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Monday, June 29, 2020

Identified with Christ

Of Random Acts of Kindness and Social Media — Steemit 

         To be identified with Christ is to embody specific attributes.  The New Testament enumerates many of these traits in “virtue lists” found throughout.  For instance: 2 Timothy 2:24-25.  “The Lord’s servant must be … kind to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, [and] correcting opponents with gentleness.  The Christian does not have the option of withholding kindness or opposing others harshly.  Kindness and gentleness are mandated by the word.

          Of course, we see people claiming the title ‘Christian’ lash out in judgment, villainizing those who disagree with them.  Such behavior disregards the New Testament these very Christians would herald as the “word of God.”  Those guilty of withholding kindness and gentleness clearly are not actually connected to Jesus, who gently welcomed the tax collector, the prostitute, the physically disabled, and the morally corrupt.  Why did Jesus treat his opponents so differently that those today, who claim to be his followers?

          Similarly, look to 1 Peter 3:9: “all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and humble mind.”  Again, the label ‘Christian’ inherently calls for full submission to the dictates of the word.  Christians don’t have the option of being unsympathetic, arrogant, or rough.  To speak and act in a bullying, abrasive manner is to reject the Bible’s authority. 

          Numerous other virtue lists round out the picture of one who truly follows Jesus.  For better understanding, begin reading in Matthew chapter 1 and keep at it through Revelation chapter 22. 

          Christians in America stand at a five-way (at least) intersection where divergent COVID-19 responses, reckoning with generational & structural racism, bipolar presidential politics, instant feedback on social media, and one’s personal identity all collide.  In this maelstrom of words and assaults, what is the Christian’s posture?  We know from the virtue lists: when attacked or offended, we are to be humble, kind, gentle, and sympathetic.

          Consider the specific arena of Facebook.  Is Jesus defiantly posting memes to assert his rights?  Well, he never asserts his rights in the Bible, so why would he do so on Facebook?  And if he wouldn’t why do his followers?  To act in a way differently than Jesus, indicates the individual isn’t really following him. 

          Zero in on the example of someone who feels offended, hurt, or scared.  Does one respond to someone else by defending one’s own right to say or do or post what made the other feel offended, hurt, or scared?  If so, that one isn’t communicating in the way Jesus did, and thus is not a ‘little Christ,’ even if he or she claims the moniker ‘Christian.’  A black person feels threatened or hurt; the white person tells the black person not to make a deal out of it; or, not to see race in everything; or, to get over it and move on.  Obviously that white person is not walking in the way of Jesus and thus is not ‘Christian’ regardless of his or her claims. 

          To the black person who feels wounded, Jesus says, “I proclaim release to the captives” (Luke 4:18b); and, “I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28); and, “my peace I give to you; do not let your hearts be troubled” (Jn. 14:27).   Jesus welcomes all who are broken, all who are repentant, and all who seek truth.  Jesus will give success to the white or Asian or black person who strives to embody kindness, gentleness, welcome, and the other virtues.  He will guide the lost and fill the hungry.  Christians don’t need to be super saints; they only need to die to self and live in Christ.

          Christians embodying Christ will affect the community; working through His church, Jesus will bring change to the way people interact.  But that won’t happen when Christians are more caught up in defending their identities and asserting their rights than in exhibiting his holy gentleness and kindness.  When Christians, on Facebook and other platforms, act as combatively as anyone else in society, they actively suppress the positive force of the Gospel.  Christians acting like the world instead of like Christ hurt the world as much as anything.

          Christian reader, does the Bible have authority?  Are Christians bound to live by the word?  Do Christians understand that choosing to walk in the way of Christ means one chooses to relate to others gently, humbly, kindly, and sympathetically, even when those others are obnoxiously confrontational?  To find out if Christians understand these things, look at their Facebook posts and Tweets. Look for Christ in what people express in their social media communications.  Holding Facebook up to the virtue lists will reveal who is identified with Christ.

