Matthew 20 – Equality

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This could arguably be the least popular text in Matthew, at least in the U.S.A.  We are the land of the “American Dream,” where anyone can work hard and be rewarded accordingly.  The harder one works, the more wealth, authority, and power one can acquire.  Writing this during the 2016 election cycle, no clearer picture could be painted of this reality.  Candidates tout their “desires” to help all people, that all would benefit from their leadership, and yet their actions and drive for more wealth and power show no real concern for they seek to lead.

Jesus illustrates the paradigm of true equality in the parable of the vineyard, a story that almost everyone who heard it in that day would have had an aversion to.  How is it possible for someone who worked an hour to get paid the same as one who works 12?

Once again Jesus takes on our notions of what is fair and equal, notions that are usually self-interested, and redefining them in light of God’s immeasurable grace and mercy.  As is always true, God’s ways are not our ways, and are often in direct opposition to human norms, the ways we tend to opperate.

In a culture and time when cries for freedom and equality ring louder than ever, we all most recognize that God’s definition of equality far surpasses those of any social movement.  Indeed true equality has nothing to do with money, status, or even race, but in the reconition of where we stand before God as sinners saved by grace alone.  This understanding of God’s indescriminate love for everyone, and His call to love as He loves, must be the basis and the imputus for our desires of equality and justice for all… in the truest sense of what that means.



Matthew 19 – First and Last

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Having never been divorced, I find it hard to understand the thought process that goes into divorce.  In fact, as a pastor, walking alongside people who are struggling with things I have not directly experienced is one of the most difficult things for me.

Jesus, as He continues teaching about turning from selfishness, brings in the sensitive subjects of both divorce and money.  Like those asking who would be first in God’s Kingdom, certainly a self-interested question if ever one existed, Jesus addresses other situations in which self-interest certainly can play a role.

I would not presume to cast judgment on those struggling through divorce or picking up the pieces of life after one, and do not want to paint with broad brush strokes over the experiences of individuals in relationships I know nothing about.  I believe that this passage has been used far too many times to judge and hurt, condemn, label, and nullify people’s feelings without consideration of the details of their situation.  I firmly believe that it is not God’s intention to force people to stay in relationships that are unsafe and dangerous.

As He continues to teach, Jesus challenges our notions of selfishness and self-interest.  As those who are “in Christ,” we are called to put off such temptations, to put others before ourselves.  Ultimately we are called to what Paul calls a “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).  This calling is a life of freedom, not being bound to our own self-interest but putting others first.  Our freedom is to love in the way that Christ loved: self-sacrificially.  What does this mean for us?  Perhaps it means not pursuing wealth, actually living out marriage vows, or giving our children the time they need and desire after a long day’s work.  Can you think of others?



Matthew 7 – The Golden Rule

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The Golden Rule, as it has been eloquently coined, is one of the most quoted Biblical references.  In my experience, I usually hear it quoted to children who are struggling with social issues reminding them that people are more likely to treat us well when we treat them well.  It seems, especially for Biblical teaching, to be strangely self-serving.

How could Biblical teaching like this be self-centered?  Wouldn’t that be the complete opposite of the overall message we hear in the Bible?  Well… as a matter of fact, Yes!  In fact, the so-called “Golden Rule” is not a teaching of manipulation so others will treat you well.  It is, actually, an outgrowth of a much deeper and long-standing teaching, the “second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Indeed, all of the teachings in today’s reading are like this, reminders of the appropriate orientation that we are to have as the people of God.  This orientation is not toward ourselves, us trying to make ourselves look better (judging others), us seeing things in the world to elevate ourselves (seek first the Kingdom of God), or us doing things to others to rise above them (the golden rule).  The orientation that Christ is teaching is one of love; loving God and loving each other.

All of Jesus’ teachings here are accented by the notion that a “tree is known for its fruit.”  Jesus seems to be addressing here a culture that is holding up the notion of following the rules, people that go to church when they are supposed to, do their devotions every day, and pray before their meals.  Yet the warning goes out: “not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom…”  Jesus continues to say here, “I don’t want your actions, I want your heart.”



Matthew 6 – "When you…"

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We like practical advice for life don’t we?  When one goes to another for advice, they do not seek someone that “beats around the bush,” but rather someone that “tells it like it is.”  Often the challenge of preaching is just that: how to tell it like it is.

Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6 feels like practical advice.  He takes several topics and talks straight about them.  “When you… don’t do… but instead do…”  Our Bibles divide each of these into nice sections that we are able to read one at a time.

However, Jesus’ teaching here is actually all linked, accented by verses 19-24.  All the verses leading up to it and the famous (or infamous for some) section on anxiety all speak to the point that “no one can serve two masters.”  Each of the topics prior to this statement is an example of this teaching.

A person who gives publically for all to see is not desiring to serve the need of the needy, but rather to serve their need for fame.  He or she is serving him or herself.

Likewise, a person who prays “like the hypocrites” does not desire to build a relationship with God, but rather an image for themselves with others.

Similarly, anxiety is not “caring” about others as much as it is our desire to control, or rather our struggle with trusting that God is in control.

When we make the statement, “Jesus is Lord,” we don’t often think about it’s implications in our own lives.  We cannot keep living with any number of “lords,” worshipping other idols;” and this includes ourselves.  In Jesus Christ we have freedom, “but do not use that freedom to indulge the sinful nature” as Paul says in Galatians 5.  “Rather,” he says, “Serve one anther in love.”

 



Day 215: Isaiah 58-60; Authentic Actions

Today’s reading starts out with a subject that is near and dear to my heart.  As a worship leader, I spend a rather large time thinking about Christian worship and the actions behind it.  Moreover, I don’t just think about what we do, but why we are doing it and how we are doing it.  Are the things that we do on a Sunday morning (and I speak of Sunday morning because our corporate worship is a reflection of our worship in day to day living) actually bringing us into an encounter with God.  Are the songs that we sing, the actions that we take, the posture that we assume all things that are bringing us closer to God?  Or are the simply the things that we all feel like we are doing?  Are we just taking these actions because we’ve always taken these actions… is tradition actually the god we are worshiping?  Are we more concerned about whether we like the song… the beat… the instruments?

In many ways, this is a question that has been asked of the people of Israel, God’s chosen, for many hundreds of years, and is one that is focused in on when it comes to the prophets.  If you remember back to the narrative history, there were a lot of things that pulls the people away from the Lord.  No matter what it was though, it all wound up being idolatry because it pulled them away from worshiping the Lord.  Interestingly enough though, we don’t hear of these things creeping in by way of the Temple.  No, usually corporate worship is the last thing to be affected by the actions of Satan as he tries to lead us astray.  It starts of with little things at home.  Busy schedules lead to a desire for ‘me time,’ not that me time is bad but it does often tread the line of selfishness.  Selfishness has a tendency to snowball into a lifestyle of ‘me-centered activity’ which then ends up showing up in how we worship, wanting songs that fit our style of music and sermons that are about what we want to hear.  Christians today “church shop” until they find the church that is “just right for them.”  Culture doesn’t help this at all because we live in a very individualistic society where we can have anything we want at any time…  Sound familiar?

Yet they seek me daily
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
    and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
    they delight to draw near to God.
‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
    Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
    and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
    will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
    a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
    and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
    and a day acceptable to the Lord?

While there are a myriad of other things we could look into as far as idols go, the fact is that how we worship corporately is a reflection of how (and what) we worship individually.  God addresses this head on here (and in many other places in the Bible as well) pointing out that what the Israelites were doing was so self focused that it meant nothing to Him.  Even their worship had become about them.  The writer is addressing fasting in chapter 58, but fasting is an element of worship, a way of humbling oneself before God.  Yet it is clear that the people of Israel missed the mark, as we too are missing the mark.  God goes on to say,

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
    the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
    and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to dwell in.

The Church today is falling victim to a selfish and individualistic culture.  The ‘Worship Wars’ that took place and are still taking place are just an example of this.  Churches divided because of selfish desires.  Congregations that are worshiping separate just to keep people happy that they can have “their own music.”  The right had of the body is trying to eat while the left had is covering the mouth.  The left foot is trying to walk while the right leg drags behind.  We need to get beyond ourselves and seek after God once again… is your church’s worship centered on God?  Or is it about keeping people happy?  Is your worship centered on God?  Or are you only concerned with keeping yourself happy?