Two Mistakes We Make In Growing Up

Jesus, in the Greatest Sermon Ever Given, talked about these things:

Anger

Lust

Lying

Revenge

Pride

Greed

Worry

Judging

Falseness

Our great defense mechanism as humans is to recognize these traits in other people but not in ourselves.

If we start reading Matthew 5-7 and get to teachings on pride or lust or anger we let other people’s face cross our mind’s eye instead of our own. We think that because I have heard this passage before or have heard a few sermons where Greed is discussed, I have already figured these things out. Someone else must have a problem with these things and not me. What a mistake this thinking is and what a tool of Satan to have us dismiss these crucial teachings as not pertaining to me.

'I_Can't_Grow_Up'_mural_in_Manhattan_created_by_Baron_von_Fancy

Just this past week I have struggled with Worry about many things. I have lusted. I have delighted in someone who I am not fond of getting some comeuppance. I have judged constantly. I have stretched the truth. I have let Pride dictate some of my actions. I have grown Angry and lashed out at people around me. I have wanted something to happen strictly for financial purposes only.

I am in need of a daily heart transformation that only Christ can bring and discusses in the Sermon on the Mount and so are you. Forget the obligation of obedience, imagine what your life could be if you made progress in just one of the areas above?

If our first mistake in transformation is not seeing the need for it, then our second mistake is thinking that change will only come from our will power and determination. This will only take you so far. Many people are finding this truth out as their New Year’s Resolutions are losing steam.

No, the only determination you need is to make progress and to daily let Christ work in your life. To be open to Christ’s work and whatever form that takes. To take him in and let him be the Lord of your life. Change will come, transformation will come.

I have told you that I have a long way to go but I am better than I was 10 years ago. But self-improvement is not the goal. Being a light to the World and fulfilling God’s plan on earth is why I need to reflect the nature of Jesus in all that I do or become.

 

Advertisements

Neglecting The Need To Be Good People

At the very points where Christians should be obvious lights of better living and treatment to others, they are often demonstrating the opposite. For example:

  • In a recent Barna poll, 49% of Unchurched people could not identify a single positive contribution made by American Christians.
  • Baylor University, a place that touts leadership and faith on billboards and promotional materials, sold its Christian soul to the idol of football, prestige, and wealth and neglected the welfare of its own students.
  • Many Christians rallied around a political candidate who has demonstrated anger, flaunts his lusts and sexual appetites, lies repeatedly about himself and others, shown no signs of humility, and has made large sweeping judgements about entire groups of people. Many of these Christians tried to rationalize their support with some thin Biblical claims about God using bad and immoral leaders for his purposes. As if this was somehow a preferable scenario to a more noble and honorable person.

Where did we go wrong? We could just blame the timeless culprits of Money, Sex, and Power and move on for hopefully better days. But what if our current state of character deficiency is a result of neglect?

'I_Can't_Grow_Up'_mural_in_Manhattan_created_by_Baron_von_Fancy

My browse through a Mall bookstore showed two whole columns of the Christian section on Heaven but nary a book on lying. The library where I am a librarian has twice as many books on the End Times than it does on anger. When have you ever heard a sermon on blessing those who curse you?

Yet, the most read sermon of all time talks extensively about anger, lust, lying, worry, giving to the needy, and judging others.

It is not like Christians don’t know these things. I have always been haunted by the words of a Harvard student who was continually mistreated and propositioned for sex by a classmate. She stated to Robert Coles, well-known researcher on social issues and ethics, “What is the point of knowing good if you don’t keep trying to become a good person?”

Are you, with the help of Christ, trying to become a good person?

Part of the hesitancy to speak up on these things involves our own fear that we will be found out and made to look like a hypocrite or torn down by the slightest personal failing. I am not above being fearful of perceptions of hypocrisy, even of the words I am writing now. But, I am also not above doing my part to push myself and others to Grow Up to represent a Christian life that seeks to obey Jesus’ words and be a light to the world.

Won’t you make 2017 the year that you work on becoming a good person. In the coming weeks, I will present some ideas that will help you work with Christ on this goal. The world needs our character, our values, our love, and our compassion. It is time to let Christ transform you and Grow Up.

Committing Murder In Your Heart

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that

Anger Controlls Him

Anger Controlls Him (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[d] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Jesus is addressing the heart of an individual. The heart is the extreme focus of Jesus. He spends the better part of the Sermon on the Mount addressing this. Jesus knew that avoiding murder is largely a physical issue but avoiding anger is a spiritual one.

Jesus always emphasizes the spiritual over the physical. I may never reach a point of wanting to murder someone but that doesn’t mean that anger doesn’t have a hold on me. That doesn’t mean that the contempt I have for another person isn’t tearing myself and that person apart. Dallas Willard says, “Anything that can be done with anger can be done better without it.”

