Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘bible’

(edited) How many of you would like your prayers to be more effective? When I say ‘prayer amplifier’ I mean something that will do precisely this; something that will make our prayers be heard on high.

I want us to look at two prayer amplifiers. And today, the topic is fasting.

Some basics on fasting

Fasting means refraining from all food for a time. Another way of talking about fasting is to say that someone is “eating no bread” (Luke 7:33) with bread standing for food. We call other things fasts today, but in the Bible it means no food.

The Day of Atonement fast is the only one required in the Law of Moses. This was an annual, national fast (Leviticus 16:29). Although a fast could be called in any time of crisis (Joel 2:12-13).

There are a number of examples of individual, voluntary fasts in Scripture. And in later Judaism this kind of fasting became quite prominent. In Jesus’ day many fasted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays (Luke 18:12).

Should we fast?

We don’t talk much about fasting anymore. But the answer to our question is certainly yes, with regard to individual, voluntary fasting.

You can see this first of all in Jesus’ teaching. Matthew 9:14-15 – “Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.’”

Jesus is saying, since he is present with them, they are to be joyful and celebrate – like at a wedding. And in Judaism wedding guests were released from ordinary religious duties.

But after he is taken away, that is, after he is killed, “then they (his disciples) will fast.” And this refers to us as well. In the time that we live in, Jesus says, we will fast.

And then in Matthew 6:16 Jesus said, “And when you fast . . .” and then he goes on to talk about how to fast correctly. We will look at this Scripture again in a minute, but clearly Jesus is giving instructions that assume his disciples will fast.

You can also see that we should fast from various examples in the New Testament:

  • Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness before he began his public ministry.
  • The early church fasted – Acts 13:2-3. Paul and Barnabas were chosen for and then sent off to their missionary work with “fasting and prayer.”
  • Paul fasted – Acts 14:23, when he appointed Elders with “prayer and fasting.”

These examples of fasting become a recommendation to us to fast as well.

OK, so we should fast, but –

What’s the point of fasting?

One reason we don’t practice it more, I believe, is that we don’t understand what it’s all about; what we are doing when we fast. We have images of monks and asceticism; of useless torturing of our bodies like Paul warns against in Colossians 2:18; 23. But this isn’t what fasting is about.

Fasting is an expression of humility or lowliness. The point is that you want to humble yourself. You are putting yourself in a place of weakness. The language used in Leviticus to speak of fasting is literally “to afflict oneself.”

Sometimes this lowliness is connected to repentance. Joel 2:12 says, “’Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’” It is a way of abasing yourself before the Lord due to your wrong choices and is a part of repentance.

Sometimes lowliness is connected to mourning. David fasted as he mourned the deaths of Saul and Jonathan – 2 Samuel 1:12. And Jesus connects fasting with mourning in Matthew 9:15, a passage we just looked at. He uses the two words interchangeably.

The point in all of this is that fasting is an expression of humility and lowliness.

So when you combine fasting and prayer, and they are often connected in Scripture, it means that you are praying from a lowly place; that you are humbling yourself before God as you pray. This is the point of fasting and prayer. And –

This is why fasting amplifies our prayers

By humbling yourself, you are putting yourself in a place that gains God’s utmost attention. As Psalm 138:6 says, “For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly.” Proverbs 3:34 says that the Lord gives “favor” to the humble. And James 4:6 says that God “gives grace to the humble.” God hears those who humble themselves before him.

  • That this is true can be seen in Isaiah 58:4, which says that fasting can “make your voice to be heard on high.”
  • And this can also be seen in Matthew 6 where Jesus talks about fasting as one of three ways to seek “the reward” of God’s attention, in connection with prayer.

When you add fasting to prayer it is a way of getting God’s full attention, as it were.

Now, this doesn’t mean that just because you fast, or fast for a really long time, that God has to grant your request. You can’t force God’s hand. For instance, David fasted so that his first child from Bathsheba might live, but the child died – 2 Samuel 12.

But it does makes sure that you are heard and the intensity of your desire is fully conveyed to God for consideration.

An example of the power of fasting and prayer can be found in the story of Ahab, who was perhaps the worst Israelite king of all. Elijah warned him that God was about to judge him and destroy his whole household. 1 Kings 21:27 says, “And when Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his flesh and fasted and lay in sackcloth and went about dejectedly.” And then in v. 29 the Lord said to Elijah, “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days. . ..” God gives a very evil man a measure of mercy because of his humble fasting.

At the end here, let me give you some cautions connected with fasting. First, when you fast –

Beware of false lowliness – Isaiah 58:3-9

In v. 3 the people complain to God, “Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?”

God’s answer in v. 5 is that outward expressions of humility, bowing down with sackcloth and ashes, aren’t enough. True lowliness doesn’t have to do with outward appearance.

And besides in vs. 3-4 we see that they weren’t truly lowly, but were lifting themselves up by putting others down; that is, they were oppressing others.

In vs. 6-7 they are told to start lifting others up and helping them – the poor, the oppressed and the hungry. Here, lowliness means to lower oneself to help the needy. This is what God cares about, not sackcloth and ashes.

If God didn’t hear them before, as he says in v. 4 – “Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high,” fasting with true humility gets God’s attention. Isaiah 58:9 says, “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’”

Second, as you fast –

Beware of false seeking – Matthew 6:16-18

That is, when you seek God with prayer and fasting, make sure you are not seeking to get other people’s attention instead. Jesus said in Matthew 6:16, “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” They are trying to get others to see how devout they are. So they are actually seeking praise for themselves.

Rather, seek the attention of God alone when you fast and pray. Jesus said in Matthew 6:17-18, “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret.”

If you don’t get what you seek, because you are seeking the attention of others, the promise is that, if you seek God you will be rewarded. Jesus said in Matthew 6:18, “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

So I commend this to you today. If you haven’t tried it before, do so. If you have, continue on. Lift up your concerns to God with fasting and prayer. If you have questions about the practical issues of fasting, I’m no expert, but I will be happy to try to help you.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

A lot of people claim to be “Christian” today. In fact in the world it’s estimated that there are 2.1 billion Christians, about a third of the world’s population. And in the United States some 75 percent of adults would identify themselves as “Christians.” But when we take a long hard look at the world and our own country, the question has to be asked – What does it really mean anymore to call yourself a Christian?

  • Does it mean that you were born in a certain country?
  • Or that you go to church?
  • Or that you went to church as a kid
  • Or that you have participated in certain rituals?
  • Does it mean that you like Jesus?
  • Or are you really just saying that you aren’t a Muslin or a Buddhist or an Atheist?

What does it mean to be a Christian?? Let’s look at this. We begin with –

Some basics

To be a Christian surely means that you have asked for and received the forgiveness of your sins through what Jesus did for us on the cross. And to be a Christian surely means that you have asked for and received the Spirit of God into your heart, who gives new life and a living relationship with God.

