Got Liturgy?

Got Liturgy?

hypocrites

More from Jesus on hypocrites and the rewards they desire.

prayer

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. Do you pray? Why do you pray?? I’m going to assume most of you don’t pray on street corners to be seen by others. To be honest, I doubt anybody who reads this does anything close to that. We wouldn’t stand on street corners and pray for the purpose of being seen by others these days simply because people who stand and street corners praying these days are mostly seen as having mental difficulties (as in crazy), or just as a religious nut job who will be summarily shunned and ignored by all who see them. Because prayer is not something that even we who would pray are usually willing do in public at all.

Teach us to pray
In the time Jesus walked the earth, prayer was important. It was part how people were formed spiritually. It was an important part of a Rabbi’s job to teach his flock how to pray. We see in Luke that Jesus’ disciples wanted to be taught how to pray by their Rabbi – “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”” Luke‬ ‭11:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Teach us to pray as John (the Baptist) taught his disciples. They expected Jesus to teach them. Being able to pray well was important, and how could one learn to pray well unless taught?

LiturgyPage
Praying well is not something that is considered important or is widely taught these days. We don’t like to learn liturgies of prayer from our pastors, and generally speaking our pastors don’t like to teach them.
Does this mean we don’t have liturgies?? No, we all have liturgies. If you pray, you already have a liturgy. You DO mostly pray the same things over and over. But they are YOUR prayers. So, at least, we can feel good that we aren’t following someone else’s liturgy.
Except we do. Whether we call ourselves Christians or not, every American is very much formed by an endless liturgy. Our liturgy is repeated over and over, and no apologies are made for its endless, vain repetition. We are exposed to it and formed by it our entire lives, almost from the moment of birth to the moment of death.

advertisers
I’m talking about the liturgy of advertisers. We are formed, almost minute by minute and hour by hour, by the liturgy of advertisers which assaults us on our screens, in our cars, in our magazines, even within the books we read and shows and movies we watch. We are formed into mighty American consuming consumers. As I’m watching this, the morning news was just turned on, I looked up, and all the latest lottery numbers are scrolling along the bottom. Even the “news” is spiritually forming us to just keep spending, just keep spending.

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And so we spend. We spend on our clothes, our hair, our car, our bodies. And we stand on the street corners, in the clubs, at the arena. We follow the liturgy of our lives, and we do our best to be seen by what that liturgy forms us into. And it’s all about being seen, in the workplace, at the movies, in the grocery store, when we are out in public, when we are in private, we want that reward of being seen by others and being told “nice shoes”, “nice car”, “nice jersey”, “nice haircut”. We don’t care about being seen as pious by others, we don’t put on a show of praying in the street, we don’t go out of our way to be seen praying even in church. Not because we aren’t trying to impress others, we try to impress others with almost every purchase we make. We don’t try to impress others with our praying because nobody, including we who claim to be Christian or even just religious, cares about praying. It’s not a priority. It’s not a habit we have, it’s not something we seek to learn to do. If we do seek to learn, it’s mostly because we want to be able to use prayer in our lives and we believe we would get something out of it. (And many of you right now are thinking “Why would I pray if I’m not trying to get something out of it?”) We may not pray to be seen by others, we simply live to be seen by others. We follow the liturgy that forms our lives, and do everything we can to be seen as successful or beautiful in light of that liturgy. And we do receive all the reward we seek, the approval of others.

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But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. I hope you do pray regularly, and yes, you probably do pray in secret. That is a good thing, because Jesus tells us here that we should pray to our Father who is in secret. God is in secret. He is in that secret, quiet place where you pray. That is about the only place you will find him. It doesn’t have to be an indoor place either, we all know we sometimes hear from God in nature, in His great creation. But it is in our quiet place, wherever that is, that we can pray to our Father in heaven, and he can hear us (he always does), and we might even be able to slow down enough to hear back from him.

