Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cutting Off Limbs and Gouging Out Eyes

What a topic my blog group has given me this week! It sounds pretty gruesome. It actually comes from a passage in the New Testament, where Jesus is talking about our sin. It is in Matthew 5:27-30, “You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.’ 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Jesus is making a comparison between the sin we commit, and the steps we should take to not sin.

In reality, Jesus is not telling us to cut off our limbs, or to gouge out our eyes. We would still sin even if we did that. The point is, we lust for many things; not just sexual. We lust for nicer cars, bigger houses, fatter paychecks. We lust for wonderful vacations, respect, power. How can we keep ourselves from sin? One way is to realize that we are called to give up that which is sin and that which will cause us to sin. Another way is by focusing on Jesus. Jesus helps us to live better lives, and when we do sin, Jesus can take that sin away when we confess.

If you stare four dots on the nose of the picture above for about 30 seconds, and then look at a white wall, the face of Jesus will come into focus. When we are looking to Jesus, we will be guided by His thoughts, and His ways; really the thoughts and ways of God. In this way, we will have a different perspective for life. Much better than cutting off your limbs, or gouging out your eyes, is to learn to focus on Jesus. The phrase “what would Jesus do” has become cliché for many. That is unfortunate, because it really is a good thought. If we think about what Jesus would do in a situation, and then act accordingly, our lives would be much better off, and so would our world.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Loving Your Enemies

Enemies come in many different forms. There is the obvious enemy who is out to get you. There is the enemy who might have been a friend once, but then there was a falling out, and now they don’t like you anymore. There is also the enemy who has something against you for some reason, and goes behind your back to talk negative about you. Each one of these enemies can make our lives difficult.

Jesus has made many challenging statements, but the one we find in Matthew 5:44 is one of the most challenging: “But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’” It is challenging enough to love all those who we enjoy and who love us back. But love my enemy? Where do I get the strength to do that? Where do I get the desire? Why would I even care to consider this? Why would Jesus ask us to do this?

First, it is about not paying back evil for evil. Although this bit of retribution might be in our sinful persona, it is not a good way to act. When we pay back evil, we allow overwhelming bitterness, anger and hatred to dwell in us. When we seek revenge on an enemy, we continue the process of hate and fuel our enemy’s desire to harm us. But just resisting revenge is not love. If we are to love our enemy, we have to go further than just keeping ourselves from doing harm to them.

Second, if God is love, and we are God’s children, then our being should be about love. When we are led to anything but love because of our enemy, then we fail to walk in the path that God has for us to walk. We are called to follow the example of Jesus, and we see that Jesus did not bring retribution to those who considered themselves His enemies (He knew that comes at the time of judgment), but knew their hatred of Him led them to do their terrible deeds. Jesus calls us to walk in His footsteps, which is to love others. Jesus said that by our love people would know we are His disciples. This is what sets us apart from those who aren’t Jesus’ followers, that we love at all times.

Of course, this is easier said than done. F. F. Bruce, in his book The Hard Sayings of Jesus (p. 73), said: “The best way to destroy an enemy is to turn him into a friend.” This is what love is about, rising above the hate and anger and bitterness of our world, and sharing the love of God with all. This doesn’t mean that you put yourself in a place to be hurt, but as best as you can, you love each person in the best way God shows you how.

If we could all do this, what a better place our world would be.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Are We There Yet?

How many times have parents heard this statement from their kids: “Are we there yet? This is a regular question when you travel with kids for any distance at all. Twice now my family has driven to the Black Hills in South Dakota, and back. Believe me, my wife Tami and I heard this question many times a day, as we traveled anywhere from 6 to 8 hours a day!

Yet, if you think about it, it is a question we wonder about in our own lives. We might wonder about it in terms of our career: are we there yet? We might wonder about it in our spiritual growth: are we there yet? My church and I wonder it all the time: are we there yet? This question implies that there is a final destination.