These are God’s gifts to us; the expression of God’s wonderful grace. But it also means something more. It has to do with-

Our actions

– not just what happens hidden away within our hearts. Jesus said, “Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” – Matthew 7:21. Many people call Jesus “Lord,” 2.1 billion. But real Christians are those who do what he teaches; who do the Father’s will.

After all, anyone can claim that Jesus is their Lord. And also, anyone can claim to be forgiven or to have received God’s Spirit in their heart. But as Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits” – Matthew 7:20. Real Christians are known by their actions.

Now does this mean simply living a good moral life? Jesus certainly taught us to be good, moral people. He said that we shouldn’t commit adultery, murder, steal or lie. And we should honor our parents – Luke 18:20. And he also forbade sexual immorality, malice, deceit, envy, slander, and arrogance – Mark 7:20-21.

But even those who opposed Jesus, the Pharisees, were good, moral people along these lines. No, Jesus expects more than this. He said to his disciples, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven” – Matthew 5:20. He then goes on in Matthew 5-7, in the Sermon on the Mount, to describe what kind of actions are necessary to be his disciple.

Are you a Christian? Do you do what Jesus teaches? Here’s –

A test from the words of Jesus

Below are seven examples, from the Sermon on the Mount. See how you do.

1) How is my anger? Listen to Jesus – “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother, you will be liable to judgment . . . and if you say ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” – Matthew 5:21-22.

I can honestly say that I have never murdered someone. So I can check this off the list of being a good moral person, right? Wrong! Jesus expects more.

God is not just concerned with murder, but also with my anger that strikes out to insult and verbally tear down another person.

The question is – “What about my angry words?” Jesus calls me to use my words to build others up, not tear them down.

2) What about lust? Hear Jesus’ words, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that  everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:27-28.

Faithfulness to my spouse also includes not looking at another with strong desire. I must be faithful to my spouse, even with something like a small lustful look. What about my lust?

3) Do I have integrity? This is Jesus – “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not break your oath, but carry out the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all . . .. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No.’” – Matthew 5:33-34; 37.

God wants me to keep the commitments I make to others without the need for swearing oaths. I am simply to be honest and keep my word. How is my integrity?

4) Do I love my enemies? “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 . . ..” – Matthew 5:43-44.

I am not just to love those who love me. Everyone does this. You know, if you are good to me I will be good to you. No. I am also to love those who hate and harm me. I am to return good to those who give me evil. Do I love my enemies?

5) Do I put on a show? Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.” – Matthew 6:1.

I am not to give offerings, pray or fast or do anything else just so that others will notice me. I am to do these things solely because I love and desire to please God.

Do I try to impress others with how I practice my faith so that they will think more highly of me than they should?

6) Am I generous with others? Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth . . .. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . ..” – Matthew 6:19-20.

Jesus is talking about giving to the poor here. Instead of setting aside wealth for my comfort and security (storing up treasures on earth), I am to share what I have with those is need, which results in treasure stored up in heaven.

Do I cling to the blessings that God gives me so that I don’t share? It has to be one way or another – either treasures stored up on earth – or in heaven. Which will it be?

7) Am I merciful? Jesus said, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” – Matthew 7:1.

When I see someone sin, I am not to dismiss them as condemned by God. I am to work and pray for their repentance. And if they have sinned against me, I am to give mercy and then forgive them when they repent.

Am I merciful, or do I judge and condemn?

———–

So this is the test – our actions; these specific actions (and more). How did you do?

Let me share one last thing –

Don’t be Discouraged!

Even when we have tried, we have all failed at one point or another trying to live this out. And so we must continue to seek God’s forgiveness.

But we must also press on to live as Jesus teaches. And this is my point – to give up is to be a Christian in name only; it is to be one who simply calls Jesus “Lord,” but does not do the will of the Father in heaven.

The standard for our actions is high. But it is not impossible, because God helps us. As Jesus said, “What is impossible for us, is possible for God” – Luke 18:27. Jesus said this after the rich young ruler felt that it was too hard to do what Jesus taught. It is true, we can’t do it in our own strength, but we can with God helping us.

God makes it possible for us to obey him in each of these areas. As Jesus promised, if we ask, it will be given to us. God will give us the Spirit to empower us to do what he calls us to do (Matthew 7:7; Luke 11:13).

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

I believe that God gives us our local church as a gift – to strengthen us and to support us in our Christian lives. And with the influence of the world all around us and the weakness of our flesh – I also believe that it is difficult, if not impossible, to be a healthy, growing Christian without being a part.

But your local church, Cedar Street, also needs you so that we can be strong and effective as a Christian community. And so I want us to look today at some things you can do, or can continue to do, to support our congregation.

Now I was sick all week. So I will share what I have and then ask for your input at the end.

1. Come regularly

Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

When we meet together we are able to make each other stronger. We grow in our faith together by stirring each other up and encouraging one other, as the Scripture says. When we don’t, these things don’t happen to the same degree.

So you need to take this into consideration for the sake of your own Christian growth. But also for the sake of the effectiveness of our congregation. When you aren’t here, you aren’t able to encourage and stir others up. The congregation isn’t all that it can be. Sharing fellowship is a powerful thing. We draw strength from each other. And this requires coming.

So we need to consider how we prioritize our weekends. Is church the first thing we cut, when it’s been a long week or if we have plans for the weekend??

2. Invite others to come

In Luke 14 Jesus tells a parable about how a man invited many to come to his feast. But most, those whose lives were busy and going well, didn’t want to come.

And so the man told his servants, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” (Luke 14:21). But there was still room, so he said, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” (Luke 14:23).

The man, who represents God, wants his house to be full. He sent out three different invitations.

  • And just as in the parable, God wants people to be a part of what he is doing in the kingdom of God and with his people, the church.
  • And just as in the parable, we, his servants, are to invite people to come, so that his house can be full.

And this is the primary way that we will grow and reach out, as we have seen before. It happens when you invite others to be a part.

3. Pray for our congregation

In Ephesians 6:18 Paul talks about “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints . . ..”

And in the same way, we need to pray for each other and for our leaders and the vision of our congregation. We need to pray for our ministries and for renewal.

Don’t assume or take for granted that someone else is praying. You know, the pastor is paid to do this. No! You pray also. It’s about all of us imploring God for him to do a great thing in this place for his name’s sake.

Can we really expect to grow in our faithfulness and effectiveness without this? I don’t know about you, but I want God to do something special here, that goes beyond the weekly routine; that makes the kingdom of God a reality in our midst in a new and powerful way.

4. Give of your finances

If someone were to ask me, “How much should I give?” I would tell them that I don’t think there’s a set amount for giving in the New Testament. The tithe of 10 percent is a good place to start with a goal of being even more radically generous. (Most people end with the tithe, but it’s better seen as a place to start). As our faith grows and we see that God does indeed keep his promises to us to take care of our needs when we give, then we can step out and give more.

Scripturally, we are to give to those who minister the word to us.

Paul says, “the laborer deserves to be paid” – 1 Timothy 5:18; Matthew 10:10.

This is applied to pastors and missionaries.

And we are to give to help the poor among us.