There are some Christians that think that it is their Christian duty to be angry people against those that are hostile towards them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Encountering those who are against us in a loving and respectful way instead of a belligerent and rageful way is to follow the example of Jesus. To do otherwise is to follow the ways of the world and to work against Jesus’ teaching on the destructiveness of anger.

 

 

Practicing The Commands Of Jesus Can Be A Natural Thing To Do

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 tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Being two thousand years removed from the time that Jesus spoke these words and having never been to Galilee, I have little as far as context to work with. Still, I try my best to place myself in the audience the day Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus’ words may appear in black and white (maybe red) but they were not delivered in a vacuum. He was speaking to an audience that represented many walks of life and were reacting to his words either favorably or negatively. So, he says the words above because this was what many people in the crowd were thinking. He even says, “do not think” because he knew what they were thinking.

The law was the most important thing to the Jewish people and there must have been a rumor going around that Jesus was out to do away with them. He had to address this thought because it was out there and he addresses it with very pointed language. He assures his listeners that the law is not going away but is to be fulfilled to the letter but then he astonishes the crowd with this statement, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Everything that Jesus teaches beyond this point hinges on this statement.  Jesus describes something that is beyond even the most devout among them. The Pharisees were all about trying to fulfill the law through their effort, Jesus is all about fulfilling the law through himself. Only with a heart inhabited by Jesus and transformed from the inside out can truly fulfill the law. Our efforts only lead to legalism. Legalism was the practice of the Pharisees and it was destructive, damaging, and disruptive.

Jesus, with the help of the Holy Spirit, creates a new heart within us so that fulfilling the commandments of scripture is the most natural thing for us to do and is a life giving and transformative experience. We have work to do for sure but it is work that helps Jesus do his work (prayer, study, silence, fasting, and other disciplines,) we are not earning anything.

Quit trying so hard to become a better person. You can’t do it. Only Christ can change you. With this approach, the next set of commands will seem more like a promise rather than a drudgery.

Walk Towards The Light

In Matt. 5 Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” But in John 8, he says

Light in the night (Castelldefels)

Light in the night (Castelldefels) (Photo credit: jcarlosn)

that, “I am the light of the world.” Which is it? It is both. Read the rest of John 8.

“Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

By following Jesus we have the light to be the light of the world. Paul expands on the theme in Ephesians 5: 8-9. “ For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)”

You don’t need my help to think of all the imagery, benefits, and symbolism that the term “light” provides. The third thing that God created after the heavens and the earth was light.

Imagine an existence without light. It sounds stupid I know but I want us to realize what our role is as the light of the world. Have you ever shut off your lights before getting into bed and notice where your eyes immediately move? They always move to the brightest part of the room. We are drawn to light in dramatic ways.

We must ask ourselves, does my light reflect the light of Christ or the darkness of Satan? How bright do I shine? Am I just a little flicker or a burning flame? If you think you are just biding time until you get to heaven, then you are not being light to the world.

When I see the church I see so much light it is overwhelming but at times you see a group of Christians who do not know how to be light. But Paul tells us in Ephesians, to live as children of light is to produce goodness, righteousness, and truth. In the Sermon on the Mount, which this passage comes from, Jesus details a life that is bursting with light. Follow its example to become Children of Light.

Worth Your Weight In Salt

Because I am becoming increasingly concerned with the inability of

Salt

Salt (Photo credit: krissen)

American Christians to live out their faith in a practical and realistic way that does not require fanaticism about issues and politics, I thought it would be good to move through some teachings of Jesus  and discuss how these teachings actually live out in daily life.

I am no expert but I hope to bring a thoughtful and reasoned approach. Plus, I am a disciple of Jesus and he has taught me a few things over the years. The main focus will be Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

Matt. 5: 13

What a warning this verse is. Imagine not being “good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” This is why our actions as Christians should be thoughtful and directed by the Holy Spirit. A Christian that acts out of emotion but fails to discern God’s will or listen to that “still small voice” is at risk of turning their salt into nothing more than white specs on the ground.

As a Christian, you are Christ’s representative on earth. You are called to be little Christ. We should filter all of our actions through Christ’s actions and ministry. We should be so knowledgeable of Christ’s teaching and ministry that we intuitively understand how much our actions mirror who Christ was and is in us.

There are endless words written on “how Jesus would” drive, vote, eat, or work. I don’t know if we can answer all of these questions but we can, with just a short walk through the gospels, notice that Jesus emphasized love, abiding in him, healing, forgiveness, prayer, and sacrifice. To remain salty, these are the things we should be characterized by. Other things may put us in position to lose our saltiness.

 

How To Inherit the Earth and See God

 

Because I am becoming increasingly concerned with the inability of American Christians to live out their faith in a practical and realistic way that does not require fanaticism about issues and politics, I thought it would be good to move through some teachings of Jesus  and discuss how these teachings actually live out in daily life.