Unlike a trip to the Black Hills, these other areas of life don’t have a final destination here on earth. We will always be changing careers, jobs, or at least goals within our job. We will always be needing to grow more spiritually. We will always have new goals to achieve as a church. The answer to the question, are we there yet? Is NO! We are not there yet. But that is good news, because if we ever got “there,” there would be nowhere else to go, and how boring would that be?

In actuality, the question (are we there yet?) is actually the wrong point of focus. The truth is, it is the journey, and not so much the destination, that is important. When we think about getting to the destination point, all too often we miss what is along the way. Often times on our trips, we would try and point out to the kids the beautiful sights along the way. We would also stop along the way, and enjoy other experiences. The journey was as fun, and as important as getting to the Black Hills.

So, let us not think about the destination point, but rather think about the journey we have in front of us. And let us hear the words of Hebrews 12:1-2a, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…”

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Not Until You've Walked A Mile in My Shoes

There are many people who love to run. Some like to run for relieving stress. Others like to run for exercise and being fit. Still others will run because they enjoy entering 10k’s or marathons. I personally don’t like to run. Don’t get me wrong, I like to exercise. But I prefer my running to be in the midst of playing a game like racquetball, or basketball, or baseball. It’s probably good that I don’t like to run, because ever since I hurt my back (about 25 years ago), I can’t run long distances, because the pounding of the running is too jarring for my back.

So instead of running, I do fast-paced walking (some might call it power walking). The walking gives me the exercise I need, but limits the strain put on my back. As I was thinking about our blog topic for the week, it made me realize that we are each unique in this way; we like to run, or walk, or sing, or paint… It is easy for us to judge what we like verses what others like. And if what others like isn’t what we like, then we might put them down for it.

The whole idea of judging is important for us to think about, because it is so prevalent in our world. We judge people before we even know them. We judge people because we are close to them. We judge people to make ourselves feel better. The truth is, unless we know what they are going through, we can’t accurately judge what they are doing. Unless you walk a mile in my shoes, how can you know what I am going through and why I do what I do?

And what if we did walk in the shoes of others? Wouldn’t that be better than judging them? As we are told in the Bible, Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Instead of judging, which brings negative consequences in life, we can assist them, and bring about a positive consequence. We are told by God not to judge (leave that up to God), but to ‘love our neighbor as ourself.’ Then maybe we can give them constructive advice. In the end, they will have to decide for themselves how they will live. So don’t judge others unless you have walked a mile in their shoes.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Apologetics is a big word

The word “apologetics” means making a “case” for Christ, just like a lawyer would try to make a case for his or her client to a jury. We live in a world that questions Christianity all of the time, but when someone questions Christianity, they are questioning Jesus Himself. If you are a Christian, this should bother you, because one of our purposes here on this earth is to speak to others about our faith. As Romans 10:13-14 says,“for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ 14How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” If we don’t preach Christ, then people won’t hear about Christ, and won’t even have the chance to believe.
Just like a lawyer presents ‘evidence’ in a trial to make his or her case, so we have ‘evidence’ we can present to make our case about the truth of Jesus. First, there is eyewitness evidence. This is powerful testimony, because it is first hand information. In the Bible, the New Testament is written by eyewitnesses who lived with Jesus, and saw and experienced what Jesus did and who Jesus was. A second kind of evidence is documentary. This is the written evidence we have in the Bible. If you were to investigate the writings of the Bible, you would find that there are a number of original texts that allow us to piece together the Bible that we have today.
Next, we have corroborating evidence, or evidence outside of the Bible which
mentions who Jesus is. Early historians Josephus and Tacitus make many references to Jesus Christ as a real human being, and talk about what he did, and talking about how he returned 3 days after he had been killed. A fourth evidence we have is ‘identity’ evidence. This evidence shows the truth of his identity. Jesus Himself talked about how His miracles are a sign indicating the coming of the kingdom of God. They are a foretaste of what the kingdom is going to be like. They are evidence of His identity; that He is God in the flesh.
There are many other kinds of evidence that can help us to know that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, who came to this earth, who died on a cross, and who was resurrected from the dead. This Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth, and our Savior. I hope you believe this, and if you do, I hope that you share it with others!