The Hard Road Before Us (Matthew 7:13-27)

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Scripture for the Day | Petros Baptist Church

            “You cannot serve God and wealth” we hear Jesus say in Matthew 6 (v.24), as he confronts us.  His disciples had followed him to a mountain top.  In this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus presents the extremes of discipleship, a calling out of the world.  When we turn our eyes on him and set our hearts on following him, he then teaches the extent of what the call entails.  Love your enemies.  When attacked, turn the other cheek.  Pray for those who persecute you.  Shine your light, your faith, as a city on a hill, a beacon drawing the world to God.

            Now as we come to the final teaching of this sermon, Jesus hits us with stark contrasts.  Much like last week’s emphasis that we must choose God or money as our master, in this final portion, he offers overlapping metaphors of choosing this or that. 

            “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.  For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (v.13-14).  Jesus doesn’t try very hard to sell it.  I once heard a therapist in session say to her struggling client with compassion in her voice, “How can we make your life easier?”  It was as lovely an intro to therapy as I have ever heard.  Who wouldn’t want life to be easier?

            Then along comes Jesus.  He’s not making it easy. To hear him, we have to climb a mountain.    Then he tells us to take the hard road and enter through the narrow gate.  I want the easy road.  I want life to be comfortable, manageable, and stress-free.  He doesn’t really promise any of that.  He says, “Don’t worry.”  But in the same talk he tells us to turn the other cheek and be ready for another blow.  He tells us to depend on God, not money.  And now, we are to intentionally step onto the hard road.  Who does that?

            We do because we trust Jesus and we need Jesus.  But as we do, I offer a two-part warning.  Don’t look over in order to keep track of who is on that easy road headed for the wide gate.  We will drive ourselves crazy if we become envious of neighbors and friends who appear to disregard Jesus and at the same time live happier, easier, more prosperous lives.  Don’t compare your life as a disciple to the lives of people around who aren’t following Jesus.  First, if you pull back the curtain, you’ll surely find that they have deep pain you don’t know about.  Second, if their money, trips, and stuff seem more fulfilling than the Jesus you know in your heart, your probably need to get to him better. 

            The other side of this warning against comparing our lives when we’ve chosen the hard road Jesus lays before us to the lives of people uninterested in Jesus is a warning against pseudo-martyr smugness.  I say ‘pseudo-martyr’ because when we feel ourselves to be superior to people not with Jesus, we want everyone to see that we’ve taken the hard road.  We want to be noticed for our devotion.  Such an attitude corrupts our souls. 

            The closer we get to Jesus, the greater our joy.  It’s a joy we want to share.  We grow close to him through daily disciplines – prayer, Bible reading, quiet times.  We grow close to him when we gather with other Christians, even virtually, and worship together.  We grow close to him when we live in a way that forces us to trust him.  Paradoxically, the weaker we become, the more we are filled with his strength.  The more we share the hurt felt by poor, persecuted people, the more we feel his loving comfort in us.  This kind of joy and love grows in us as we share it.  As we help people see Jesus, we grow close to him, we feel him lift our burdens, and we find ourselves laughing with Heaven’s delight at every step we take on the hard road.

            When we walk that road focused on Jesus, we don’t want to be anywhere else.  When we unsteadily stumble along, constantly looking to the wide, easy roads on either side of us, we find it very hard to move at all. 

            Nick Wellenda has walked a tightrope across the Grand Canyon, between sky scrapers in Chicago, and across the Niagra Falls.  With my fear of heights, I can’t imagine such feats.  In one video, he’s wearing a camara, and we see the angle he sees as he glances toward his feet perilously stepping over a city street hundreds of meters below him.  I got dizzy looking at the video and I was sitting in the comfort of my office.  Wellenda says, “As I was walking along Niagra Falls, there was raging water all around me, mist rising up, and roaring, violent waters beneath me.  But instead of focusing on the problems all around me, I focused on the end.”  Then Wellenda says, “It’s similar to our walk with Christ.  Not all things are easy, but with God all things are possible.”