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And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Let me say this – having a liturgy of prayer that you bring before God regularly is not vain repetition or empty words. The Lord’s Prayer is not empty words. The prayer of St Francis, the prayer of St. Patrick, not empty words. When we come before God to punch A6 on his vending machine expecting him to give us whatever we want, those are empty words. When we view prayer as utilitarian, as a secularist would use prayer (because it is useful), that is vain repetition and empty words.
The primary purpose of prayer is not to get God to do what we think he ought to do. The primary purpose of prayer is not to pester God to get Him to give us what we want. After all, your Father knows what you need before you ask him. He already knows. You don’t need to tell Him what you need. That us not the primary purpose of prayer. The primary purpose of prayer is to be formed spiritually to be more in the image of Christ. The primary purpose of prayer is spiritual formation.

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We are spiritually formed by the liturgy of our everyday lives, the liturgy of empire and the liturgy of advertisers. If you don’t use a liturgy of prayer, not in vain repetition (our liturgy of advertisements makes no apologies for endless repetition), but in repetition that it might begin to form us in a new way, then how are we going to be formed by anything other than the liturgy of advertisers?   Jesus then goes on to give us a prayer to base our liturgy upon, doesn’t he?
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever. Amen. We are in the middle of a sermon series on this prayer in my church. I’m not going to break this down, I’m just going leave it there and say that this is part my daily liturgy of prayer, and I repeat this prayer at least tree times per day. It’s not vain repetition, but repetition to allow myself to be formed as God wants me.

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For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. How do you become the kind of person who can more easily forgive the trespasses of others? Only by the power of God. But you can willfully submit yourself to that power by using a good liturgy of prayer, yes praying many of the same things over and over, to be formed as a person of God and of prayer, and over time to be formed by that repetition into someone who can more naturally forgive others.
Look at this verse describing the early church in Acts Chapter 2 -“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts‬ ‭2:42‬ ‭ESV‬‬. What is that last bit there?? Did they devote themselves to prayer? No. They devoted themselves to the prayers. They had a liturgy of prayer they were formed by. What was their liturgy? I don’t know, but you can be sure the Lord’s Prayer and the psalms were a very large part of it. We have plenty of prayers. Find your liturgy. Devote yourself to the prayers. Not because of what you hope to receive, but who you hope to become.

 

“”And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:5-15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.6.5-15.esv

John Lewis

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Your Right Hand

Your Right Hand

right hand

Going to finish this section today, leading up to the Lord’s Prayer. I started yesterday and didn’t make it beyond verse one. So, we will start in verse two. Funny how that works…

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“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. The giving of “alms”, giving to the poor. It’s something we know we should do, if you’re like me you don’t do it as often, as freely or as joyfully as you should. But also if you are like me, when you do give to the poor, there are no trumpets blasting to announce it. This sounds so bizarre to us as to be beyond credibility. But, apparently, it’s true. During Jesus’ day, there were people who, when giving to the poor, would blow trumpets and be very loud about the fact that they were doing their “good deed”. They wanted to be sure everybody knew what “good people” they were. But Jesus called them hypocrites. But here is something about the word “hypocrite” as we know it today – Jesus created it. In His day, a hypocrite was simply a stage actor, someone who pretended to be someone they were not. Someone whom these days we would confer millions of dollars upon, adore, and someone upon whose opinions and views we would base our own views and opinions of the world around us. All because they were, by trade, good at being fake. In Jesus day, there were several theaters where these “hypocrites” worked. So, when he takes that term and applied it to the moral behavior of those who were doing their good deeds to be seen and earn the approval of men, his listeners knew exactly what he was talking about. And to this day, we know the term hypocrite means someone who pretends to have certain beliefs or virtues when they most certainly, in truth, do not.

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We don’t blow trumpets today to announce our good deeds. Or do we?? What an honor it is to have one’s name put on a building.   Or a school. Or a charity. Or the wall of your local library. The wall of fame at a local church.  Honors conferred on the basis of you contribution.  Net worth as self worth.   We have many ways of seeking glory from the giving of our gifts.
Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. When we seek the rewards of men, we can get what we want. We can get the blessings of men, and the ego that grows with it. What can’t be seen is the shrunken soul underneath it all.

giving
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Dallas Willard here uses the example of an old comedy routine about telling a kid to stand in a corner until he can go fifteen minutes without thinking about a pink elephant. Of course, the kid would never be able to come out of that corner, because as we try not to think about that pink elephant, that’s all we think about.