Jesus said, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy” – Luke 12:33.

When you have more than you need (that is, shelter, food and clothing) give to those who have needs. First give to the needs in our congregation and fellow Christians. Then also give beyond this to any who lack.

And practically speaking, whatever else we commit to, like a building, electricity and water – we need to give to cover these expenses as well.

5. Use your gifts to minister

1 Corinthians 12:7 says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

Each of us have a gift from God. Find out what God has blessed you with in terms of spiritual gifts and also natural abilities. And use these to strengthen our body and to minister to people’s needs.

And, given the experience I have as a pastor I would say also – do this in a way that builds up the body, working with the leaders and others. Not in a way that focuses on yourself or brings division to the congregation. And also, listen to counsel when it comes to discerning what your true gifts are. Sometimes we need input to know what our gifts are and what they are not. Someone might think they are musically gifted, but in fact are not. And they need to be told this in a kind way. And someone might have a gift of encouragement, but isn’t aware of it or doesn’t have enough self-confidence to use it. And so we need to give them a boost to step out.

The bigger point is that each of us need to move from being one who is primarily ministered to, to being one who ministers to others. This is what growing and maturity is all about. It’s time to grow up! You can’t be spoon fed your whole Christian life. Move from being just a receiver to being a giver.

6. Help out wherever needed

I looked for a text for this and came up with

Ecclesiastes 9:10 – “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might . . ..”

There are lots of things “to do” that could use your focus and might in a congregation. And much of it doesn’t require a special gift, or special training, or a special calling. Some things just need to be done, like keeping up the grounds, fixing things and cleaning up.

Or to go in a different direction, you say your gift isn’t evangelism, but you can come Christmas caroling or help hand out invitations for church events. You feel your gift isn’t being up in front of people, but you can teach a children’s Sunday School class.

All of us need to work, in whatever way we can, for our community to be vibrant and healthy.

7. Work through relationship difficulties

Personality conflicts, disagreements, misunderstandings – these are normal in any human relations. And we also often fail one another.

  • Being Christians doesn’t mean these things will never happen.
  • What makes us Christian is that we care enough to work through things in a loving way.

In Mark 9:50 Jesus said, “Be at peace with one another.”

He knew we would need to work at this. And he doesn’t mean fake peace – where you just pretend things are OK and sweep things under the rug. He means working through things so there is reconciliation.

For instance in Matthew 18:15 Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.”

He is saying, don’t pretend, but deal with things. We need to work things out in love, because without healthy relationships with each other we become weak and easily divided.

We don’t all need to be “best friends,” but we need to get along with each other so we can do the work of the kingdom together.

8. Have the same attitude as Jesus

Paul says in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

He goes on to say that we are to have the same attitude as Jesus, who became our servant and sacrificed for us. Even though he was the Lord of all things, he humbled himself to serve us.

So it’s not about me – or you, so that we might ask:

  • Why am I not being recognized for all I do??
  • Why doesn’t the church do things the way I want them done?? You know, the right way.
  • Why aren’t my needs being met??
  • Why aren’t people giving me enough attention??

We have to set aside our self-centeredness and care about others. We need to ask, “How can I help?” or “How can I give to someone’s needs?” It’s not about getting what I want. It’s about what I can give to others. As Jesus said in Mark 10:45, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life . . ..”  In the same way, we need to lay down our lives for each other.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

We’re talking about secrets today. A secret is something hidden or concealed; something unknown to others.

Not all secrets are bad. You might be keeping a confidence regarding something private that someone told you. And that’s good.

But often our secrets are things that we’re trying to hide, because we don’t want anyone to know – because it won’t reflect well on us.

I remember, when I was a kid, my father was an artist and even though he didn’t go to church, my mother’s parents’ church asked him to paint a rather large mural as a background for their baptismal.

Well, my father had a studio in our house and when he was working on this, he let me mess around some with a paint brush. I think it was painting little birds flying in the air. Something really simple. Anyway, he ended up starting over completely.

But I told my grandfather that I helped paint a part of the mural and played it up, even though what I did was covered over. So every time I came to church there my grandfather would ask me, “now which part did you paint?” And I felt bad. I hadn’t painting anything on the picture he was looking at. But I had to keep it a secret because of what I said before.

Now, of course, I know that he knew my secret and was just messing with me . But I didn’t want him to know the truth, which meant I had to keep lying so I didn’t look bad.

A really good secret is one that no one knows about, right? Not like in my case. For instance when you:

  • gossip about someone – you look around and don’t see anyone else, so you think, “Hey, no one knows. I’m all good.”
  • cheat on a test to get a better grade or fill out tax forms wrong to save some money – you think, “No one saw me, so it’s OK.”
  • look at pornography in a magazine or online – you think, “No one’s home, so I’m safe.”

But my point today is that this isn’t true. And that’s because –

God is everywhere

– whether we are aware of his presence or not. Jeremiah 23:24 says, “’Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord.”

Now this doesn’t mean that God is in relationship with everyone. Or to say it another way, that everyone is conscious of God’s presence. Most are not. To be in relationship with God is to experience a whole different level of God’s presence. But apart from this relationship, God is still present everywhere in a more general way.

And since God is everywhere –

God knows everything we do

Let me highlight several Scriptures to bring this truth home. In Psalm 139:7-8 the psalmist begins by asking, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” He can go to the highest place in all creation or the lowest place, the realm of the dead – and God is still there.

And as he says in v. 2 – “You know when I sit down and when I rise up.” God knows everything we do, even as little a thing as sitting down and then standing up. God takes note!

Psalm 33:13-15 says, “The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he . . . observes all their deeds.” Notice all the “alls.” God sees everyone and everything they do.

Proverbs 15:3 says, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” God watches all that we do, both good and bad.

But not only this –

God knows everything we think

1 Chronicles 28:9 says, “The Lord searches all hearts.” In Luke 16:15 Jesus said, “God knows your hearts.” Psalm 44:21 takes it a step further and tells us that God “knows the secrets of the heart.”

And this leads me to my point this morning –

There is no hiding from God

God knows everything we do and everything we think. Hebrews 4:13 says, “No creature is hidden from God’s sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Here we see that God not only knows everything; we are naked and exposed before him – but we will have to give an account for everything we do and think – even those things that we think are our ‘little secrets.’

As Ecclesiastes 12:14 says, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

You can hide a secret from others. You can even bury them so deep that you hide them from yourself. But you can’t hide your secret from God. God knows them all.

As a side note here, on the final day everyone will know all our secrets. God knows everything already, but at the judgment everyone will. 1 Timothy 5:24 says, “The sins of some men are conspicuous (e.g. obvious or well known) going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later (that is at the time of judgment.)” As Jesus said in Luke 12:2-3, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” There will no longer be any secrets.

Given that God is everywhere and knows all that we do and think –

We need to be more careful about what we say and do!

Think about in school, when the teacher is out of the room. Kids get loud and say and do things they normally wouldn’t. But when the teacher comes back it gets quiet. And I also know from my own experience being a pastor that when I come around, at times the conversation stops or changes.