            We may not be suspended high above waters that would kills us, but we see perils all around.  If our focus is on the problems, the stress, the temptations, and the pain, we’ll soon wander off the hard road bound for the narrow gate, and we’ll be away from the God we need so much.  We need to attend to the traumas and distractions that would upend our lives, but we do this by keeping our focus on Jesus.  In every life circumstance, we stay connect to Jesus, we grow in our relationship with Him, and depend on him more and more.  To follow with our eyes constantly on him, is to stay on the disciple’s path, the hard road.   It is to love the unlovable, help those who need it, and spread joy.  And when we live that way, we discover, whether intentionally or unintentionally, we have helped others find their way to the narrow gate that leads to life in joyous relationship with God the Father. 

            It requires keeping our eyes on Jesus.  Bonhoeffer says,  “If we worry about the dangers that beset us, if we gaze at the road instead of him, … we are already astray.”[i]  He goes on to point out that whereas in Matthew Jesus tells us to walk the hard way and enter by the narrow gate, in John, we hear Jesus tell us he himself is the gate (John 10), and he himself is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14). 

Whether we are thinking about how to react to a global pandemic, or we are struggling with the politics of how our society responds to a pandemic, or we get into conflict with neighbors because their response or their politics are different than our own; in all these scenarios, we keep our eyes on Jesus and he gives joy even as we walk the hard road.  Whether we are opposing racism, or fighting for justice for the poor and the oppressed and the left out, or we yearn for peace in the midst of a politically toxic presidential election cycle; in any of these conversations, we keep our eyes on Jesus and remember that he determines how we treat others and he tells us who we are!  For the disciple, Jesus is in everything – every friendship, every ideology, every activity.

Besides the hard road v. easy road, Jesus offers other contrasts.  Good trees – people who follow his teachings and strive to obey God, bear good fruit; fruit that embodies the mercy and compassion taught in the Sermon on the Mount.  Bad trees – people that serve themselves at the expense of others; the greedy, the racist, the wealthy, the violent bear bad fruit.  They advance themselves, but not God’s agenda.

In addition to likening the disciple life to roads, gates, and trees, he talks about the work of building.  Those who obey Jesus by showing compassion, and giving grace and forgiveness build on solid foundation.  They survive the storms of life.  Those who disregard Jesus live on shifting sand.  Life’s storms so upset these folks they forget who they are.  Pandemics, violent protests, and presidential politics are storms that change souls not tethered to the rock.  We build our lives on the rock, Jesus, and we are his, come what may.

This laser-like focus on Jesus does not mean we have turned our backs on the world; just the opposite.  Next week, we’ll begin a two-part series from Matthew on Jesus’ mission mandate in which we are, in his name, sent into the world.  We go with our eyes on him, determined to help others with their needs and to help them find their way to him. 

The world is everyone who lives apart from God in this time before the end of history and final judgment.[ii]  The world is the tower of Babel run amuck.  The world believes all the lies that if you have enough stuff, if you get your adrenalin fix satisfied, if your team wins or you win, if you have a huge house, and your physical cravings are satiated, then you’ll be happy and happiness is the ultimate end.

When we follow Jesus, we offer the world a better story.  Yes, our story involves hard roads and narrow gates, but on that hard road we discover joy that stays through rainy days.  Jesus is with us right in the middle of the raging storm.  We have as much happiness as the world can offer, but it is different, deeper, and lasting.  It is not dependent on circumstance, and can even grow in the midst of turmoil because our Lord rises above the storm and bring us with Him. 

Hear this better story, the Jesus story; learn it, choose it, tell it, live it.  It is the road that leads to life and it stand open before us.


[i] D. Bonhoeffer (1963), The Cost of Discipleship, MacMillan Publishing Company (New York), p.212.
[ii] S. Hauerwas (2006), Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Matthew, Brazos Press (Grand Rapids), p.87.

Monday, June 22, 2020

"This or That" (Matthew 16:19-24

How Can You Store Up Treasure in Heaven? - Pastor Rick's Daily Hope

Sunday, June 21, 2020

            “We are confronted by an either/or” in Christianity.[i]  If our lives are lived according to New Testament teaching, if we desire to walk in the way of Jesus, we must choose this, and reject that.  It’s clear and decisively obvious.