doing good
And that’s the point Jesus is making when he says don’t let your right arm know what your left arm is doing. As we try not to think about what our left arm is doing, that’s all we think about. As always, Jesus cares nor about the outward action but the inner heart. As God works within our life, doing good becomes more and more who we naturally are. When we first begin walking with God, we might be more conscious of the good we do for others. If we try to make a law out of not drawing attention to ourselves for our good deeds, then all we think about are the good things we feel we are doing, and because we are doing so much “good” we just have to tell somebody about it. But as you become more of the person God wants you to be, the good you do just begins to flow from who you are. You don’t think about what your right hand is doing – your right hand just does it. It’s not even conscious. You don’t think about being sure it’s secret because Jesus says to do it in secret. Whether it’s secret or known is irrelevant to that which you are doing. You’re just doing what you do because that’s now who you are. You’re not a stage actor playing a role, you’re a child of God doing what God’s children do.
“”Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:1-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.6.1-4.esv

John Lewis

Audience of One

Audience of One

audience of one

No messages the past two days, these two days have possibly been my two worst since beginning my walk with the Lord about 2 1/2 years ago. I began to write this particular message Tuesday morning, and the passage was just screaming at me. I could not write. My spirit was (and really still is) twisted. I certainly could not write the next passage in the sermon on the mount, actually turning the page from Matthew Chapter 5 to chapter 6, a real feeling of moving on to the next larger portion of Jesus talk.

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Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. So I was ready to move on, but when I turned the page, I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t think. I wanted to write, because that’s what I do. But this passage just hit me, because in my soul I was angry (I still am, but it’s now hopefully a more controlled anger and not a burning rage). I read this, actually began to write something, but had to stop. I had to stop because really what I write, I write for me, and then I share with those who would read it. But to write on Tuesday morning would have been doing the very opposite of what I’m writing, Jesus telling us all not to practice our religion, our righteousness, for the approval and opinion of others.

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This isn’t the only place where Jesus teaches this. During his passion week, Jesus lays out seven woes to the scribes and Pharisees, and during this he tells his followers “They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.” Matthew‬ ‭23:5-7‬ ‭ESV‬‬. I hope I don’t do this to be seen by others. If I had written anything the last two days, it definitely would have been for the wrong reasons. So I didn’t write. I’ve spent the last two days sorting out issues inside myself, and confronting others. I have not been prayerfully doing anything. I have reached out to my brothers, and have unloaded and shared some of my burdens. I have also been making many spirited accusations and assumptions, and when I say spirited I don’t mean the Holy Spirit. I’ve been driven by the unholy spirit, the satan, the spirit of shame, blame and accusation. I was caught up in the spiritual warfare my pastor talks about regularly, and I was getting my ass kicked. The devil was running my life.
But this morning, I can say that I am casting out the devil. Again. I am not going to play his game anymore. I’m sure I will have more battles with that unholy spirit, but for today, I am casting out the devil by the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

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So now I can write about what Jesus is telling us here as we start Mathew chapter 6. I can write as part of my spiritual discipline of journaling which I just happen to share with others. Jesus is talking here in chapter about traps which can block us from truly entering the kingdom of God breaking into not the world, and the first team he warns of is the respectability trap. We don’t pray in order to be seen praying. We don’t read the Bible in order to be seen praying. We don’t give to the church to be seen giving, like we don’t give to the poor to be seen giving. We do all we do for an audience of one.
You want to be honored by others? You want people to say good things about you? That’s great, go right ahead. God will not stand in your way. He will simply step aside and let us have our way. Your approval by others, the honors you might receive, the glory that might come your way, He will not stop you from pursuing them. If that is what is important to you, He will quite courteously step aside by your wish, and let you pursue that which is important to you.

best seat
God is not present where He is not wanted. He knows where He is wanted, and where He is not. If we are looking for the response and approval of others, he usually does not step on our wishes. He usually will let us carry out our own plans. If our goal is to impress others with our piety, our righteousness, our “devotion to God”, he will let us pursue that. But never forget, he will have the final say.