I am no expert but I hope to bring a thoughtful and reasoned approach. Plus, I am a disciple of Jesus and he has taught me a few things over the years. The main focus will be Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus only had two kinds of people who followed him – those who needed him and those who didn’t. The first group is obviously the people who were mired in sickness, sin, or devastation. The second group are those who were so against what Jesus was about that they followed him in order to prove him wrong or catch him in a religious mistake. These were the Pharisees.

The Pharisees and their wealthier counterparts, the Sadducees, were the groups of people in Jesus’ time who thought they had cornered the market on blessing. Their religious piety, their wealth, their gender, their reputation, and their health, in their minds, were all signs that they were deserving of blessing. If you did not fall into this category of people than you were blocked from God’s blessing.

You will notice that Jesus doesn’t list any of the common characteristics we would list as deserving of blessing. He doesn’t mention good looks, education, marriage standing, or occupation. Instead, his list seems like a mistake. The spiritually poor? The meek? The mourners? The kind souls who practice mercy? What exactly makes these people deserving of blessing?

That is the point. The common distinctions that humans make regarding who is really well off are thrown out the window with Jesus’ beatitudes. In Jesus, blessing is available to all who will receive it. Yes, even those mired in mistakes, misfortune, and misery.

If you are like me, you need Jesus and his blessing in your life. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus came to bring it to us. Yes, even us.

Rejoice and be glad.

 

How We Can Learn To Pray For Our Enemies And Other Lessons

Because I am becoming increasingly concerned with the inability of American Christians to live out their faith in a practical and realistic way that does not require fanaticism about issues and politics, I thought it would be good to move through some teachings of Jesus  and discuss how these teachings actually live out in daily life.

I am no expert but I hope to bring a thoughtful and reasoned approach. Plus, I am a disciple of Jesus and he has taught me a few things over the years. The main focus will be Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. Matthew 5:1-2

This happened right after scripture tells us that Jesus traveled the countryside healing the sick and demon possessed. The pattern of Jesus ministry is healing then teaching. The two go hand in hand. He rarely taught without also healing and rarely healed without also teaching.

Do we only want Jesus’ healing and dismiss his teaching? Do we come to him so that he can make us whole but when he then has something to tell us that may be more important than our healing we turn our back on him? How selfish can we be? The crowds that followed Jesus weren’t satisfied with the healing. They followed him because he was unique, powerful, and wise. What would happen if you sought only Jesus’ teaching? Would the healing disappear or be unimportant? I don’t think so, but I do think our lives would begin a well-ordered transformation.

Action: Ask yourself what you want to learn from Jesus? What aspect of Jesus’ life and teaching would benefit your life? Pray that you will learn from Jesus how to make this change in your life.

Power Outage – Why Relying On Will Power Is Not Working

Aside

According to researchers, will power is not so powerful and those that possess the ability to avoid temptation are not mentally stronger than everyone else, they just know how to redirect their attention away from the temptation so that their weak will power will not be tested.

Thankfully, Christians are not left with just the limited nature of their will power. Jesus’ emphasis in his teachings, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, was on the heart. He says to first, “clean the inside of the cup, so the outside will become clean also.” The problem with change that relies so heavily on will power is that it is focused on the surface of the person and not the inner character.

If I am going to become a kinder person, I have to first become the type of person who would naturally be kind. If I am going to be of service to others, I have to first become the type of person who would serve naturally. Gritting teeth and tapping into will power will fail 80% of the time and always has its limits.

Real power comes from taking Jesus into our hearts and letting him start to change us from the inside out. The change has to come in the heart before it will manifest itself into action. This is a much better strategy for change than will power. Easier too.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

What can you do today to change from the inside out?

  • Acknowledge that your will power is weak and not very helpful.
  • Read 1 Corinthians 13 with the knowledge that it is not asking you to do anything but become something
  • Ask Christ to change your heart
  • Focus on Christ’s work inside you and not on the outside results, those will come.
  • Tell others that you are no longer trusting your own strength but in the power of Christ inside you

The Parenting Test

Tests are provided in school to determine how much a student has learned. But does life provide consistent means of assessment when it comes to our Christian life? Sure, we can think of life’s big tests such as disease, death, and tragedy, but what about the every day? Are there moments in our day in which our discipleship to Jesus is put to the test? If you are a parent, it certainly is.

Let’s just take the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ teachings against anger in Matthew 5. As a parent of three kids under the age of 13, there are many instances where fighting occurs. You try not being angry when every time you walk out of the room, two of the kids begin to fight and you have to stop what you are doing and go back to the room and tell them to stop fighting.

What about his teaching on oath taking in v. 33? I know that I have made promises to my kids that I haven’t been able to keep and some that I never really intended to keep, I just wanted them to move on to something else. What about the Golden Rule? Do I demonstrate the same respect for my kids as I expect out of them? Sometimes I don’t.

Parenting is a great test of where we are spiritually. If I am impatient, quick to anger, and rarely gentle or kind then I am reminded that I have some work to do and that I need to rely more on Christ to provide the heart change that I need. The tests results are not always pretty but if we are honest with how we parent then we will find the areas where we have the most room to grow.