Well, what we have to learn is that even when no one else can see what you are doing or hear what you are thinking – God is right next to you looking at what you are doing and hearing what you are thinking. It’s like the teacher is in the room or the pastor is, but it is much more than this. God is in the room.

And have you ever said something that was supposed to be a secret but someone else heard? Isn’t it a terrible feeling? Well why don’t we have that feeling, knowing that God is hearing us? Is it because we don’t believe that God is listening?

If you do believe this truth, then before you:

  • gossip about someone – you don’t, because you realize God is right there listening.
  • cheat – you stop, because you remember God is right next to you watching.
  • look at pornography – you recognize that God is there and so you remember to do what’s right.

Finally, a word of encouragement concerning God’s presence. It’s not all about God watching and us being accountable. The truth that God is everywhere means that –

God is also near to help us

– in our moments of temptation and struggle. Especially those of us who have a relationship with God.

2 Chronicles 16:9 says, “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the entire earth, to strengthen those whose heart is true to him.” The one who has all power, the source of all encouragement, the one who has everything that we need to overcome – is present and willing to help. God is looking to strengthen us to do what is right.

So we need to call on God for help.

  • What if you were trying to cut down a large tree with an old ax, and a logger was standing next to you with a new chain saw the whole time? Does this make any sense?
  • Or what if you were struggling to dig a trench, and a friend with a backhoe was sitting there the whole time. Does this make any sense?

In the same way it doesn’t make sense to ignore that God is right next to you all the time ready to help and to encourage. Call on God. He has what you need to make the right choices.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

Check out the series on Jesus’ birth and childhood from Matthew 1-2

The Genealogy: 1:1-17 – Jesus is qualified to be the Messiah and sit on David’s throne.

A. Jesus’ birth and name: 1:18-25

dream: Joseph should keep Mary and own Jesus

prophetic connection: Isaiah 7:14 – Jesus is like Hezekiah who was born to a young woman and who was a sign that God remembered his promise to David for a son to rule. Jesus is not illegitimate (John 8:41). He is the true fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 – born of a virgin.

B. Gentile Magi honor Jesus as king: 2:1-12

prophetic connection: Micah 5:2 – Jesus is the promised ruler born in Bethlehem.

dream: The Magi should not return to Herod

C. Jesus is taken to Egypt: 2:13-15

dream: Joseph should take his family and flee

prophetic connection: Hosea 11:1 – Jesus is connected to Israel in going into and coming up out of Egypt.

`B. Judean Herod tries to kill Jesus: 2:16-21

prophetic connection: Jeremiah 31:15 – refers to the exile into Babylon. “Rachel” weeps for those who are no more – taken into captivity. Jesus’ exile to Egypt and the weeping for those killed by Herod are linked to this.

dream: Joseph can come back since Herod has since died

`A. Jesus’ home and name: 2:22-23

dream: Joseph should go to Galilee

prophetic connection: Isaiah 11:1 (Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15; Zechariah  3:8; 6:12). Jesus is again connected to Hezekiah. Jesus is the true fulfillment of the prophecy of a branch that will come from David. This is a Hebrew word-play between “Branch“: NSR and “Nazareth“: NSRT. Jesus’ home of Nazareth does not make him insignificant (John 1:46; 7:41-42;52), it ties him to the prophetic promises of the branch of David.

Read Full Post »

I want us to look at the theme of God’s love today, as this is reveled to us in the unfolding story of Scripture, and then even up to today. And I want to do this to show us and to remind us that we ought to give thanks for God’s love to us. Whatever else we have to give thanks for in this season, above all we should give thanks for this.

We begin with –

The beginning

God loved us so much that, he brought us into existence. Having thought of us before the foundation of the world, God acted to create us and give us life. And he gave us a place to live, the earth, and provided for our needs.

Psalm 8:4-6 says, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet”

God loved us so much that despite our wrongdoing, he worked for our salvation and restoration. Adam and Eve rebelled in the Garden, but God sought our redemption. Cain ruthlessly murdered his brother Abel, but God raised up another, Seth, through whom salvation would come. At the time of the flood, human wickedness sunk to the depths of depravity, but God chose a remnant and saved Noah and his family. Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more.

God loved us so much that he called Abraham to be the father of many nations and the source of our salvation. God said to him, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” – Genesis 12:3. And God gave him a son, Isaac, and a grandson Jacob, who had twelve sons.

God loves us so much! If you believe this, will you say “amen” this morning?  This brings us to –

The time of Israel

Because his steadfast love never ceases, God brought his people out from Egypt and into the land of promise. As Psalm 136:13-14 says, he “divided the Red Sea in two, and made Israel pass through the midst of it . . ..” As Deuteronomy 4:20 says of Israel, “the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance.”

Because his steadfast love never ceases, God gave Israel his word through Moses to guide them. Nehemiah 9:13-14 says about God, “You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven and gave them right rules and true laws, good statutes and commandments . . . and a law by Moses your servant.”

Because his steadfast love never ceases, God bore with Israel as they rebelled against his will in the time of the judges. The people continually strayed from God’s word doing what was right in their own eyes. And they suffered the consequences. But in mercy, God did not let them perish.

Because his steadfast love never ceases, God established David as king to protect and guide Israel. And he became a model of the promised One who was to come, the Messiah and Savior.

Because his steadfast love never ceases, God bore with them as Israel’s kings rebelled. Think of Solomon’s idolatry, the divided kingdom, the complete failure of the Northern kingdom, and the many evil kings of the southern kingdom. Yet God was patient and merciful.

Because his steadfast love never ceases, God spoke to them by the prophets to call them back to his will. As judgment loomed, 2 Chronicles 36:15 says, “The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place.”

Because his steadfast love never ceases, God brought his people out of captivity and brought them home. God had sent them away into exile in Babylon because of their sin. But Nehemiah 9:31 says, “In your great mercies (God) you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.” God reestablished them in the land of promise.

God’s steadfast love for his people truly never ceases. If you know this to be true will you say “amen”?  This brings us to –

The fullness of time

As an expression of God’s deep love for us, God sent his son, Jesus, born of the virgin Mary, to save us. As the angel said to Joseph, “he will save his people from their sins” – Matthew 1:21. God knew we could not save ourselves. So he came to us. God became one of us. God did what it took to bring us salvation.

As an expression of God’s deep love for us, Jesus taught us God’s way. Mark 6:34 says, “Jesus . . . saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.”

He taught us to turn away from our wrongdoing – and to live a life of love and mercy. And as Mark 1:22 says, “they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority . . ..”

As an expression of God’s deep love for us, Jesus healed people of their ills. Matthew 14:14 says, “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

He healed lepers, the blind, the deaf, the paralyzed – he even raised the dead. And the people said, “We never saw anything like this!” – Mark 2:12.

As an expression of God’s deep love for us, Jesus set people free from the evil one. He cast out demons with a mere word. “And the crowds marveled, saying, ‘Never was anyone like this seen in Israel’” – Matthew 9:33.