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But – if we play to the audience of one, God alone, he will also give us what we seek. “”Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew‬ ‭7:7-8‬ ‭ESV‬‬. I know, that’s from later in the sermon, but it just fit. Seek first the kingdom of God. These are not rules but guides for the heart. You don’t have to purposefully hide the good things you do to be right with God. If you are doing what you do for the audience if one, He doesn’t mind if others see. There may be a situation where you keep it hidden, there may also be situations when you can inspire others to follow your lead and multiply the goodness and change other hearts. Just be sure you are seeking first the kingdom of God.
Last night and this morning I did return to my regular times of prayer. I am using a liturgy of prayer I came across. I do believe prayer changes things, I also believe the number one thing in my life I need to change is “me”. So I am praying several time tested prayers during my prayer time, praying these prayers in the expectation that over time, they will help form me to be more like Christ. Here is part of my morning liturgy that I prayed this morning.

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A prayer for grace.
“Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall unto sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”
Feel free to pray this prayer on my behalf today, I need all I can get.

My name is John, faithful believer in Jesus Christ, thanks for letting me share.

“”Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.6.1.esv

John Lewis

The Bible Says…

The Bible Says…

walking away from jesus

We are getting to the jump off point now for many would be Christians. We are at the hard points of the teachings of Jesus, the points where even those who want to follow find it too unwise, too risky, too hard. Just as many of Jesus’ early disciples turned away and left, we still often turn away at the hard teachings of Jesus. “At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God. ”” John‬ ‭6:66-69‬ ‭NLT‬‬.

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Many times, over and over, we see Jesus saying “You have heard it said…but I say…”. What Jesus is really saying is, “The Torah says, but I say…” because every time he does this he is contrasting his own teaching against the teaching of the Torah. Or as we much better know the Torah to be…the Bible.

Murder
So Jesus tells us – “”[The Bible says] ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Matthew‬ ‭5:21-22‬ ‭ESV

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“” [The Bible says] ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:27-28‬ ‭ESV

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“” [The Bible says]‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Matthew‬ ‭5:31-32‬ ‭ESV

Pakistani, Iranian and Afghani migrants scuffle outside the police station of the city of Kos

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“”[The Bible says]‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Matthew‬ ‭5:38-39‬ ‭ESV‬‬.

the bible
Yes, we believe the Bible, and it is the inerrant word of God as revealed through Moses, the prophets, and the apostles. But the Bible, from beginning to end, is there to point us to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the light of the world who was there in the beginning and illuminates everything else we know, including the Bible which points us to Him, who is the full revelation of God. So we read the Bible, we believe the Bible, but we follow Jesus. And just to be even more clear about this, following the Bible is not the same thing as following Jesus. Those would be disciples of Jesus Christ who fell away in John Chapter 6 were more than happy to follow the Bible. The disciples who turned and left him there were Jews who had followed the Torah (the Bible) their whole lives. And when they left Jesus, I’m sure they continued to follow the Bible. But they missed out on following the way, the truth and the life because it was just too hard, too much to swallow. That’s why we must get to the point where, like Peter, we just know there is nowhere else to go, no one else to follow. Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”   
Most of us, we prefer the Bible to Jesus. We can use the Bible to justify ourselves in all kinds of ways that we can never use Jesus. We can use the Bible to justify war. We can use the Bible to justify capital punishment. We can use the Bible for imposing our own will on another human being. We can use it to justify our own anger, our own desire for vengeance. We can use use it to justify slavery. But we can’t use Jesus for any of these things.

revenge
So when we see “”[The Bible says]‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”, we often (most often) choose eye for an eye. We turn away from following Jesus, and instead choose to follow the spirit of this world. Because you see, the biggest problem in the early stages of Genesis leading up to the flood of Noah was exponential violence, violence multiplied. Cain kills Abel, laments his predicament to God, and gets a promise that anyone who harms Cain will be harmed seven times over. “Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.” Genesis‬ ‭4:15‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Then we have Lamech, descendant of Cain and father of Noah, who took this above and beyond – “Lamech said to his wives: “Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”” Genesis‬ ‭4:23-24‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Not seven fold revenge, but seventy-seven fold.  Soon after which, we have the flood.  (What is it that Jesus says we should do seventy-seven, or seventy times seven times?). I’m sure some of us have used these verses for our own self justification, haven’t we? But we see, the eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth is a step in the right direction for mankind, it begins moving us toward Jesus. We could no longer avenge ourselves multiplied, just wound for wound. Eye for an eye, not break my nose and I kill you. Not break my finger and I break your arm and leg. Wound for wound.

