Him. And so, to the Originator of the love we show goes the ultimate attention and honor. For Christ's sake, we joyfully love!
Friday, March 9, 2012
Are you a good pray-er? You know what I'm talking about. When you pray in front of a group, do people reflect on those words and think, "Wow, she's got the prayin' skills!"? Here's a better question: Do you ever want them to think those things? Let's be honest; whether we're a bit self-conscious praying in front of others or have it down to a beautiful science, we sometimes lose track of Who it is that we're to be engaging.
First, that's why Jesus says to pray in a quiet little room--a place where only God is and nobody else...a place where we can grab a prayer chair and connect with the King. It's not that He's against praying in groups (He did that with His disciples before meals and the disciples gathered together to do it after He ascended). He's simply emphasizing that prayer isn't for show. Everything that He says in this passage reinforces that fact...
Second, He tells His listeners that it's right to keep in mind the big/main things as we pray. "God is great. This is His world. He's our Provider. We need His forgiveness and protection. We need to forgive." There are other things, given our life situation and circumstances, that are going to fit into that grid as we pray, but those rocks of truth about God's nature and our need are what it should all come back to. We don't need to wander or aimlessly drift in our prayers when we have anchors in place.
Third, Jesus drew out a certain portion of His example prayer that He knew we needed to give special attention to. Simply because we get away to pray in a quiet place for that "just God and me" time doesn't mean we're not to have on our minds how we're doing in community life. Christ knows the messiness of relationships and comes back to that component of His prayer: "You've got to be a forgiver!" Our nearness to God is rooted in forgiveness and so is our fellowship with our fellow man. We've got to remember that we will never have to forgive someone to anywhere near the extent that God has forgiven us. It's as if Jesus was saying, "If you little sinner can't forgive that other little sinner, you can't begin to grasp (or have!) the forgiveness God offers you." That's not to belittle anyone's pain over what's been done to them, but the statement should magnify the power of God's work in ripping out our utterly dead hearts that were carrying us to eternal destruction and replacing them with pure, life-carrying ones--that's what His forgiveness does.
Hypocrisy. That's what Jesus warned against at the beginning of this miniature discourse and that's essentially how He ends it. The call is toward authenticity. If we're God motivated in our prayers and our personal relationships, that's what comes. And so these too are among the words that Jesus says we're to build our lives on so that we're ready to stand strong in Him when the storm hits.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Walking up and down the alley behind our house, you'll see a "Beware" sign or two. We catch a glimpse of that word in such a context, take note of the dog running up to the fence the sign is posted on, and gladly stand back. You wouldn't think of sticking your hand across the line because it could mean that you'd get pulled all the way in, or at least end up with a torn up mitt. Well, we would do alright to adhere to the same word in the same way as we look at the Scriptures. Jesus told His listeners to beware of the temptation to live uprightly in order to be held up high by others. In fact, if we really thought about what He was saying, we would be way more concerned about taking to heart this instruction to "beware" than we would about putting our hand within reach of an angry dog--sounds crazy, but I'm being serious.
Sometimes Christians are scared to talk about working for rewards. We like to say, "No, no, I do what God says simply because He says it." Well, that's fine, but if that's all there is to it, why would Jesus give a warning against "holy showmanship" wherein He explains the consequence of such to be a lost heavenly reward? He said it because we should be thrilled over getting to hear God say one day, "I saw what nobody else saw back then, and I'm so happy to grant this extra blessing to you right now because of it." Trust me, He's not going to hand us "Good Job, Sport!" stickers at those moments. Losing what will be a rich reward and replacing it instead with a self-exalting attitude that reminds heaven and earth of why Jesus needed to spill out His blood...that should simply kill us!
I tell ya, it's tough; I get that. I'm rotten at living in such a way that shows all I want is God and what He wants to give. Heaven seems far away and pats on the back are so very nice and so very right now. But living for those is something that we should beware of. They will never satisfy. They will never come in all the right forms. They are not what our hearts long for. And when we start to find out just how true that is, unless we wake up, we're going to step further and further away from the God motivated life and into the land of empty pleasures and pursuits. You better believe we ought to "beware of practicing [our] righteousness before other people to be seen by them. " It's a double-loss if we don't--loss of heavenly reward and an eventual loss of our senses altogether.
Go bless the socks off of somebody today. But be secretive...be stealthy...and anticipate amazing things one day from the hand of the One you live for. Do you think He won't know how to give your eternal new body and soul the kind of rewards that make your heart sing and still result in exalting praise of His name forever? Beware...and be happy.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Jesus: "Keep your word."
Jesus: "No revenge."
Us: "Sigh...OK, anything for You, Jesus."
Jesus: "Love and pray for your enemies...and be perfect."
Us: "For real?!"
The thing about Jesus is that He always keeps pressing. And praise God that He does, because I'm prone all too often to try and "be good" at what I think is the minimal level for the passing grade. When I do that it's because I really still just don't get it. I keep thinking that if I get a little better at the rules, if I'm a bit more disciplined, and if my doctrine becomes a little more pure, THEN I'll be more of a Christian than ever before. THEN I'll be that perfect little angel people need me to be. See the halo? Talk about burdens to carry. Didn't Jesus say that His burden for us was light?
Yes, and it's not our job to have our walk with Him start that way and then work hard to make it heavy over time. We forget sometimes our starting point which is what Jesus proclaimed as the single greatest commandment everything else was to flow out of: Love God with everything you've got (Deut. 6:5). GET THAT FIRST. It's the only way forward and the only sustainable course. If we remember that and then see everything else Jesus says as a way of urging, "Here's what the God you're in love with looks like, and here's how you can love like Him," then we'll operate according to a swelling heart instead of according to religious expertise. That's why Jesus could pray for His murderers' forgiveness. That's why Stephen, when he was being stoned to death, prayed for the same. That's how we can love our enemies (which might just be people we work with, see at holidays, or even sit across the pew from who seem to be begging for a good neck-wringing). Jesus wants us to know what God's perfect love looks like so that we can have perfect love...not just the natural, reciprocal kind.
All this makes for a battle inside our souls; no doubt. It is not easy to love well. It's complicated to say the least. But the cool thing is that we don't have to try and plan every detail of what it needs to look like in those tough moments. We just need to devour more of God every day and hunger for Him in a way that kills us if we start to fall off the wagon and entertain ourselves with lesser things and find us insensitive to the needs around us. We need to look at the cross that Jesus hung on and be astounded over God's love for us when we were still His enemies. It's only then that the loving of our own will make any sense and start to flow.
God motivation over rule motivation. That's another part of the rock Jesus gives us to build our lives upon.
Friday, February 24, 2012
I'll just be honest--I'm not a big fan of this passage. I like those scenes in movies where the hero who has been harmed or taken advantage of gets to throw the villain off a cliff. That's not revenge, it's just justice, right?
But how about real life, and how about flipping things around a bit. We tend to think about ourselves as the ones under the oppressive hand of a bully we want to punch in the throat, and the passage is even written in such a way that speaks to the victim. Think of those times though when you've been the mean one--physically, verbally...on facebook. Aren't you glad when, after you've been an idiot and realized it, the offended doesn't come after you? Aren't you thankful and humbled when, whether the one you smacked around does so consciously or not, he/she obeys Jesus and dismisses the offense (or is even kind to you)?! It's nice to NOT get what you deserve in those instances--and we've all been in them plenty. Denial of such just makes us arrogant or ignorant...not innocent.
Here's the deal: Jesus is always speaking to us in a way that challenges us to reflect His own humility, patience, kindness, generosity, and strength. He was never out to take down the legal and state institutions that do protect the innocent and bring the wrongdoers to justice. Those eyewitnesses who followed His teaching closely and then gave us the rest of the Bible make that very clear. God is for, not against, the establishment of governing authorities in every society. Neither is He against individuals appealing to those systems when injustices are at hand. The "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" Biblical concept was one that was set in place so that order and peace would reign and "survival of the fittest" rule would be kept at bay.
Now to be sure, knowing these things doesn't necessarily make it easy in the moment to accept harassment instead of avenging it. But it does give us the opportunity to ask ourselves the question, "How am I going to interact with others (especially the nasty others) in a way that most shines forth the character of Jesus and speaks to my love for Him?" All we have to do is look at the cross for the right answer to such a question and see the Lamb who was silent before His accusers.
Again, Jesus later wraps up this mountain-top sermon by saying that His words provided a rock to build our lives upon. It's painful, but how about we bank on God's much-need grace and work together to hammer in the meekness stake? Ready...Aim...CLINK.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
"But you PROMISED!" Such are the words of those who have had their hopes dashed by oath-breakers. Sometimes they are spoken sadly, sometimes through clinched teeth of wrath, or occasionally with a chuckle after being taken hook, line, and sinker once again by the family practical joker.
We put a good deal of stock in promises that people make precisely because we live in a world of liars. If you can get a guarantee or someone can get one from you, the promised feels he has the right to hold the vow-maker to her word. It's a sad deal really, but what are you going to do? Jesus' answer is quite simply, "be different; just be honest, plain and simple." He looked at the people of His day (just as He would look at us now) and heard their absurd extra wording tacked onto half their statements of intent and reminded them of how silly they sounded. Was heaven or earth or Jerusalem or one's own head going to hold the speaker to his word because he had mentioned their substances? Or just how big do we think we are that we would presume any of those items might shift or change because we do or don't stick to what we say? Just try swearing your way into spontaneous hair color alteration--not gonna happen.
This is one of those examples where we humans have failed to recognize what's sometimes called the "spirit of the text." In other words, yeah, the people looked back at the ancient writings of Scripture and saw that God told people to be honest and to look at those specific times where they had made some kind of declaration outside of casual conversation that warranted a consideration of the weight such words carried. But clearly what He was NOT saying was that a certain portion of our daily vocal expiration was fair game for later denying at our convenience. Quite the contrary. The emphasis throughout the Scriptures, regardless of situational context is: Say what you mean and mean what you say. If you don't do that, the indictment is, "Liar, liar, pants on fire."
Jesus says that living for Him means that part of the rock we're to build our lives on is the slab of straight-up honesty. People should look at us and see the opposite of shadiness. Christians ought to be the most trustworthy people on the planet, come wind or high water. How are we doing? I swear on the grave of my great grandaunt that I'll do better...wait...no I don't.