As an expression of God’s deep love for us, Jesus laid down his life for us to save us from our sins. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” – John 15:13. And this is exactly what he did for each one of us.

As he said, his death was “for many for the forgiveness of sins” – Matthew 26:28. He died so that our sins could be forgiven.

As an expression of God’s deep love for us, the resurrected Jesus gives us new life by the Spirit. As he said in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life.” And he told his disciples, “receive the Holy Spirit” – John 20:22. They received new life and the power to live a different kind of life.

As an expression of God’s deep love for us, Jesus commanded this salvation be offered to all. He said “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations” – Luke 24:47. It is for everyone who will receive it.

If you have received God’s deep love for you, will you say “amen”?  This brings us to –

Today

God cares about each one of us, and so he searches after each of us until we are saved. God is not content with the sheep already in the pen. But as 1 Timothy 2:4 says, God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

God cares about each one of us, and so he wants us to know what our purpose in life is; what his plan is for us. God want us to walk in this so that we can find true meaning and significance and peace.

God cares about each one of us, and so he provides for our needs and watches over us in our everyday lives. God doesn’t leave us alone, he continues to walk with us and help us in our times of trial.

If you know God’s love and care for you in these ways, will you say, “amen”?

 

And if you know it, how can you not give thanks for it? Such amazing, indescribable, persistent love. Such undeserved love, freely given to us. We must give thanks for such a priceless gift!

If you don’t know God’s love in your life, open up your life to him. As the apostle Peter put it, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:38.

  • Ask for and receive the forgiveness of your sins
  • Ask for and receive new life by the Spirit

Receive these gifts of love from God and then you will truly have something to be thankful for. Even if nothing else is going right for you – you can thank God for his love.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

God Can Use You

I want to share with you a word of encouragement today. I want to affirm that God can use you. God can work through each one of you to advance his kingdom on this earth.

  • He can use you right where you are in your place in life – your job, school, network of friends and family
  • Or God can call you out and put you in a different place, perhaps as a  missionary, pastor, bible translator, teacher, service worker, etc.

Now this might seem like an impossibility in your own mind. Perhaps you think, ‘I’m not worthy,’ or ‘I’m not significant enough,’ or ‘God only uses certain kinds of people’ or ‘I’m not gifted enough.’ But I want to challenge you that God can and will use you, if you’re open to it. And I want to show you this from the Scriptures.

First of all –

Age is not an obstacle

Children, listen up. Samuel was just a boy and yet God spoke to him and told him about the future – 1 Samuel 3.

And remember the children who thanked God for Jesus as the Messiah when he taught in the temple – Matthew 21:15. The children knew more than the scholars and leaders of Israel. And Jesus approved of their praise to God.

God can use you. You are not too young.

Teenagers, Daniel was a teen when he was taken away from his home and carried off into exile in a strange land.

But he was faithful to God. He decided to be a vegetarian in order to avoid any possible contamination from idolatry. And God blessed him for this. He was stronger and looked better than the rest.

Daniel 1:17 says, “As for these four youths, (Daniel and his friends) God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” And they stood before the king as his favored counselors because they were “ten times better” than the others – Daniel 1:20.

How does God want to use you? Have you thought about it? Are you open to it?

Older adults, have you bought into the American idea that life is for the young, and that you are to be put out to pasture when you retire? Well, God doesn’t agree.

Think about it:

  • Abraham & Sarah were called to a whole new life when he was 75 years old – Genesis 12:4.
  • Moses began his ministry when he was 80 years old – Exodus 7:7. And he ministered for 40 more years.
  • Caleb was 85 when he fought for and obtained his portion of the promised land – Joshua 14:10-12.

So, let’s say you are 55, or 65 or more. Have you thought about the possibility that God has a new thing for you to do; that perhaps the most important part of your service to God is still before you? This was the case with all four of these people. But you have to be open to this, and listen to God.

Age is not an obstacle to being used by God to do great things for his kingdom.

A sinful past is not an obstacle

Maybe you get down on yourself because of all you have done wrong before, and you think, ‘I’m not worthy to be used by God.’ Well you’re right, but this applies to all of us. None of us are worthy to be used by God.

But God is a God of mercy and uses us nonetheless. Think about these people who had a checkered past, but who were greatly used by God:

  • Moses had murdered someone (Exodus 2:12). But he became the greatest of all Old Testament prophets. God spoke to him face to face – Deuteronomy 34:10-12.
  • Rahab, who was a Gentile prostitute, became an ancestor of the Messiah and an example of faith – Joshua 2, Matthew 1:5, Hebrews 11:31.
  • Matthew was a tax collector hated by his people for oppressing them. But Jesus said to him, “’Follow me’ and he rose and followed him.” – Matthew 9:9. He became an apostle.
  • Peter denied Jesus with curses and oaths (Mark 14:71). This is a horrible sin for any follower of Jesus. But Jesus called him again to “feed my sheep” – John 21:17. And he became a crucial leader in the early church.
  • Paul, who persecuted Christians, imprisoning them and watching some die, said, “I thank . . . Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” – 1 Timothy 1:12-13.

When we repent and are forgiven – we are forgiven. We are clean and pure! God gives us a new start; a chance to begin again. So instead of serving sin following our selfish desires, he gives us a chance to serve him and work for his kingdom.

A lack of ability is not an obstacle

This may seem strange, but it’s true. Here are three similar examples:

  • God called Moses to speak for him, but he wasn’t a good speaker. He said, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent . . . but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” – Exodus 4:10. But God said he would help him and gave him Aaron to help him.
  • God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, but he wasn’t a good speaker. He said, “Ah Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak . . .” – Jeremiah 1:6. God touched his mouth and said, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.” – Jeremiah 1:9.
  • Paul was an apostle of Jesus, but he was not a good public speaker. As the Corinthians said, “his speech is of no account” – 2 Corinthians 10:10. But God worked powerfully through him.

All of these call to mind what is recorded later in 2 Corinthians 12:9. Speaking of Paul’s weaknesses, Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Our inabilities are places where we have to rely on God. Often it is precisely because we have a lack, that God can work powerfully through us.

Lowly circumstances are not an obstacle

You might think that God only wants to use “important people,” or “famous people.” But God loves to use those who are insignificant in the eyes of the world, but who are significant to him.

  • God chose lowly Israel to be his people. God said to them, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples – Deuteronomy 7:7. But God made himself known through them and from them came Jesus.
  • God chose Gideon to be a judge of Israel. Gideon said, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” – Judges 6:15. But God said, “I will be with you” – Judges 6:16. And he used him powerfully.
  • God chose David to be king. He was the youngest, most insignificant son of Jesse. As God said to Samuel – “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7. God used him mightily.
  • God chose Mary to be Jesus’ mother. She was a simple peasant girl. She was not famous. She did not stand out. She herself spoke of her “humble estate” – Luke 1:48. But God did a miracle and used her to bring forth the Messiah.
  • God chose Peter, Andrew, John and James as apostles. They were hardworking fishermen. As Acts 4:13 says, “They were uneducated, common men.” But God did great things through them.