eye for an eye
Jesus tells us, of course, that eye for an eye doesn’t work (isn’t that obvious from human experience). Jesus knew what Mahatma Ghandi would say centuries later – “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” If we are living for the kingdom, and have already heard and received the truth of the kingdom through Christ, then we have also already dealt with our anger, contempt, and all consuming desire. They do not control us. They may still test us, but they do not control us. That’s how we go from the old legal requirement of equivalent violence to the new covenant standard under grace, which is non violence.

love your enemies
Which brings us to the church’s favorite – You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. This is, without a doubt, the most unique ethical teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. Love of enemies is still unique to Jesus in human history. No one else, before or since, teaches this. For the early church, the pre Constantine church of the first to the about the fourth centuries, this was the most quoted scripture. In a time when the church was really being persecuted, when Christians were being thrown to the lions, given over to gladiators and burned alive for entertainment, this was not only their favorite scripture, but how they lived their lives. It was the non negotiable mark of a Christian. In those days, if love of enemies was something you couldn’t or wouldn’t get on board with, then you just weren’t going to be able to call yourself a Christian (seriously). It was only after Constantine (who made Christianity the most favored religion of the Roman Empire) that love of enemies fell away from its status as the favorite (required) scripture of the church.

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For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? I’m going to let you in on a secret. God loves your enemies. Loving those who are just like us and love us back is something even the most hardened criminals do. The Mob loves their families. Osama Bin Laden loved those who were closest to him. If we just love those from our own group, or own family, we are no different from any other group. Even the Gentiles do that.

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Loving your neighbor is not revolutionary. It’s not unique to Jesus. In fact it’s right there in Leviticus 19:18, part of the old covenant. We think we can get by with loving our neighbors, don’t we? That SHOULD be enough, should it? It even satisfies the great commandments from Jesus himself, love God and love your neighbor. There’s just one problem. We just want to know, who is our neighbor? “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭10:29‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Doesn’t that really say it? Aren’t we always trying to justify ourselves with questions just like this? We know we shouldn’t have to love those who are evil, should we. Except, God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. God knows the difference between good and evil, but he still loves the evil ones. We think we know the difference. After all, what was that tree Adam and Eve ate from? “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”” Genesis‬ ‭2:16-17‬ ‭ESV‬‬.

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We think we know evil. We think we can know who is good and who is evil, which neighbors to love and which we can hate. But Jesus says if we are living in his kingdom we will not only love the lovable ones, those just like us, but we must also love them, even them who don’t love us back, even if they might hate us and want to harm us. The Bible says it’s ok to hate your enemy as long as you love your neighbor. Jesus says to live and pray for your enemies. Here’s the funny thing – when we take our love of neighbor and expand it to living our enemies, there’s no more room for hate. You ask, what about hating the devil and hating sin? When we move to loving and praying for our enemies, there’s just not that much sin left to hate. If you don’t respond to violence with violence and you begin to live your life in such a way that you can love even your enemies, the devil is out of business. That’s how we cast out the devil from our lives. This is exactly what Jesus lived out when he cried from the cross “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Grace and forgiveness won, and the devil was cast out.

mercy1
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. And yes, Jesus really said even this. But Jesus was not talking about perfection of behavior, of our being sinless all of a sudden. That is simply not who we are, at least not until we have been perfected in his image. Look here at the equivalent passage in Luke, from the more abbreviated sermon on the plain. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” ‭‭ Luke‬ ‭6:36‬ ‭ESV‬‬. We may not be able to be perfect as Jesus was perfect, or sinless as Jesus sinless. But we can move in the direction of being perfectly merciful.  If you can’t be perfect, then be merciful.