            Some teaching are not as black and white. In Mark 9:40, Jesus says, “Whoever is not against us is for us,” and in Matthew 12:30, “Whoever is not with me is against me.” Matthew 5:20, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Yet in Luke 23, one of the criminals on one of the crosses next to Jesus admits he deserves his fate.  He is guilty.  Jesus promises him, whose righteousness certainly does not exceed the scribes’ that he will be with Jesus in paradise that very day (Luke 23:41, 43).  The Bible contains nuance and mystery. We spend our lives interpreting it.

            Matthew 6:19-24 is not one of those contradiction passages hard to understand.  Jesus’ words here are clear.  The difficulty of Matthew 6:19-24 is we have to deal with it. “Do not store up treasures on earth; … store up treasures in heaven. … Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth”.

            Jesus does not mean slaves have to love cruel overlords.  Every black slave during the first centuries of American history up to the Civil War was a victim of kidnapping, and every white person who perpetuated the institution perpetuated crimes against humanity akin to genocide.  Jesus promised liberation to people in chains (Luke 4:18).  Yet, he also declares all of us are slaves to something.  If we soften the term to “servant,” we gain nothing and miss what Jesus is really saying.  You and I and every person will serve God as master or serve money as master. 

            Does Jesus have the right to do that?  America is a land of choices.  How many fast food places are there?  You could get your burger at Burger King, your fries at MacDonald’s, and your milk shake at Chik-Fil-A.  Jesus may be Lord, but are we willing to submit to this bipolar set of options he’s foisted on us?  Must we agree that it’s either Jesus or money?  Must we adopt that mindsight to be Christians? 

We like the idea of choosing how we worship.   I told I guy I had just met I was a pastor.  He brought our entire conversation to a grinding halt by saying, “I follow God in my own way.”  What does that even mean?  When Bill Bradley opposed Al Gore in the Democratic primaries in 2000, he was asked about his religion.  He put a hard stop to the question.  “That’s personal, he said.”  Jesus has no use for self-made religion or unexpressed faith.  If we want to follow him, sometimes we have to come to grips with polar opposite choices.  “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

If we accept Jesus’ authority to impose the “either/or” on us, then we have to respond.  Our response is not seen in statements we write.  Our response is how we live, and especially in how we think about money and use money. 

Some very wealthy Christians attempt an end run around Jesus’ extreme teaching by insisting their priority is faith and love, and their riches serve faith and love.  In some cases, it’s true.  Read Luke 8:3. Among Jesus’ followers were a group of affluent women who underwrote Jesus’ ministry out of their own funds.  The reason they could give the money to Jesus is they had it.  In our own church’ story, God has blessed us with an anonymous donor or donors.  In the past 7 months we have received two separate significant financial gifts.  We’ve also been able to refinance our building with the North Carolina Baptist Foundation.  The reason?  Wealthy Christians donate to the foundation and make their work possible.  We received big gifts is because someone had money and wanted to give it. 

The serving God v. serving money dichotomy is not as simple as declaring wealth evil. But, as Hauerwas writes, “Jesus is very clear.  Wealth is a problem.”[ii]  Too often, people have a lot of money or come into a lot of money and their lives begin to shift.  The money starts determining how they make life decisions, instead of existing to bring glory to God.  Preservation of their wealth, not discipleship, shapes their lives.  When that happens, their service to God is made subject to the whims of the true master: the wealth itself.  Often, driven to hold onto their riches, wealthy Christians exhibit anemic discipleship in which Jesus is hardly seen. 

            If we’re reading the Sermon on the Mount then we’re taking discipleship seriously.  This sermon is for disciples of Jesus.  If we take discipleship seriously, then we have to face up to the confrontation.  Jesus has put it before us, right in our faces.  Will it be this or that?  Will I be a slave to God, or will I be owned by money?

            We’ve said yes, Jesus has the right to confront us with this either/or.  We’ve agreed that in the face of this either/or, we have to respond and our response is evident in our daily lives.  How do we submit to Jesus as our overlord?

            I knew two different women who went through seasons of real poverty.  In both cases from month to month, they weren’t sure how the bills would be paid.  The first thing both women did when receiving their small paychecks was to tithe,  10% to their church.  They trusted God to cover them that month.

            Whatever your economic circumstance, are your trusting God in it?  Wealthy disciples of Jesus should be giving a lot more than 10%.  All Christians, whether giving time, money, attention, or talent must find ways to be extravagantly generous; Zacchaeus, the short tax collector Jesus saved, offered to repay everyone he’d cheated 4 times the amount (Luke 19:8).  He had gotten rich cheating a lot of people.  We find ways we can be that generous.  We structure our lives so that there are areas where we have to trust God to make it day-to-day, week-to-week. 

Both of my friends eventually saw their circumstances greatly improve.  It wasn’t like those health-and-wealth charlatans who promise God will give a miracle in the form of financial windfalls.  Rather, my friends worked hard, lived faithfully, and trusted God.  We have to restructure our lives so that we can see how we trust him daily.  I can’t be more precise with your individual life because this kind of lived faith varies in what it looks like from person to person.  Do an honest assessment.  Is there any area of life where God isn’t first?  That area of life must be reordered so that the master is in His rightful place.

Finally, depending on God and seeking ways to be extravagantly generous, we see with eyes of love.  That’s the best way to understand verses 22-23, “if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.”  Seeing with eyes of love, we notice people who are hurting and we help them.  Seeing with eyes of love, we recognize where God is at work in the world.  We encourage those involved in God’s good work and we join in it.  Through this seeing and the help and encouragement we give based on what we see, we store up treasures in heaven

Yes, we are confronted by this or that.  Jesus requires extreme commitment of us.  It’s worth giving it.  It’s contrary to our society’s values, but we reject money and wealth as masters over us; we reject money and wealth as organizing principles that determine how our lives are structured.  We reduce money and wealth’s power.  Money is a tool to be used.  God is our Lord and we live our lives for his glory.


[i] D. Bonhoeffer (1963), The Cost of Discipleship, MacMillan Publishing Company (New York), p.196.
[ii] S. Hauerwas (2006), Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Matthew, Brazos Press (Grand Rapids), p.80.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

But wait, How did Jesus feel about it?

Looking through a Biblical lens, the following images are utterly nonsensical.  If you replaced "Trump" with "Biden" they would be just as foolish and heretical.

God, Guns & Trump Short-Sleeve Unisex T-Shirt – Flag and Cross

God Guns And Trump American Flag 2nd Amendment shirt, hoodie ...

Did Jesus endorse any political figure, ever?

Luke 13:31-35 

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod (the king with less power than today's U.S. President) wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me,[a] ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when[b] you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

With the Roman governor who did have power, Jesus did have this conversationNow when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters[a] again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” 12 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”

What about the flag?  As Christians, in everything, we submit to Jesus.  Would our Lord wave a flag, any flag?

From a Christian perspective, we aren't even citizens here, much less voters, much less advocates for any political party.  

Philippians 3:7-11, 17-21
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ,[a] the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ[b] and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

17 Brothers and sisters,[a] join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship[b] is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humiliation[c] that it may be conformed to the body of his glory,[d] by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

Ok, so Jesus doesn't endorse candidates.  "Christian" means "little Christ."  So Christians, by their name 'Christian,' must not endorse candidates.

Jesus doesn't pledge allegiance to flags, not Rome, not America, not even Israel.  So, Christians, by their name 'little christs,' have to think seriously whenever they put their hands over their hearts and say, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America."  Any argument in favor of pledging to any national flag, for a Christian, has to be an argument made from scripture.  

Fine.  No political candidates.  No flag waving.  What about guns?

Matthew 5:21-22, 38-47
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister,[e] you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult[f] a brother or sister,[g] you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell[h] of fire. 
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,[o] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 

The New Testament is always a challenge to believers because we look at our lives, we look at how Jesus calls us to live, think, and feel; and looking at both, we see how far off we are from Jesus' way.  It's especially hard for Americans in presidential election year.  But why?

It is hard for American Christians in an presidential election year because too much of our identity is tied up in "American."  We have forgotten to die to self and take up cross.  If we did die to self and totally follow Jesus, we'd be scared at first, but we'd soon discover his burden is light.