1 Corinthians 1:27-28 speaks to this – and really to all of the obstacles we have looked at.

“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are . . ..”

And God still chooses this way. It is just how God likes to work.

Let me just end by saying that there is nothing more amazing than having God use you. We were made to be used by God to bring forth his plan for his creation – whether we are an evangelist through whom thousands are saved or whether we simply encourage others to be faithful right where we are.  This is what gives us true significance, meaning and purpose. And it is what gives us a true sense of fulfillment and peace.

I encourage you – open yourselves up to what God has for you.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

We come today to the final part of the Sermon on the Plain. This is Jesus’ conclusion to his own sermon.

But before we jump into this, let’s step back for a minute and take a big picture look at how the sermon is put together. (Additional outline handout)

  • As we saw last week, the second section on loving enemies corresponds to the third section on correcting others. They have a common theme – mercy, and a common structure, with v. 36 in the middle holding them together.
  • Today I would highlight that the first section on blessings and woes corresponds to the fourth section, our focus. They have a similar structure and they share a common theme. Both are about a comparison between faithful and unfaithful disciples.

As you look at the way this sermon is put together, notice the X shape of it. This is a common way of thinking and writing in the ancient world. It’s called a chiastic literary structure. The name comes from the Greek letter Chi which is in the shape of an “x.”

Next, still in big picture mode, let’s look at a summary of the teaching of the sermon thus far:

  • In the first section on blessings and woes we learned that we are to be faithful despite the consequences. Even if it makes us poor, hungry, sorrowful and causes us to be slandered.
  • In the second section on enemies, we learned that we are to love our enemies and return good for evil.
  • In the third section on correcting others, we learned that when we see sin in someone’s life, we are to act with mercy, not judgment or condemnation, so that we can help them get rid of their sin.

In his conclusion then, which is our focus, Jesus uses this teaching as a test – ‘How do you compare?’ ‘Are you faithful?’ I can look at my life and compare it to these three things and see, ‘Am I heading toward faithfulness or am I heading toward unfaithfulness as a disciple?’

So this last section is Jesus’ call to faithfulness for each one of us. In this he challenges us to test two things in our lives.

Test #1: Our words

Do our words line up with Jesus’ teaching here?

vs. 43-45 – “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

Let me point out two things here.

1. The principle of the inner and the outer. This teaches us that what’s in your heart, the treasure, what’s stored up in it, the abundance – that’s what comes out. Jesus says, “Each tree is known by its own fruit” – v. 44.

So you can see what is in a person’s heart by how they act. (Now someone can put on a show for a while, but eventually the truth comes out.) There is an unbreakable connection between the inner life of a person and the outer life of a person. The inner is the source of the outer and the outer is a window into the otherwise hidden recesses of the inner.

  • So you can’t say, ‘I am living a life of sin, but this doesn’t really reflect what’s in my heart. And God just cares about my heart. I like Jesus. I have faith so it’s OK.’
  • Or to put it another way – you can’t say, ‘I’m a Christian in my heart of hearts. People just can’t see it. The outward stuff just isn’t that important.’

According to Jesus, a good tree produces good fruit.

2. The focus here in on our words. Jesus pulls vs. 43-45 together by saying “For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” So in this case, it is our words that reveal what is in our heart.

Are we a good tree or a bad tree? The test is are our words in agreement with what Jesus has taught in this sermon. More specifically, do we affirm and teach that we are to:

  • be faithful despite the consequences?
  • love our enemies?
  • give mercy to those who fail and sin?

If we do this shows that we are a good tree. We have stored up Jesus’ teaching in our hearts. And so we have a good treasure, which overflows in words that are shaped by Jesus’ teaching. In other words, we show that we are faithful disciples in this area.

Now this same test can be applied to others who come to us and teach. Do their words affirm and teach all that Jesus says in this sermon? When you hear someone preach or teach, or on the TV or the radio – test their words and see.

Test #2: Our actions

Do our actions line up with Jesus’ teaching here? Do we obey Jesus’ teaching?

Now, let me back up a minute. In each of the sections of the Sermon on the Plain so far there has been a word about how to enter the kingdom of God. Let’s look at this briefly:

  • Section one: If we suffer for our faithfulness to Jesus we will be lifted up and blessed in the kingdom of God and not cursed.
  • Section two: If we love our enemies we are “sons” and thus inheritors of the Father’s kingdom; not sinners who have no reward.
  • Section three: If we give mercy to those who fail, we will receive mercy and not judgment or condemnation on the last day.

There is a focus on entering the future kingdom of God in each of these.

Well, in calling us to faithfulness at the end of his message, here in vs. 46-49, Jesus draws this all together and makes the point that our actions based on this sermon as a whole will determine our eternal fate.

We begin with –

v.46 – “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”

Jesus’ question is rooted in a contradiction. To call Jesus ‘Lord’ means you are to submit and obey. As Jesus says in 6:40, disciples are supposed to learn from and obey their teachers. But some who call Jesus ‘Lord’ do not submit and obey. This was true in Jesus’ day and it remains true today.

And it just doesn’t make any sense! We say one thing and do another. We indicate that we will listen to Jesus and obey him, but we listen to and obey other voices – while we ignore Jesus.

In vs. 47-49 Jesus gives the parable of the two builders. This compares those who call Jesus Lord and obey him, and those who just call Jesus Lord and don’t obey him. It gives us a picture of the final judgment. And it’s a warning to us.

vs. 47-49 – “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

One house was well built. The builder worked hard and dug deep to lay his foundation on something solid. The second house was not well built. It had no foundation.

Then a storm comes with lots of rain and deep waters. Storms and floods often picture God’s judgment in Scripture (Psalm 18:11-14; Habakkuk 3:3-15; Zephaniah 1:15/ Genesis 6-9; Isaiah 28:2, 17; Ezekiel 13:10-16).

After the rivers were swollen with rain the flood “broke against” both houses.

  • The first house survives the storm. Because it had been well built it “could not be shaken.” It was built on solid rock.
  • The second house, however, immediately falls and “great was the ruin of that house.”

The point is that disciples who only call Jesus Lord, but do not obey him, will be washed away in the storm of the final judgment. This is the second house.   Only disciples who act on Jesus’ words, who obey him, will survive the storm of the final day. This is the first house.

The test, then, is do we obey Jesus’ words? The phrase “my words” refers back to the sermon Jesus has just delivered. We obey his words by living out his teaching here. So –

  • Are you faithful despite the consequences?
  • Do you love your enemies?
  • Do you give mercy to those who fail?

If we live out this teaching, then we show ourselves to be faithful disciples.  Since we have dug deep and built on the foundation of Jesus’ teaching, we will not be shaken.