Loving-Grace-of-Christ
The Bible says eye for and eye and tooth for a tooth. The Bible says it’s ok to hate your enemies. But Jesus says that if we are following him into the kingdom of God which through Him has come upon us, we will be the kind of people whoturn the other cheek and love our enemies. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” ‭2 Timothy‬ ‭3:16-17‬ ‭ESV‬‬. We read the Bible, we love the Bible, we learn from the Bible, we find Jesus in the Bible. But we don’t use the Bible to find excuses for following our own will instead of following Jesus. We might prefer other teachings in the bible over the teachings of Jesus, but we don’t get to use the Bible to tell Jesus to sit down and shut up. We don’t follow the Bible. We follow Jesus.

follow-jesus

“”You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:43-48‬ ‭ESV‬‬

John Lewis

Who We Are.

Who We Are.

crucifixion-worship-jesus-cross

And now it’s time for something completely different. I’m still in the sermon on the mount, but we’ve come to the last two sections of Matthew 5, the sections on retaliation and the section on loving (and praying) for our enemies. Nobody else in history, before or after, taught his or her followers to turn the other cheek (I will grant that Ghandi may have taught much along these lines, but he took that from Jesus himself) and love their enemies. Love your enemies is the most unique teaching of Jesus Christ, maybe the most unique teaching in human history. It is completely different from anything ever taught before or since.
But I will get to loving our enemies tomorrow!! One step at a time…

fight-back
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Let’s just get this out of the way here – these are not laws of Jesus being laid down that we must follow in every situation. There will be situations in life when we will have to use our judgement not to turn the other cheek. But as a general matter of who we become as we prayerfully enter the kingdom of God by following in the path of Jesus, this will become our default mode of dealing with those who come against us. As human beings our default (our autopilot if you will) is to return evil for evil. But just as the kingdom turns the world upside down and now the last can be first and the first find themselves last, so our autopilot is flipped and now we naturally begin to return not evil but good for the wrongs that come against us. Part of this is because as forgiven sinners we can forgive sinners, and we can see past the wrong someone is or intends to do to us, and we see that he/she is more than just that wrong. We see that he too is a child of God, we see much of our own selves within them. Seen this way, we can then pray a prayer much like Jesus did on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

retaliation
When we turn the other cheek, we make ourselves vulnerable. We give up our natural inclination to retaliate, to resist the evil done to us. While we never turn someone else’s cheek or make someone else vulnerable, we will allow ourselves to be injured rather than injure our attacker. Hard teaching, to be sure. But don’t forget, Jesus didn’t just teach this, He lived it out in his passion, ultimately being hanged from a tree.

foater forgive them
There will be times when we use our judgment not to turn the other cheek, such as when others are at risk, or our very lives might be at risk (just as examples), but our default way of being will be to remain vulnerable and turn the other cheek.
And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone who is suing you wants to take your coat, give it to him. As long as you or someone doesn’t actually need it more, give it to them. Despite the fact that they have hostility toward us, we have no ill will for them and intend to help them as much as possible.

extra mile
And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. In Jesus’ day, Roman soldiers or officials could require citizens to carry their gear for mile. So, if we are asked to carry that gear for a mile, do we get to the mike marker, drop the bag on their foot and say “You’re on your own from here!?” Nope…we cheerfully regard his need as important to us, and go with them an extra mile. The appropriate point here is that as we follow Christ, we are to go above and beyond what is asked. We don’t just do the bare minimum.

Beggars
Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. When we pray to God for something, does he grant our requests because we deserve it? Or just because he loves us? Which do we hope for and believe? We believe God grants our requests and prayers simply because we ask it of him. In giving to those that ask of us, whether they have any right to ask or not, we give simply because they ask. It’s what our father in heaven does.
Four examples of what we will be like as we grow closer to walking in the footsteps of Christ. Not laws, but examples. Easy stuff, isn’t it?? It’s no wonder we’ve made salvation a matter of saying a couple of prayers and declaring we’re going to heaven. It’s no wonder we sell Christianity as a way to get a free ticket on Jesus’ 747 express flight to heaven, and over here we have the “optional” upgrade called discipleship. Except discipleship is not optional. It’s part of our salvation experience. It’s how we grow in Christ and participate in bringing His kingdom of love on earth as it is in heaven. And it is a very narrow path. As I’ve heard it said before, this Christian walk is not for punks.
We haven’t even gotten to the love your enemies part.

have mercy
It’s a good thing he does not leave us to do these things alone. On our own these things are impossible. With God, they begin to simply be who we are.
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

“”You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:38-42‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.5.38-42.esv

John Lewis

Whose Will be Done?

Jesus-praying-to-God-2

A fourth contrast used by Jesus, comparing the old letter-of-the-law righteousness with the righteousness of the kingdom hearted person living for God. Once again, it can be pretty convicting for us modern day people with just the general practices of how we relate to each other.

under oath
Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ This of course goes back to the third commandment, “”You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” ‭‭Exodus‬ ‭20:7‬ ‭ESV‬‬. First of all, we need to at least try to understand that the Holy, back in the day of Christ, was Holy. Unlike our day, when there is nothing which is considered truly sacred or holy. You might notice that the books of Luke, Mark, and John refer to the “Kingdom of God“, while Matthew refers to the “Kingdom of Heaven“. This is because Matthew us writing his gospel specifically to the Jews of the day, and for them the name “Yahweh”, which we would translate “God”, was simply too Holy to speak out loud, even too Holy for some to even read on paper. Matthew is saying the exact same thing, except he gives the traditional Jewish reverence to the very name of Yahweh and chose to substitute “Kingdom of Heaven” where the other gospels use “Kingdom of God“.
The point is, these people believed in God, and his name was Holy. So while for us, an oath is reduced as a means for the judge to lock you up if you lie about stealing your neighbors bicycle while “under oath”, in this day oaths meant something. If you took an oath before Yahweh, before God, you had better well keep it.

broken_vow
But Jesus continues – But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” So Jesus takes the old righteousness, making sure you fulfill your oaths before God, and says simply “Don’t make oaths!” He tells us not to swear by God, the earth (it is made by God), Jerusalem (his city), not even by your own head (you were created by God in His own image). The reason being, and this is why I say it is especially convicting for we “modern people” in how we relate to others, is that taking oaths is simply trying to give extra weight to what we are saying and gain acceptance and/or trust where it would not be merited. In other words, it is manipulative. It is using something very impressive and Holy, but irrelevant to the issue being being discussed. It is done to get someone to believe you and let you have your way, a means to get what we want.

used cars
We have entire industries based on manipulating people, using sleight of hand, the old “song and dance”, to get them to buy something from us or otherwise give in to our wills. Industries based on using people, getting them to agree to something they otherwise would not agree to do if they were fully informed and allowed to make their decision fully informed and aware of all that is going on.

fairdeal
It seems, to be honest, that our economy is largely based upon this type of manipulation. While we certainly swear to God plenty, that is not (normally) how we go about manipulating people. We manipulate people as a matter of living. We all have something to sell, something we make sure to try to sell in the best possible light. Something that may be advertised incessantly on our ultimate manipulation tool, the screens we use. As always, the great and powerful TV screen. Now, our computer screens, both the desktop models and the computers we carry around in our pockets. We both manipulate and are manipulated in almost every single transaction we make. Many of our purchases come with lots of fine print, our new legal righteousness maintained as simply covering every legal point in the fine print to make sure we can collect our money in a court of law. If the buyer was not aware of every single point in that fine print, too bad for him. Let the buyer beware!!

fine-print
We manipulate even when we are not selling something. We manipulate people for our will to be done in others’ lives. We manipulate for power. We manipulate at work. We manipulate at home. We manipulate our friends, we manipulate our families.
A far cry from “Let your yes be yes and your no be no!” As Jesus says – Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. People are not disposable. Nor are they there for our use and manipulation. Jesus calls that “evil”.  

“”Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:33-37‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.5.33-37.esv

John Lewis

My First Neighbor

My First Neighbor

Bride and groom on beachrear view

I’m going to upset some people today, but sometimes there’s no way to it but to go right through it.
I’m going back to the sermon on the mount, we have a long way to go with this. But the subject we’ve come to now is a sticky subject: Jesus’ teaching about divorce. But, we’ve already seen what Jesus has to say about anger, contempt, and lust. In Jesus day, as in our day, just how many divorces would we see if not for anger, contempt, or lust? Far fewer that the 50+% we have now, I would guess.

Marriage & Divorce
“”It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Matthew‬ ‭5:31-32‬ ‭ESV‬‬. One thing we “moderns” need to understand about divorce in Jesus’ day is this – it was always brutal for the woman involved. Today, we have much more favorable laws, divorce court, support groups. During the times Jesus lived, a divorced woman’s life was basically ruined. If she was lucky, she might find a relative to care for her, but probably even then as more of a servant that a loved sister. She might find another husband, but even then she would always be considered “damaged goods”. This may be what Jesus specifically meant when he says that when a man divorces his wife except on the ground of sexual immorality, [he] makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. No matter what, the woman had no chance of being fully restored in society. Even if she found a new husband, she would always be damaged goods and seen as degraded.
It was important for men then, as really for both men and women now, to be able to get rid of an unwanted spouse quickly and easily. A man was seen as doing right if he bothered to give the woman a certificate of divorce, something really meant to carry around almost like identification to prove that she was, indeed, divorced. Then, at least, she could defend herself when someone accused her of adultery, which could result in being stoned to death (see John chapter 8!). If lucky, she would find another husband who would accept her even with her “degraded” position and not be left to grow old childless and alone. If not, at least she could make a living as a prostitute (“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”) John‬ ‭3:3‬ ‭ESV‬‬.

trash

This is not the only place we see Jesus teaching about marriage. We see more in the subject in Matthew 19. “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”” Matthew‬ ‭19:6-9‬ ‭ESV‬‬. These are hard teachings from Jesus. We really, really do our best to ignore them today. We want to be able to dump an unwanted spouse whenever we choose and chase whatever our heart desires today. But know this – your wife, your husband, is not disposable. They are not garbage to be discarded because they are holding us back from the pursuit of our own happiness. You are the two halves of humanity, one half male, the other female, brought together before God and in the image of God. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. But even His own disciples here (we’re talking John, Peter, Matthew, Andrew here) decided if they couldn’t simply discard a wife as they saw fit, then maybe it was better not to marry at all. “The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭19:10‬ ‭ESV‬‬.

gods-love

Jesus does not outright forbid divorce. In fact, he tells us specifically that in the instance of “sexual immorality”, it is expressly allowable (but – even in this instance – never required). But, Jesus does tell us it was never meant to be. We were never meant for divorce. We are still not meant for divorce. “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”  

Divorcing couples
Jesus allows divorce because He knows the heart of man (and woman). We have hearts that can be just plain mean. To this day, women (and sometimes men ) live in abusive relationships. There are times when it is better to let the marriage die than  live a life of misery. But even in these cases, we are to do it as an act of love. We should look to be sure that the one we are leaving is in the best position possible. Divorce as was done during Jesus’ time, as well as is usually done in our own time, is not the right way to do it.

hardened-heart
Remember the two commandments of Jesus? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭22:37-39‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Of course, we want to know “…”And who is my neighbor?”” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭10:29‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Know this much – your wife or husband is your first neighbor. My wife is my first neighbor. We are to love our neighbor, right? Why, then, do we think we can love all those other neighbors but not the one we are supposed to be sharing life with?? Listen to what the apostle John has to say here – “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” ‭‭1 John‬ ‭4:20‬ ‭ESV‬‬. John is pretty brutal on this in his first epistle, look at what he says in the preceding chapter – “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” 1 John‬ ‭3:10‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Get past the use of the term “brother”. If we claim love our Christian brothers and sisters, we claim to love God who we have not seen, but we don’t love our closest neighbor whom we see everyday, then we can not really love God whom we can not see.

ilove god

Does this mean that divorce is the unforgivable sin? Of course not!! But as we go through life and claim to love God, we better be are loving our neighbors. Including our first neighbor. Because we have hard hearts, you and your neighbor, divorce happens. But as Paul says – “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans‬ ‭12:18‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Sometimes there is nothing we can do. But as far as it depends on us, we should be fighting for our marriages. Even when divorce does happen…remember that people are not disposable. Even one who did that to you.

“”It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:31-32‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.5.31-32.esv

John Lewis