————

To sum it up, Jesus calls us to faithfulness in two ways. Do our words line up with his teaching here? And – Do our actions line up with his teaching here? We need to test ourselves in these ways so that we can grow more and more in our faithfulness to our Lord.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

Today we move into the third section of the Sermon on the Plain. Now, these are not just isolated sayings of Jesus strung together for no reason. They all fit together. This can be seen by the careful way that it is put together, which parallels the second section on dealing with enemies, with v. 36 holding them together:

Dealing with enemies (27-35)

  • Two sets of four sayings on loving enemies (27-30)
  • A key principle (31)
  • Some provocative questions (32-34)
  • An exhortation (35)
  • The result of obedience (35)

Center of the sermon (36)

  • Be merciful

Correcting others (37-45)

  • Four mercy sayings (37-38a)
  • A key principle (38b)
  • Some provocative questions (39-42)
  • An exhortation (42)
  • The result of obedience (42)

What this section is about

This part of the sermon is also held together by two interrelated themes: 1. The theme of mercy. This section is set up by the center point of the sermon – v. 36, which says, “Be merciful even as your Father is merciful.” And this mercy theme is continued in vs. 37-38, when it talks about forgiveness as opposed to condemnation.

2. And then we also have the theme of correcting others

  • vs. 37-38 are about judging or giving mercy when someone sins
  • v. 39 speaks of someone who is blind who needs guidance
  • vs. 41-42 speaks of correcting others who have sin in their lives

When you put these together, the focus of this section is on correcting others with mercy. It is interesting that the core of Jesus’ sermon highlights two areas that we don’t like to talk about – loving enemies and correcting others.

Jesus’ instructions on giving mercy

judge not and you will not be judged
condemn not and you will not be condemned
forgive and you will be forgiven
give and it will be given to you

The first two are synonymous parallels; they mean pretty much the same thing. Also the second two are parallels – forgive and give, that is, give mercy. It’s not about money so that all of a sudden Jesus changes topics. It’s implied for sure, but it means – give mercy.

Also the first two and the last two are opposites. To not judge or condemn is to forgive or give mercy.

What does it mean to judge someone?

We have begun to answer this, but let’s look more closely because this often confuses people. Jesus is not talking about:

  • discerning what is or is not a sin
  • or calling someone to stop sinning

This is the same Jesus, after all, who told us in Luke 17:3 – “If your brother sins, rebuke him . . ..” Here you have a discernment that something is a sin, and a call for the person to stop doing it.

Rather, judging means that you determine someone is unworthy of mercy – from God or others. Here’s an example of some judging responses. Bob, an addict, stole your car and wrecked it. You might:

  • hold bitterness and hatred against him
  • speak evil against him, his character (James 4:11)
  • look down on and keep away from him, like the Pharisee who said, “God, thank you that I am not like this tax collector – Luke 18:10.
  • withhold forgiveness when there is repentance
  • seek to harm him

What does it mean to give mercy?

Mercy means there is the possibility of redemption and a new start – with both God and others.

Again, Bob, an addict, stole you car and wrecked it. To give mercy, you can:

  • have compassion for him
  • see the good in him
  • recognize you have failed too and you are not that different
  • forgive when there is repentance
  • work with him as he tries to live a new life, giving help and accountability

A key principle

v. 38 – “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” This principle is behind the logic of all four of Jesus’ instructions above. And it is radical! It means – you will get from God what you have given to others, either judgment or mercy. Some motivation here for action! Next we have –

Some provocative questions

– which come in the context of an extended set of sayings on blindness and seeing.

v. 39 – “He also told them a parable: Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” Those who taught others were called guides to the blind. In this case, however, the teacher is also blind, which leads to disaster for both teacher and student. Jesus is saying, ‘Disciples, you are blind. You are still learning and you need a good teacher to guide you.’

In v. 40 he goes on to talk more about teachers and students. “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Jesus is saying to his disciples, ‘Once you’re fully trained, you will be like me.’ Jesus was famous for giving mercy to sinners, prostitutes and tax-collectors. All those that others judged and cast aside. As disciples, we will be known for our mercy as well.

Next comes more questions. vs. 41-42 – “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye?”

You know how it feels when you get something in your eye and you can’t see. I can only imagine how it must feel to have a log in your eye. This does present something of an image of the blind leading the blind.

Here’s the point:

  • You see a sin in someone else’s life (a speck) and try to correct it.
  • But you don’t see your much bigger problem that should be corrected first.

Now this could apply to any problem you have that is worse than the issue you are trying to correct in someone else. But here, in context, the log refers to being merciless and judgmental, as you try to correct someone. If you see sin in a Christian’s life you look down on them, speak evil of them and don’t forgive them.

An exhortation

v. 42 – “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye . . ..” Get rid of your much bigger problem, judging and condemning others. Learn mercy and practice forgiveness.

The result of obedience

v. 42 –  “. . . and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Before, with the log in your eye, the correction was just a part of condemning the person. That’s why Jesus calls the person a “hypocrite.” They look like they are doing something good, but they are really only judging someone.

It’s only when you learn mercy for those who struggle and fail that you will “see clearly to take out the speck” in the other person. This is when you’ll actually be able to help someone with their problem, when they fail, when they struggle.

How does it work? If you see sin in a Christian’s life – recognize you have failed too, pray and work for their repentance and forgive when there is repentance.

Finally

How will you respond when you see sin in a fellow Christian’s life? It’s not like this is an uncommon thing.

Remember: If you give judgment and condemnation, not only will you be the blind leading the blind, God will give you judgment and condemnation.

But, if you give mercy and forgiveness, not only will you be able to help, God will give you mercy and  forgiveness. As vs. 38 says, “a good measure (of mercy), pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.”

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

Alright, we have been looking at the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6. And last week we covered the section on Dealing with Enemies. Jesus teaches us here to love our enemies. He tells us, just as you want what is good, so give good to others – whether they deserve it or not.

He also told us that living by ‘an eye for an eye’ gets you no reward, for even sinners do this. But living by love for enemies gets you great reward. That’s because the heavenly Father loves his enemies. And since, ‘like father like son,’ you show yourself to be a son of his, that is, an inheritor of his blessings.

Last week I needed to spend the whole time working with the text trying to lay out what it means. So this week I want to get more into some of the practical realities of loving enemies. I want to do something a little different and tell you some stories and then draw out some lessons I have learned.

Our hostile neighbors

We had been in our house for several years when new people moved in behind us. We lived on a flag lot, so the neighbor’s  property was surrounded by our house and other church property. As soon as they moved in they started making claims that a part of our driveway was actually their land. And it got worse from there.

We had a tree on the border that needed to come down. A part of it had fallen onto our house the last winter in an ice storm and it was diseased. So we told them, but they became hostile. They wanted the tree to stay. In fact, they claimed it was on their land, along with a part of our backyard.

He had anger issues, to say the least. He also liked his alcohol which made things worse. A police man who was later involved in an incident called him “Mr. Testosterone.” He was abusive and a bully. And if anything, I thought she was worse. At one point she was hanging over the fence, taunting and insulting me and the church as I worked in my backyard.

Anyway, I had a trustee over for dinner and told him about all this since our house was owned by the church at this time. I had to go talk to the neighbor about some issues, so we both went over to his house. He went nuts. I was nose to nose with him, kind of looking down on him because I was taller. And he was just screaming and threatening. My trustee and I calmly walked away.

At another point, when I wasn’t home, my wife engaged him about the tree and at that point, full of alcohol, he threatened to shoot her in the head. That’s when the police were brought in to try to talk some sense into him.

Well after the lawyers were brought in an agreement was made whereby the tree would come down and the church would survey the border and put up a fence (which we wanted).

I have to admit it was funny. After the surveyor was done I happened to see the neighbor wife come out to see where the  stake was put. She was standing on it looking out beyond it into our yard, thinking it was hers. But, of course it wasn’t. The border was pretty much right where we thought it was.

It was also sad in a way. The truth is that they had two structures that were too close to the border, without a variance. Although we never required it, it was a bit surreal to see him one day with a chainsaw cutting a part of an overhang off of his house – about four by twelve feet, because it was too close to our driveway.

#1. It’s really hard to love enemies. It doesn’t come naturally. When someone harms me, especially if there’s no cause, I get angry (not as much as I used to thankfully). And there is a part of me that wants to strike back – harm for harm. I want to show them how wrong they were and have them feel some of what they gave to me. So for me, to love enemies requires God to be working in me. Because there is nothing in my flesh that wants to do this. And I am guessing that this is true of most, if not all of you.

#2. If we want to overcome evil with good we have to deal with our anger. Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” We are not to let someone’s evil deeds to us, change us so that we do the same thing back to them. That’s what it means to be overcome by evil. Rather we are to overcome evil with good, by returning good for evil.

So all through out this (it went on for months) I had to learn to give my anger over to God. Otherwise I would have been right there with him ‘in the flesh’ screaming and threatening and worse. I had to trust that God would take care of the wrong that was done to me.

What I learned is that when you do this, and I had to do it daily there for a while, it frees you up to focus on doing good and being Christ-like, which is our job as Christians. Instead of focusing on getting even, I could give mercy.

This was a good thing because I learned later that after provoking previous neighbors he had tried to sue them for their responses.

#3. Loving enemies is different than nonresistance. I remember that some in the congregation said that if the neighbor wanted a part of the backyard, it should be given to him, under the idea that we are not to resist the evildoer, but yield and even give more than he asks. This didn’t seem right to me. And, of course, in this case he would have asked for the whole property.

So I really began to struggle with these texts. What do they mean in this situation? What I came to over the next few years was a clearer understanding, I believe, of the context of nonresistance – as I said last week. It has to do with enemies who are also authorities.

And so what should guide my behavior in this kind of a situation is simply the command to love and do good and to pray for my neighbor, which I did.

And also, if love is the standard, not nonresistance, then I have a great deal more freedom in how I respond to my neighbor. As long as I also act with love toward him.

#4. God can intervene on our behalf. Romans 12:19 says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” God can and does act for us many times even now, when we refrain from acting ourselves in the flesh to get even.

I believe this happened in this case. First of all the neighbors moved away not long after the tree came down. And then I heard from a former friend of his that he had a stroke that paralyzed one side of his face. And his doctor told him he needed to calm down for his own health’s sake. We found out that he had moved from house to house fixing them up and selling them, and also harassing neighbors wherever he went. We certainly hoped that this would put a stop to it.

A story about Fred

(I have changed some things in this story to hide “Fred’s” identity).

I met Fred in church one day. We hit it off pretty good and he was interested in the Bible and identified himself as a Christian. His was a sad story – mental illness and time in jail.

Later Fred became angry with the church, and he focused his anger on me and one other person in the church. His demeanor changed, like he was a different person. As I understand it, he was off his medications.

Once he came to the door of my house and was pounding on it – obviously angry. I decided to go out and talk with him, but locked the door behind me. He was making various threats. Stacey was inside and she decided it was time to get the police involved. We had talked about this before as an option.

Another time he showed up at church during Sunday school, high, playing with a knife he had brought along in a menacing way. My goal was to get him away from the church, so I asked him if he wanted to go for a ride and talk. And so we did. I drove him far away and then dropped him off near a family member’s home.

#5. Love and harm are not always a contradiction. I believe that what Jesus forbids to us is non-redemptive harm. This has to do with revenge, retribution, pay back or an eye for an eye. It’s ‘non-redemptive’ because it is meant only to hurt and punish.

Redemptive harm, by contrast, has to do with causing harm to the person for their greater good, or at least with their best interests in mind. This could be called tough love. I always use the example of a doctor that amputates a leg to save a life. This is different than someone who just cuts off your leg!

In this case we called the police. My aim was to get him a psychological evaluation and hopefully get him back on his meds. That isn’t what happened – they just held him for 24 hours. But even then, the situation was stopped. And if he had physically assaulted me I would have sought to restrain him, even if it meant causing him pain.

#6. You can trust God with your life. Matthew 10:29-31 says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Based on this, this is what I believe: If I’m walking in God’s way, I’m not going to die unless God allows it. If I have someone with a knife at church or threatening me at home – I know that it’s not up to them if I live or am hurt. It is up to my Father in heaven. This frees you up to say and do what you need to, to address this situation.

#7. Love will never let me kill someone. This was certainly true with Fred or my neighbor. No matter what they did, I would not be able to do this because I am called to love them.

But this is also why I teach that Christians should not participate in war. There are many issues involved in this, of course, but for me only one is decisive. If love means what the Bible says it means – to give good to others, and I am supposed to love everyone including my enemies, then how can I kill someone and still be faithful to Jesus? How can I both destroy someone and love them at the same time? Even if the government tells me to, I have to refuse. Because as Peter said, “we must obey God rather than men” – Acts 5:29.

#8. Always be open to reconciliation. Luke 17:3 says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” We became good neighbors with the former friend of our hostile neighbors, even though he was there standing by as threats were made against us.

Also, Fred and I did reconcile. His anger subsided and he apologized. I didn’t see him as much, but talked to him from time to time when he stopped by the church. Last I heard he was doing better and I am grateful for that.

Finally, and not connected to these stories – #9. This teaching isn’t just for “enemies.” Several of you mentioned after last week’s message that you weren’t sure who your enemies are today. In general an enemy is anyone who harms you or tries to harm you.

But even beyond this sometimes it is our spouse who does something that hurts us, or a child, or a friend or a church member. But we would not say they are “enemies.” So in some cases it is best to drop the word enemy, but still apply this teaching.

In these situations as well, don’t respond in kind. Always give what is loving and good to the other – whether they deserve it or not.

  • When your  spouse says something hurtful, don’t simply say something hurtful back. Seek to return good. Deal with the issue in a kind way.
  • When your child is misbehaving, don’t discipline them in anger as payback. Give them something good – loving discipline.
  • When someone cuts you off on the road, don’t transform into a vigilante. Return good and be kind.

It’s natural to highlight more dramatic examples when we talk about returning good for evil. But these more common examples may well be harder to live out – day in and day out.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »