Sermon on the Mount | Building a Life | Matthew 7:21-29 | Week 14

SERMON ON THE MOUNT: Building a Life  Matt. 7:21-29  Luke Rosenberger

My family has been here two years and we just love this body and being at South Fellowship and plugging in with the Young Adults.  A few weeks ago, we were going to have a worship night and I had this vision months before.  We were going to have lots of young adults come to the great outdoors of Colorado and enjoy seeing the creation God has created.  We’d have the mountains in the background and enjoy worshipping our Creator outside.  We’ve ended previous summers with a worship night in the park (Clement Park).  I was really excited about this year and wanted to plan something really cool.  A few months ago, the Ascent Project Band led worship here at South and my wife and I looked at each other and said, “This would be a great band to lead that night.”  I contacted them and they were willing to come.  Our own Erich Schmitt came out and set up all his sound equipment.  Earlier in the day, there was a chance of rain forecasted.  I was praying, “God, this night is for you. A hundred young adults would be coming to worship you.  We’re going to see what you’re going to do tonight.”  Everybody was praying for no rain.  My wife called me when she brought the kids to the park and asked, “Do you think we should go to the library first?”  I told them not to take the risk so they went to the library.

Let me tell you about my family.  I’m married to Ellen.  She’s an incredible mom, an author, and passionate worship leader.  We have four kids:  David, Emily, Lucy, and Elizabeth.  We’ve been blessed with their energy, excitement and their joy in our life.  I’m beginning my third year at Denver Seminary.

Back to the story.  The clouds got dark, the wind started picking up.  A few of us were across the way in a pavilion setting up for food.  It started sprinkling.  I said, “God, if it’s going to come, let it come fast and be done really quick, or keep it away entirely.  We want to do this for you, Jesus.”  Well, here’s a picture of four of us huddled on top of a picnic table in the pavilion. The white in the background is. . . .HAIL!  I was smiling in this picture but I was not happy!  I was really disappointed.  God, why is this happening?  This is a worship night for you.  I kept hoping that if the hail finished we could still salvage the night.

The hail lasted about ten minutes and the rain started slowing down.  I ran across the way to the amphitheater where the band was setting up.  I saw puddles everywhere on the grass.  I got up on the stage and it was like a lake.  The sound equipment was all being put away; it was soaking wet.  {Thankfully the equipment wasn’t ruined.} The band was disheveled and disappointed.  They said, “Luke, we tried.  We’re really disappointed about what happened, but let’s just pick up the pieces and we’ll come back another time.”

Sometimes we get disappointed in our life.  There are storms that come.  I was proud of Molly and Kevin who were working with the Young Adults.  They suggested we come back to the church and have a worship night anyway.  It was a great night, but it wasn’t the same.  I wonder if sometimes you feel disappointed and if storms happen to you.  I was disappointed by the work that got washed away that night.

We all face storms in our life.  There’s people in this room whose storm is a relationship that ended.  Maybe it was a dating relationship.  Maybe it was an engagement or even a marriage.  When that relationship ended, it caused destruction, pain, hurt, and disappointment.  I know there’s people in this room that had careers, jobs, ministries or vocations that came to an end.  There was disappointment, hurt, pain, and change of expectation.  Maybe you got a phone call recently that changed your life, that caused disappointment or pain.  Maybe it had to do with your health or someone you loved, their health.  That pain is real.  Storms come and we can’t avoid them because they are part of our life.  The question isn’t how you can avoid the storm, but how do we get through those storms?

This summer we’ve been going through a series called The Sermon on the Mount: The Art of Human Flourishing.  Jesus’s sermon is recorded in Matthew, chapters 5 through 7.  It’s considered the greatest sermon ever.  I’ve enjoyed that we’ve taken the summer to go through each text of the sermon.  It’s been real challenging.  Some people think Jesus doesn’t really expect us to do those things.  Then why did he preach it?

Last week we heard about the narrow or wide gates.  We heard about true or false prophets.  Jesus is leading up to his conclusion in chapter 7 with two choices.  Now we’re at the end and we’re probably wondering the same thing the crowd was wondering — how is Jesus going to end? How is he going to finish his sermon?  Jesus finishes his sermon by sharing a story about two builders and they each made a choice.  Before we jump into the Scriptures, let’s pray and commit this to God.

Dear Lord, we thank you that we have your words, your Scripture.  God, we ask that your word would speak into each of our lives.  God, would you anoint this time and let your Spirit fill this place.  Teach us, each, what you have for us today.  We pray this in your name.  Amen.

If you have your Bible, I invite you to open it to Matthew 7: 24-25.  Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  We see that Jesus is speaking about a house.  This house survived the storm.  During the storm, the questions isn’t is the rain going to stop or what’s going to happen? but is the rain and the storm going to destroy this house?  Is the house that I built going to survive?  Is it going to endure?  Is it going to last?  Did you know that each of us are building a life?  Jesus talks about a storm against a house, but let’s look at the storm against our life, because each of us is building a life.  Building a life is a process and it’s ongoing.  It takes time.  We don’t get up here one day and say, “I’m done.  My house is ready.”  It’s a process.  I think we all want to build a life that lasts through a storm, that endures, that survives, because the reality is the storms come.  Today, Jesus wants us to understand how to build a life that survives that storm, because the storms come.  So, you might be asking the question:  What materials do we need to build a life that survives the storm?  There’s two things we’re going to look at from Jesus’s word.  I love the way that Jesus wants us to build a beautiful life, a life that flourishes.  Let’s dive into what that looks like.

In Matthew 7: 21, just a little bit before this, we’re going to read what Jesus said:  Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?”  Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you.  Away from me, your evildoers!”    This is harsh!  These people were doing things for Jesus; they were doing INCREDIBLE things for Jesus, but they were deceived.  They were deceived because they thought they knew Jesus and this was what Jesus wanted.  We can deceive ourselves into thinking we are Kingdom people doing things that Jesus wants, because of the gifts that we have, the gifts that we perform, the gifts that we’ve used.  But Jesus doesn’t know these people; there’s an absence of relationship.  They weren’t doing the Father’s will.  We know the Father’s will is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength.  AND to love your neighbor as yourself.  Doing God’s will is loving God and loving others.  John 17:3 says—Now this is eternal life; that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.    When Jesus becomes our greatest treasure, you don’t have to worry about losing that treasure.  Jesus is eternal life and he invites us to be in relationship with him.

So, what’s the first material we’re going to need?  The first material we need for building a life is a relationship with Jesus, not performance for Jesus.  These people were saying all these things I did in your name:  I prophesied.  I drove out demons.  I performed many miracles.  Those seem like good things, but they didn’t do it in relationship with Jesus.  Recently, our worship pastor, Aaron Bjorklund, said, “You know it isn’t good if Jesus extends his hand to you and has to say, ‘Hi, I’m Jesus.  What’s your name? It’s nice to meet you….finally.'”  That’s not good.  If Jesus is saying that to you, that means you’re not in relationship with Jesus.

There’s a difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing him personally.  If I know someone personally, I don’t know just things about them, but I know them well.  There’s a guy that probably most of you know, but not know personally, just like me.  I don’t know Peyton Manning personally, but I know a lot about Peyton Manning.  I can tell you things about Peyton Manning statistics–the different games he had, comebacks, Super Bowls.  But if Peyton Manning came up to me, he would probably extend his hand to me and say, “Hi, I’m Peyton Manning.  What’s your name?  It’s nice to meet you finally.”  He doesn’t know me.  I know a lot about him, but he doesn’t know me.  The same is true with our relationship with Jesus.  Our relationship with Jesus should be personal and intimate, life giving.  Jesus wants us to be in that close relationship with him.

How does being in a relationship with Jesus help us weather the storm?  Well, during a storm. . . .when I was little I was afraid of storms and I would run to where my parents were.  Were my parents going to stop the storm?  No.  My parents couldn’t control anything about the storm, but they gave me comfort and peace and safety and relationship.  Jesus does more than that.  Jesus CAN stop the storm, but he gives us comfort and safety and peace during the storm.

As parents, we provide things for our kids.  We provide things they need and sometimes things they just want but don’t really need.  We buy things, we help them, but if that’s all we ever did—just give them stuff, provided stuff for them—it would be kind of sad.  There wouldn’t be much of a relationship.  I’ll buy you these nice things and you can have fun with them for a little bit. . . . but that’s not a relationship.  Relationship looks like doing things with your kids, spending time together, making memories, going to their games, their activities, their performances, playing with them.  It’s being involved.  That’s a relationship.  It’s not just here’s some stuff.  Relationships are like that because presence is greater than presents.  We want to be near Jesus and Jesus wants us to be near him.  We don’t just want the stuff.

So maybe you don’t prophesy, maybe you don’t perform miracles, but maybe you give to the poor, maybe you come to church, maybe you look like you have it all together.  But without a relationship with Jesus, Jesus says, “I don’t know you!  Get away from me, you evildoer.”  Jesus doesn’t want our performance, he wants us to be in relationship with him.  That’s the first material that will help us survive the storm.

So what other material do we need?  Let’s go back to the story of the two builders.  Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus says this:  Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”   Jesus lays out very clearly that there’s two options.  The first man He called wise because he built his house on the rock.  In the storm, the house survived and it lasted.  It stood firm.  The second man He called a foolish man.  The foolish man built his house on the sand, and during the storm, that house was destroyed.

The second material we need in building a life that lasts the storm, that survives, endures the storm is to practice Jesus’s words, not to overlook Jesus’s words, not to ignore Jesus’s words, not to forget Jesus’s words.  Jesus wants us to practice his words.  In verse 24 it says: Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice….  When you put Jesus’s words into practice that is what Jesus is talking about in building a life that survives, that lasts through the storm.  It’s a process.  He doesn’t say, “Put these words of mine into completion and do it 100% well all the time.”  No!  He says practice it.  Start getting into the habit and the rhythms of what Jesus is talking about in the Sermon on the Mount.  He doesn’t expect perfection from us.

Building a life is a process, but so is building a house.  I remember when I was 14, my dad was building a house for our family and he involved me in the process.  I remember the first part of the house. . . .we had the guys come in and dig down and get the basement ready.  I remember thinking, “Why is this taking so long to get the basement ready?”  We don’t even see the basement!  From the outside you can see the first floor, the second floor, and the roof, but you don’t see the basement.  The basement doesn’t seem very important, but that foundation is what’s going to decide the fate of that house standing or being destroyed.

The same is true in our lives.  We need the foundation to be on the rock.  But what is Jesus talking about when he says the rock?  Several different things may come to mind when we think of ‘rock.’  The object (rock).  A kind of music.  There’s the actor.  Jesus used the Greek word petra.  Some of the older people in the church will think, “Petra!  Petra means rock, of course, because of the 80s rock band!”  It’s the same word Jesus used in Matthew 16:10 when Jesus was talking to Simon and He said, “I’m going to call you Petros.  I’m going to call you Peter, because on this rock I will build my church.”

Jesus is talking about a rock, but what would others think it meant?  They would think about a firm foundation that was steady, that was unchanging.  They also used rocks in war for protection, for weapons, for safety. . . .like a Mighty Fortress that we sang about today.  Rocks were large and unmovable.  They can give life. . . .in their crops, the limestone would erode and become nutrients so it’s life giving.  Throughout the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms, we here that ‘God is our rock.’  What did that mean?  Jesus is saying that the rock is a firm foundation.  God is our protector and our defender.  God is steady and unchanging.  He’s large and unmovable.  And he’s life giving.  Oh and this just in. . . .Jesus was preaching from a rock.  He was preaching the Sermon on the Mount on a rock.

Jesus then talks about the sand.  Where would you rather build your house. . . .on the rock or on the sand?  I think Jesus is trying to ask a silly question, because I think everyone would say, “That’s really foolish!  That’s silly!”  Why would anyone build a house on the sand?  Yeah, I think that was Jesus’s point.  When you think of sand, when they think of sand…   Some people try to build houses on the sand.  Those are called sandcastles.  Sandcastles are not suppose to endure storms or the waves.  You don’t see sandcastles last.  Sand is clearly not a firm foundation.  The way of Jesus IS a firm foundation.  We have a coffee shop named “Solid Grounds.”  Firm foundation, right?  We want to remember what that is.  On Christ the solid rock I stand // All other ground is sinking sand.  Our firm foundation is Jesus.

In this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus wants us to practice his words.  He wants us to practice reconciliation instead of anger.  He wants us to choose honesty instead of hiding.  He wants us to chose humility rather than retaliation.  He wants us to choose love and pray for our enemies.  He wants us to practice forgiving instead of being bitter.  He wants us to live out our faith for God instead of for the praise of others.  He wants us to choose the kingdom of God over money.  He’d rather we trust in Him rather than worry.  He wants us to choose to be a life-giving presence rather than condemning.  And He wants us to practice doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.

What would it look like if we did this?  If we practiced doing these things, practiced doing the words of Jesus?  The body of South Fellowship Church. . . .that would be an incredible thing if we practiced putting Jesus’s words into action.  James 1:22-24 says:   Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  We need to DO what Jesus says throughout the Scriptures. . . .do the will of your heavenly Father, not just listen and forget or overlook.

In the Ethos series sermon Ryan preached a few months ago about practice, he showed us twelve spiritual practices about how we can try to align ourselves with the grace and love God is pouring out.  Not trying to earn God’s favor or grace, but trying to practice posturing ourselves in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  They are:  Silence and solitude.  Simplicity.  Fasting.  Sabbath.  Secrecy.  Submission.  Bible reading and memorization.  Worship.  Prayer.  Soul friendships.  Personal reflection.  Service.  If that’s something you would like to continue looking at to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, not trying to earn God’s favor, here’s some ways that you can do that.  Maybe there’s some areas in your life, in my life, that I’m not putting into practice Jesus’s words, I would invite you this week, and even today, to think about what that is.  Is there things in Jesus’s words that I’m overlooking, I’m ignoring, I’m not wanting to put into practice because it’s too hard?  Confess those things to Jesus and start putting them into practice.

Now, Jesus lands the plane next.  Puts a nice bow on the sermon and finishes it nicely.  Oh no, wait, He didn’t!  Jesus says have a relationship with me, build your life on the rock, put my words into practice and. . . .mic drop, out!  Jesus doesn’t say all the details we’d like him to say, like what does it mean, what does it look like.  The people were so surprised!  Let’s look at what happens in the last two verses of this chapter (28-29).  When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.   The crowd was so amazed, dumbfounded, like wow! did Jesus just really say all of those things and just end the sermon like that?  I guess he did!  What are we suppose to do about that?  It’s over and now we have to make a choice.  I love how Eugene Peterson paraphrased that verse:   They had never heard teaching like this.  It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying — quite a contrast to their religious teachers!  Jesus was living it out and these people were like wow, all these things that Jesus just said?  Jesus is serious.  He didn’t say here’s some things that you should do if you can figure it out.  Jesus wants us to put these things into practice.

So what did they decide?  What did the crowd do?  We find out in the next verse (8:1) — When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him.   They chose.  It seemed like most of them chose to follow in the way of Jesus.  That reminds me of another time when the crowds left Jesus and he turns to his disciples and said, “Are you going to leave too?”  Peter looks at Jesus and says, “Where else would go, only you have the words of eternal life.”  Jesus’s life exemplified the person we want to follow.  And interestingly enough, in chapter 8, the disciples follow Him into a storm.

They had a choice.  And I have a choice.  And you have a choice.  {Look up at me for a second.} We ALL have a choice.  Will we choose to build our lives on the rock and to trust the Maker of the heavens and the earth?  Trust the Shepherd and His relationship?  I want you to feel invited to be in an intimate relationship with Jesus, because that’s what Jesus desires.  Jesus is both our Savior and our Rabbi.  The invitation of Jesus is to participate with Him. . . .in relationship, in putting His words into practice, which leads to obedience in the way of Jesus, with the heart of Jesus.  I know it might be easier, temporarily, to say no, no, I can’t do that, but the reality is the storms of life are going to come.  When the storms come, are you going to last through the storms or are you going to be destroyed?

There was a man, in 1871, that lost his business in the great Chicago fire.  In the same year, he and his wife had a son die of pneumonia.  Two years later, his family was traveling across the Atlantic ocean, but right before the ship left, he remembered something and said, “I’ll meet up with you on the other side.  I’ll take another boat.”  That ship didn’t make it.  That ship went down.  His wife somehow survived, but the four daughters were lost.  As Horatio Spafford traveled on a boat to meet his grieving wife, he penned these lyrics:  When peace like a river, attendeth my way // When sorrows like sea billows roll // Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say // It is well, it is well, with my soul.   What did he build his life on?  What was his anchor in the tragedies of his life?  What did he do?  He knew his Shepherd.  Not just about God, but he had an intimate relationship with Jesus.  He built his life on the rock and he put Jesus’s words into practice.  This is a choice we all have.  What will you choose?

Lord Jesus, I thank you for your words.  I thank you for your challenge.  God, I ask that you would be showing us and inviting us into a closer and intimate relationship with you.  Jesus, I thank you for all the words that you taught in this sermon.  I ask you to show us, each, how we can start putting into practice your words and your truth.  God, I thank you that even during the storms you are with us and we can trust wholly in you.  We thank you, in Jesus’s name.  Amen.

Sermon on the Mount | Building a Life | Matthew 7:21-29 | Week 142021-02-22T09:03:24-07:00

Sermon on the Mount | False Prophets – Then & Now | Matthew 7:13-20 | Week 13

SERMON ON THE MOUNT: False Prophets–Then & Now  Mt. 7:13-20

Pastor Ryan reads Scripture from Matthew 7:13-20 — Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.  Watch out for false prophets.  They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  By their fruit you will recognize them.  Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

{AJ begins by showing a video on stars and narrates it.   Portion:  As beautiful as they are…are they an end in themselves, or a means to greater questions?  Are stars the point?  Or do they point to the point?  Is there a thing under the thing under the thing?  Perhaps…not a what, but who.  Maybe Dante was right when he said that “love moves the sun and all the other stars.”  These have been the questions since the days of old, since our ancestors laid on their backs and connected them in shapes.  Maybe this is the message of the stars guiding light, if we are willing to get out of our heads, to stop looking down into battery powered screens and to look up…..transcendent electricity.  Stars…..millions and billions of stars; such beautiful sparks they are.}

So God, would you awaken us to your presence, to the reality that you are?  I pray that you would bring us into a larger cosmic story of what’s unfolding in all the universe that we get to play a part of.  So this morning, God, would we encounter your nearness, your presence, your grace, your love….and be drawn in to who you are.  In Jesus’s name.  Amen.

My name’s AJ.  I’m from Grand Rapids, Michigan.  It’s really good to be here.  Here’s a question I want to begin with:  Can we go deep this morning?  Is that okay?  Richard Foster had this amazing sentence in his work, Celebration of Discipline, when he says, “The world’s greatest need today isn’t for intelligent people or cool people or innovative people.  All that’s well and good.  The world’s greatest need right now is for deep people.  People who are thinking deeply about good questions about life and beginning to live in accordance with what they’re discovering.”

In America, I’ll suggest this, fifty years ago, God was largely assumed, so the temptation was to doubt.  In America today, God is largely ignored and the temptation is to believe.  We’ve entered a kind of cultural moment where the longing for something transcendent is returning.  I think we’re discovering the career ladder isn’t enough and that our consumer habits don’t quite satisfy like they once did.  And more technology has only led to increased anxiety.  Do you remember the fax machine?  When that came out, everyone thought finally, we can rest, right?  I think many are beginning once again to ask the great questions, curious if maybe there is something beyond the stars.  Maybe what you’re going to hear for the next few minutes isn’t actually for you, but it’s for your colleague, for your neighbor, to better understand the cultural moment that we’re in, that we can begin to sort of say that’s the frame of the twenty-first century American life.  How do I actually live within that frame given my neighbors and given my friendships and given my family members, who are just now moving out of cynicism and beginning to say maybe there is something beyond our grasp….something beyond that maybe just knows our names and maybe calls us the beloved. There’s a haunting suspicion, I think, that’s returning to the twenty-first century western hemisphere.  The haunting suspicion is that perhaps the cosmos is, in fact, enchanted with the divine, and that’s it’s not all just probability and a collision of molecules.

Transcendence is all over our films.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed the emergence of Marvel and Arrival.  Even movies like The Greatest Showman, A Wrinkle in Time, Stranger Things, Walking Dead…..everyone’s searching for narratives that are pushing us beyond ourselves.  Almost like something pushing us beyond our grasp.  There’s a return in the twenty-first century, post-secular west to, sort of, longing for something greater than what we can manufacture.  Longing for something that might just be beyond our grasp that’s going to take a kind of faith leap to move toward.  I think our culture is obsessed with transcendence.  In major cities in America, like Denver, steeped in a post-secular worldview, the big questions are returning:  Is there a god?  Is this god relationally available?  Does this god have a name?  I love the chilling phrase by the agnostic writer from London, Julian Barnes: “I don’t believe in God….but I miss him.”

So I’m suggesting what is beginning to break through in our culture once again is an opening to transcendence, an opening to possibility.  What this doesn’t mean, necessarily, is an opening to Jesus.  This doesn’t mean, okay, great, Christendom’s returning…..that’s not what this means.  It just means that there is a new sort of understanding, a new longing, for something beyond the self.

So what does this have to do with the text this morning?  In that kind of a cultural milieu, that kind of a cultural moment…what I want to suggest is that prophets of all kind are rushing to fill the gap with their own ideas of what this transcendence could be, of what this life means, of what this God or these gods or this meaning beyond the cosmos, fill-in-the-blanks as to what it could be, to chase that kind of a life down.  An uptick in podcasts and books and sermons and social media posts and tours…..all of these voices trying to fill in the gap and capitalize on the transcendence moments.  Those are our prophets for today.  The prophets from all over that are trying to define what life now means as we sort of wake up from a technological hangover.  What does it mean to live fully human?

I want to define prophets, this morning, as simply this because there’s so much confusion around this.  I would simply say prophets are—-I’m steeling this definition from author Mike Breen.  He says prophets do two things: They forth-tell and they foretell. Those are the two vocations of the prophet.  Some prophets try to define the present moment—they’re forth-telling.  In other words, they’re trying to make sense of all of the chaos of life, all of the sort of confusions and all of the particularities of life.  They’re trying to make sense of it into a cohesive whole.  They’re forth-telling what is happening in our time, right?  Often it’s insightful, when you feel like someone has such an altitude that they’re trying to take all this scattered data and minutiae and actually wield it into a cohesive whole, where you’re like, oh, that makes a lot of sense to me.  Do you know people like this?  There’s another kind of prophet as well.  Not just those who forth-tell, but those who foretell.  Who often paint a sort of picture of the future, right?  Some prophets do both—forth-tell and foretelling, both present and future.

Let me walk us through our text.  I just want to hit a couple of these verses and then I just want to say two things.  Matthew 7:13-20 — Enter through the narrow gate.  There’s so much cultural baggage that we sort of import into every text based on where we come from, our tradition, and even where we are.  I think, when he says enter through the narrow gate, it might mean truth is not always obvious.  Truth is often something that you might miss is you’re not looking for it.  The reality might not be in plain sight.  It’s buried under layers of cultural illusion.  Culture upon culture upon culture and prophet upon prophet upon prophet has built a kind of understanding of the world that when you’re looking for truth, it might be narrow and hard to find.  It might not be so obvious. The path that leads to the kingdom is riddled with paradox, things that you wouldn’t have thought or assumed.  In other words, truth sometimes takes some searching for before it’s found.  I don’t think this means God is making it hard for us to find him, as if God is in this sort of divine game of hide-and-seek.  I think it means the world as we know it has drifted so far from reality that the kingdom of God is really hard to find.  There’s going to have to be a sense of agency and longing and desire and passion to seek what is real amidst all of the noise.

The text goes on where Jesus says:  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.  I don’t think this means that God only cares for a few people.  I think rather it might mean that in this world that we’re in, there’s not very many people who are interested in a crucified God.  That’s not like a popular thing.  That’s not trending right now on Twitter….where can I find the God that loses in order to win?  How do I chase that pattern in my life?  Philippians 2 — We all want narratives of victory where it’s just one success after another.  That’s not actually the pattern of Jesus….these deep troughs that lead to a new height.

The text goes on to say:  Watch out for false prophets.  Here’s why.  In every environment in which history has always found herself, including this one, false prophets fill the gap to sell you their vision.  That’s what it means to be a false prophet.  It’s to capitalize on the cultural moments, often for profits.  Often for some sort of name building.  Often for something else in a very different direction.  Often for the celebrity culture that we find ourselves in that the church herself has bought into.  That’s often how we recognize these things.  Jesus says: They come to you in sheep’s clothing, {They’re not obvious.} but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.   This is offensive for post-modern, sensible humans living in the twenty-first century west.  Jesus is offensive.  I think this is the challenge of this part.  Jesus is saying listen, truth-seeker, it’s going to be hard for you to discern what’s true and what’s illusion.  It’s going to take some work on your end not to be so naïve, because you sometimes won’t know what’s true from what’s false.  You’ll sometimes buy into false vision that isn’t actually from Me, that isn’t obvious.  False prophets and true prophets, Jesus is saying here, both appear the same, and you have to learn to look for motives, because they’re driven by different things and they’re pointing towards different ends.  By their fruit you will recognize them.   In other words, it’s often after somebody’s ministry plays out that you can discern fact from fiction.  You can see what’s the fruit of this person’s ministry.

He concludes by saying:  Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Here’s the question I want to sit on for a few minutes.  What do two false prophets look like in our church context today?  It would be good to discern that, particularly in a moment where institutions (particularly the church) has a lot of suspicion from the world because of the ways we have mismanaged our authority.  The ways that we have politicized and manipulated authority.  The ways that we’ve covered up the authority that we had to help raise children and exploited that for sexual purposes.  Pick your poison!  There has been so much that has been hacking at the roots of the foundation of the integrity of the church.  So how does the church wake up to discern what is fact from fiction?

I think the first is that we have to become aware of false prophets of duty.  One of the ways we can discern false prophets of duty in a religious context is that false prophets of duty always shift us from abiding to attending.  This idea of filling in programs.  This idea of doing the attending thing—filling seats.  Voices that call you back to the ‘what’ but can’t articulate the ‘why.’  That are just like come in and do the thing, check the box and you’re in.  What happens with false prophets of duty is conservatives are vulnerable because it’s often the way conservatives brains are wired.  They are often vulnerable to false prophets are duty—-do your part, do what you were raised to do.  You don’t have to question it, just do it, just sit in that.  I think large amounts of well-intended Christians sitting in churches on Sundays, in the greater Denver area, are doing it out of a sense of duty.  We just show, that’s what we do, that’s what we’ve been asked to do is just fill seats and give when the budgets down, and hopefully this is all going to be just fine.  There’s sort of an equation that happens in any local church……as the sense of duty, as ‘shoulds’ goes up, the sense of Presence goes down.  The sense of longing and passion and conviction wanes, when all you are asked to do is fill seats, check boxes, and come back next week.  That’s a religious spirit that doesn’t actually open to the full Presence of God.  So many people in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I live and pastor, are simply showing up on Sunday mornings to put in time in churches all over that city, and hoping to get out in time to beat the lunch crowd.

I was recently in a conversation with a worn-out Christian who said, “I think for a lot of Christian folks who grew up in the church here….it’s a struggle because so much of our faith was built on “people will know we are Christians because we don’t……”   We don’t drink, we don’t have premarital sex, we don’t believe in gay marriage, we don’t smoke week, we don’t say blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.  It just went on and on and on.   He wasn’t saying those things are well and good and do whatever you want, he was saying where can we drink from the well of life rather than attending the fences of duty.  Is this a community that is defined by your fences, or is there a well that we are calling us to centralize our lives around that leads to a kind of vibrancy where the kingdom of God flows?  Where the fruits of what Jesus is talking about here of true prophets is welcomed and that the presence of God is the most desirable reality in our midst.

For Christians, the aim of this move toward transcendence…..if the culture is moving back toward transcendence, for the Christian, that aim is the radical transformative presence of Christ in our midst, not attending functions that keep us in good social standing.  If you find yourself back here at church and you don’t know why, but you know what I’m talking about and it’s just not life-giving—this sort of what you inherited growing up.  And somewhere along the line you chucked it—-who needs that?  On behalf of pastors all over the world, I just want to apologize, for leaders like me that are more interested with nickels and noses and meeting budgets and attendance forms and filling in programs than we are designing a community where the presence of God is the center of our existence, where we take risks, and we long for the Spirit, and we long for life and more life, and for grace, and for vulnerability.  I just want to pray this confession over you.  This might not mean anything to you, but if it does, receive this from someone that works as a pastor at a church.

Dear Guest:  We the followers of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, confess that we, at times, attempt to shrink God down to our size.  We are truly sorry.  Dear Guest:  We confess, at times, that we are far more interested in looking down in judgment and unforgiveness rather than looking up in awe and wonder; looking in to confess our own hypocrisy rather than looking out and caring for the oppressed.  We’re truly sorry.  Dear Guest: We confess that doubt is real, that mystery is real, and that sometimes we try to fake answers rather than sit with hard questions.  We’re really sorry.  Dear Guest:  We confess that taming God in the name of religion and apologize for ways we restrict the mysterious ways of the Spirit’s presence to fit our worldview.  We’re really sorry.    Dear Guest:  Would you kindly be patient with us?  You are always welcome here.  Always feel free to come and doubt with us and also re-believe with us as we gather together to seek the mystery and wonder of the God who was made manifest in Christ Jesus, the crucified and resurrected King, who will return and make all things new.

One of the things Ryan said to me, last night over dinner, is how he longs for this community to become a community where we practice together.  Where we just don’t attend.  We live life in such a way that we attend toward the presence of God and we show up with practices that help us actually move into and encounter the Divine.  I affirm that and I think that’s beautiful that you have a pastor that wants to move you beyond a sense of duty and attendance.

Second and the last prophet I see a lot in the church today, and I think the one that grieves me most, is the false prophet of deconstruction.  I don’t know if you’ve experienced this here yet, but you will.  It is happening everywhere right now in the U.S.   If the shift of false prophets of duty was from abiding to attending, the shift for false prophets of deconstruction is from abiding to ambiguity. Somehow moving away and distancing ourselves from the incredible mystery we have discovered in Jesus.  I cannot tell you how many podcasts I hear right now where speakers are getting large audiences through simply tearing things down rather than building anything up.  Where someone is very articulate about what they’re against, but cannot precisely name what they’re for.  Where the foundation of love is rooted in an ambiguous sentiment rather than the specific name of Jesus.

Like duty, I think deconstruction is to move away from seeking the Presence and relying on doubt as one’s central value.  Don’t get me wrong…..and this is so true for those I find in their 30s and 40s who, growing up, weren’t given permission to doubt.  It was almost like that’s wrong.  But here’s the thing—doubt is real, but doubt is never the goal.  The aim of our faith isn’t to doubt.  The aim of our doubts is to move back toward trust.  That’s not certitude, that’s a very different thing.  Doubt is always validated as part of the journey.  If you’re here this morning and you’re like yeah, I’m tired of cheap answers and I’m tired of people thinking they could solve everything and all the mysteries of the universe, there’s a place for doubt and mystery and transcendence that we don’t know, but we’re going to sit in that anyway and it’s hard.  Here’s the thing—Doubt is always validated as part of the journey, but doubt is never celebrated as the destination.  There is not one New Testament passage that celebrates doubt.  It’s valid, but it’s not the goal.  It’s not the aim.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about yet, you will.

Trust in the Presence within the midst of our doubts in the aim.  Allegiance to the kingdom.  Loyalty.  This is the meaning of faith.  This is the meaning of pistis.  Faith doesn’t mean the absence of doubt.  Faith doesn’t mean all things will become certain.  Faith means we trust into the mystery of what we know.

There’s this beautiful church in Paris called St. John/St. Louis.  They had this artist install this light exhibit and the artist did this.  {Picture of a lit question mark.}  You look down to the altar and you see this big question mark.  The artist beautifully validated the reality that we just don’t know everything.  We come to church not because we have all the answers….because doubt is real and uncertainty happens.  You walk in with tons of questions about God, especially if you’re in a time of pain.  Who’s Jesus?  Is God real?  Can God be trusted?  As you walk that aisle toward what is signified symbolically as the center of that church, which signifies the presence—where God is most present in the Eucharist there—what happens is the light ends of looking like this.  As you get closer and closer to the center, to the well, and you move further and further away from the outside walls…..what you realize is that it’s not that the questions, the mysteries, or the doubts go away, but it’s that they get resized in the Presence.  That as you move toward the presence of God, we experience something far greater than our doubts; we experience divine embrace.  It doesn’t solve all of our questions, but it puts them in a context where we can hold them and still believe and still walk forward.

If conservatives are vulnerable to prophets of duty, progressives are vulnerable to prophets of deconstruction.  It’s the way our brains are wired.  Doubt is real.  Doubt is hard.  It feels like a never-ending valley that breeds cynicism and critique and joylessness.  I say this because I was once the guy who went around trying to pop everyone’s faith balloon.  I realized I had a lot to say against what people believed, but I didn’t have much to say about what I believed.  It was easier to critique other people’s beliefs than to have the courage to muster a faith of my own.

You cannot detour deconstruction—where you tear what you inherited down, right?  You cannot detour deconstruction if you want to grow.  But you cannot live in it forever if you want to flourish.  Deconstruction is kind of like Las Vegas…..you should drive through it, but you don’t want to make a life there.  Deconstruction without eventual reconstruction will lead to a life of demolition.  It will impact the lives and the relationships of the people around you.

Three quick things:  1) If we’re to become proficient and skilled at discerning what is true and what’s false with the voices that are coming toward us in life, the prophets, I think the first thing is Abide in Jesus.  Figure out what that means for you.  What does John 15 mean?  It seems to me this was Jesus’s famous last words before his death.  If you miss everything in the ministry and life and teaching of Jesus…..ABIDE with me, he says, and then you will bear good fruit.  So go figure out what John 15 means in your life.  May that become the central pursuit of your existence.

Number two, know the Scriptures.  Tether yourself to the words of God so that you can discern truth from pop philosophy, truth from false prophets.  Tether yourself to the Scriptures, know them, have them in your heart.  This Sermon on the Mount, we memorized it when I was in ministry fifteen years ago.  A friend of mine was here yesterday at the enneagram event…..we got tattoos about it (the Sermon on the Mount).  All these guys across the country have these matching tattoos about becoming the teaching…..what does it mean to live the Sermon on the Mount, right?

The third thing is this:  walk in community.  These are all basic.  These are not rocket science.  Do you have a few people that really know you, that walk with you?  That can laugh when you laugh and mourn when you mourn?  That you can share the highs and lows and know that they’re going to stick with you, they’re going to walk with you, and they’re going to be with you on your journey.  I have found that fewer and fewer people in the church can say yes to that question.  That’s a hard moment, but it’s an opportunity.

I think if the church can figure out these three things, she’ll have an incredible witness for the world of what it means to name this transcendence and to move into God.

Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.  Watch out for false prophets.  They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  By their fruit you will recognize them.  Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.   The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sermon on the Mount | False Prophets – Then & Now | Matthew 7:13-20 | Week 132019-02-18T00:51:09-07:00

Sermon On The Mount | Standing in the Gap | Matthew 7:7-12 | Week 12

SERMON ON THE MOUNT: Standing in the Gap  Matthew 7:7-12

I grew up in an era where we didn’t wear helmets for everything that was even a little bit dangerous, therefore, we had the chance to play games on the playground that mattered.  One of those games was entitled “Red Rover.”  Red Rover is a game where you link arms with other people and there’s other people across from you with linked arms as well, and you say, “Red rover, red rover, send Ryan right over.”  When your name’s called, you have to run and try your best to break through the human chain that’s on the other side, without getting captured.  I’ve found that there’s two types of people in life — there are people who love to hear their name called in “Red Rover,” and there are people who hate to hear their name called in “Red Rover.”

I think life is a little bit like “Red Rover.”  I think life in the kingdom of God can feel a little bit like “Red Rover.”  If you’ve been here the last few months, here’s what you’ve heard Jesus invite you to so you live life knowing that you’re blessed regardless of your circumstances.  You live life, in the kingdom of God, becoming more and more free from anger; becoming more and more free from lust; becoming more and more honest about who you are—the good things about you, the shortcomings you have.  You live in the kingdom learning to love your enemies instead of persecuting them, to bless people instead of cursing them—people that do you wrong.  You learn how to live a life of prayer.  You learn how to be a non-anxious presence in the world.  You learn how to trust your Good Father for everything that you need.  You begin to learn not to judge the people around you, but to be for them.

Then Jesus releases you into the world and he says, “Go!  Be salt and light.”  And there’s two types of people—there’s people that want to be salt and light and they want to bowl everybody over, don’t they?  They’ve got the truth and they want you to hear it.  Red rover, red rover, send Ryan right over.  They’re like yes and amen, let’s do this.  Then there’s people who sort of want to sit back a little bit more, maybe even want to sit on their hands, and they go, “If I could be silent salt and silent light, that would be great!  I’m going to choose that and I’m not going to engage much with the world around me.”  I don’t know if either of those options is the option that Jesus would choose.  In fact, I’m confident that neither of them work because they don’t reflect the life that He lived and they don’t reflect the life that He invites you and I to live either.  There’s this tension, isn’t there?  How do we live in the kingdom of God?  How do we live interacting with the people around us?  The people around us who wrong us?  The people around us who do us wrong—the family, the neighborhood, the friends that we’re just at odds with sometimes?  Do we bowl them over?  Or do we sit on our hands and do nothing?  Hold our tongue?

Jesus would say there’s a third way.  Open your Bible to Matthew 7:7-12.  He’s going to talk about this third way.  This section that we’re going to be looking at flows directly out of the section we studied last week.  If you weren’t here, let me give you a one minute synopsis from last week.  Jesus says do not judge.  We said there’s two definitions of that word ‘judge.’  One definition means simply to discern.  To see something as right or wrong, or to identify what a thing in front of you is.  That’s a judgment.  That’s not the type of judgment Jesus is talking about.  We make those kind of judgments all the time.  In fact, you can’t read the Sermon on the Mount without having a lens towards discernment.  Some things are better than others, Jesus says.  The judgment Jesus talks about, though, is when we take the gavel and we look somebody else in the eye and we don’t just say you’re wrong about this, we say you’re wrong period, and we say you’re condemned, you’re guilty.  What Jesus says is that’s not a way to live where you embody the kingdom.  He ends that section by saying, “Don’t give to dogs what is sacred and don’t throw your pearls to pigs.”  Now, are pearls a good thing?  Valuable, right?  What can pigs do with pearls though?  Not a whole lot.  Pearls are good, but pigs can’t do anything with them.  What Jesus wants to say to you and I is it is great to say true things, but don’t just say true things, say true things that are also helpful.  Live in the way of wisdom.  Be discerning about the world around you.

Then He jumps right into this passage.  Before we go there, my guess is that most people in this room have heard this passage taught a certain way.  What I’d like you to do is try to come to the text with fresh eyes, because I don’t think it’s about what you think it’s about.  Matthew 7:7-12 — Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.  Ask. Seek. Knock.

How many of you have been taught that this is about prayer?  Ask, seek, knock.  I certainly have.  Here’s the only problem with that—-verses 1-12 are one thought from Jesus.  Verse 1—He says do not judge.  Verse 12—He gives you the opposite of being a judgmental presence in the world.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.  It’s this thread that Jesus is pulling through this teaching.  I don’t think verses 7 and 8 are about prayer.  I don’t think it’s about asking God.  I think it’s actually an approach we take to other people that Jesus is talking about.  Before you put your Bible in your pocket and go no, this is about prayer and I’m out of here, Paulson, let me say that there are portions of this passage that are about prayer.  But the primary thrust is about the way that you interact with the people around you, the way that you treat the people around you, and the presence that you carry into your workplace, into your neighborhood, and into your family.  If I could summarize these twelve verses, with a little help from my friend Dallas Willard, here’s what I would say:  Instead of trying to control and condemn people with our judgments and pearls (our wisdom), we approach them in humility, while simultaneously standing before our Good Father with our requests for them.  This passage, I believe, is about how to be released into a red rover world, where we don’t just bowl over the people around us and we don’t just sit on our hands and zip our mouth and keep quiet, it’s about how to be a kingdom presence in our world.  These verses, specifically, I might summarize as:  We navigate the tension of life in two kingdoms through thoughtful interaction and bold intercession.  Thoughtful interaction with the people around us, and bold intercession to the God who is for us.

Look at this passage again with me because I think there’s going to be some things that start to stand out.  Remember, Jesus has just talked about operating in a way of wisdom, not just giving people things that are true, but looking at who they are and where they are and what’s going on in their life.  He says listen, don’t throw your pearls before pigs; it’s good, it’s valuable, but they can’t do anything with them.  Then He goes DIRECTLY into this passage:  Ask, Seek, Knock.  Without the heading, it just flows one into the other (verse 7) — Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  Jesus is talking, I believe, about the way that we interact with the people around us.  He goes in sort of ascending order of urgency.  If someone’s right in front of you, ask them questions.  If someone is not near you, is distant from you, seek them out.  If there’s a wall or a door between you and someone else—which if you’ve ever lived in a family or had friendships, you know that has a tendency to happen sometimes, yes?  Jesus says when it does…knock.  Don’t break down the door and force yourself in.  Knock.  That’s how you operate, that’s how you interact in the world around you.  You humbly pursue others.  That’s what a kingdom ethic and a kingdom life looks like.

Let’s take each one of these and ask a few questions about it; dissect these a little bit.  Ask — When people are in close proximity to you, ask.  Asking is different than forcing yourself in, is it not?  Asking allows you to stand with somebody rather than against somebody.  Asking isn’t a debate.  Asking is a communal seeking after what’s true.  Don’t picture yourself on the other side of the line; picture yourself with your arm right next to and around the other.  I love the way Dallas Willard put it:  “Asking is the great law of the spiritual world through which things are accomplished in cooperation with God and yet in harmony with the freedom and worth of every individual.”  There is great power in asking.  In asking questions.  You know who knows this?  Your kids!  They did a study and found out that 4-year-olds ask 437 questions every single day.  I read the study twice just to be sure they didn’t mean before breakfast!  {Can I get an amen?!}  Sometimes our kids ask so many questions, Kelly and I are like….I can’t…we just can’t anymore!  We give up!  But our kids know that there’s power in questions.  I love the way John Maxwell, the great leadership guru, put it:  “Good questions inform, but great questions transform.”

You know who knew this?  Jesus.  If you were to do a study and you were to take the four Gospels written about Jesus’s life and you were to take a month and read through them and write down every time Jesus asks a question, in four accounts of Jesus’s life, you would find over 300 questions that He asked.  Questions like….  To the disciples—Why are you so afraid? (Matthew 8:26)  To Peter:  Who do you say that I am? (Matthew 16:15)  To the disciples:  Do you believe? (Matthew 21:22)  To James and John:  What do you want me to do for you? (Mark 10:36)  To the Rich Man: Why do you call me good? (Luke 18:19)  Let’s have a conversation about goodness.  To John’s disciples:  What are you looking for? (John 1:38)  To the Samaritan Woman: Will you give me a drink? (John 4:7)  To the woman caught in the act of adultery:  Who condemns you? (John 8:10)  To the paralytic:  Do you want to get well? (John 5:6)

Question:  How many of those questions does Jesus not know the answer to?  Let’s try this on for size.  He knows the answer to every single question.  Why in the world does he spend most of his ministry responding to questions with other questions and speaking into what seems to be clear questions?  I was taught in seminary that a good sermon is one people walk away from with clarity.  You know who’d disagree with that?  Jesus!  Most people walked away from his teaching going, “I’m not sure what to do with that.”  I don’t have a category to put that in.  It seems as though Jesus was way more interested in the conversation than He was in clarity, because here’s what He knows:  Truth imposed will never be truth received.  If you have kids that you want to learn to love and follow Jesus…..say it with me, “Truth imposed will not be truth received.”

So maybe, just maybe, we have to get a little bit better at asking questions.  Eric Nevins, one of our former elders, hosts a podcast show where he interviews different people, called “Halfway There.”  One time on Facebook he posted this question to his listening audience:  What’s the best question you’ve ever been asked?  I thought, “That’s a great….that might be the best question I’ve ever been asked.”  Somebody from our church responded, “The best question I’ve ever been asked is who are you?”  Another person from our community said, “If you could live without fear, what would you do?”  Another person asked, “Where’s the beef?”  I don’t know what you do with that one.  What if we got a lot better at asking questions?  Who are you?  If you weren’t afraid, what would you do?   Maybe we got better at asking questions of other people—people that maybe had a different perspective of faith.  Maybe we start it by just asking what they think.  Maybe we follow that question up with this great question:  How did you come to that conclusion?  Without putting them down, but just opening yourself up.  Here’s the deal:  You might learn something.  You’ll certainly learn something about them.  You might learn something about God.  What if we followed that up with:  If what you believe is true, would the world be a better place?  See how questions could be a thread that you start to ask somebody and they start to open people up?  Jesus knew that.  Ask he says.

What if we got better at asking ourselves questions?  What if we got better at asking ourselves things like:  Am I becoming more approachable to people?  Am I becoming more aware of the people around me?  Am I becoming more of a listening presence?  Do I appreciate people?  Do I say thank you?  Who am I becoming? What if you got better at asking yourself those questions?  Jesus says ASK.  It’s one of the laws just woven into the cosmos….ASK!

Then he says SEEK.  Seek people that are just out of reach.  There’s great power in questions and there’s great power in presence.  Seek people out.  It’s easier to be preoccupied than it is to be present, isn’t it?  In Jesus’s day, there was a dividing wall between Jews and Greeks, and it made a vacuum (a chasm) between them that couldn’t be crossed.  If Jesus were to say the same thing today, I think he would say that there’s a great chasm of technology.  Your phones often stand between you!  You’re tweeting and texting people that are miles away, and yet the person right in front of you is often ignored.  Seek. . . .become present where you are.  You can be some place and not be there, you know that, right?  From infancy, our bodies tell us we were wired for connection, so moms and dads look at a baby and they establish what psychologists call “attunement,” where they just start to have a resonance between them and life is given to this child just by looking at them.  The same thing happens as we get older.  You can establish connection, you can seek after people, just by showing up.  Showing up at a play, showing up at a game, showing up at a concert.  We want to be wanted.  It’s where our hearts start to open up.  That’s true in marriages, it’s true in friendship, it’s true in life.  Friends, before you speak up. . . .SHOW up.

It’s what Jesus is saying. . . .SEEK.  It’s the way He interacts with us.  When asked what his mission was, Jesus says His mission is to seek and to save the lost. (Luke 19:10)   Paul goes on to write that while we were yet enemies of God, He loved us and gave himself up for us. (Romans 5:8)  He has been seeking after you since the day that you were born.  That’s good news!  He’s saying, “Just emulate the way that I’ve gone after you.”  Seek as opposed to judging or condemning.  Seek as opposed to giving up.  Seek as opposed to ignoring.  Seek people, be present with them.

Finally, He says KNOCK.  Where there’s separation of some kind, ask for the invitation in.  We live in a broken world, and our goal is not to avoid the darkness.  Our goal is not to just say, “Red rover, red rover, send Ryan right over.”  I’m so glad you called my name!  But rather, it’s to bring light, to bring hope, to bring into the pain.  Jesus models this for us in Revelation 3:20, where he says to the church at Laodicea:  Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  As opposed to the Roman soldiers who demanded hospitality.  When they came to your door, they could beat it down, and you had to bring them in, you had to give them a place to stay, you had to give them a meal.  Jesus says that’s not the way I operate.  I’m inviting you to invite me in.  What Jesus knows is what Soren Kierkegaard, the great Danish philosopher, wrote years and years later:  “All the power in the world cannot unlock the door to the human heart.  It must be opened from the inside.”  So we ask for permission rather than lobbing truth bombs.  We love as a way to influence.  That’s the way that we stand in this middle ground, not bowling people over and not just zipping our mouth and sitting on our hands.  We ask and we seek and we knock.

If you’re looking for some resources this week, can I recommend two books to you?  One is called The Allure of Gentleness by Dallas Willard.  You may pick up that I’m sort of fond of him.  I think he’s brilliant.  It’s an approach to evangelism and apologetics that’s both witty and brilliant and respectful of the people you interact with.  That’s how Jesus interacted with people.  The second book that I think is really engaging and interesting is called Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did by Randy Newman.  Jesus engaged people’s hearts by asking questions.  Both those books may be a great way for you to start asking, seeking and knocking in the lives of other people that you have the chance to interact with.

Some of you are going, okay, Paulson, that part I can get on board with, but what do you do with Matthew 7:9? Let’s go there.  Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?   {It’s a rhetorical question.  Who would do that?  No one.  Pause.  Some of you have a narrative going on in your head where you go well, I know some fathers who are really evil, who have done bad things.  I know there are some people in this room. . . .you have been deeply wounded by parents in your life—parents who have let you down.  The reason that feels so wrong for us and the reason we push back against these words of Jesus, I think actually validate his argument.  We go that’s messed up.  That’s wrong.  That’s contrary to the way that we were created.  I think our rebuke of that actually validates Jesus’s argument, where we go yeah, you’re right.  Who would do that, and if somebody did we’d say that’s messed up.}  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil,  {though you’re broken, though you’re wicked, though you’re messed up}  know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Here’s what Jesus does.  Remember, it’s in the context of judgment and how we interact with the people around us.  What Jesus does is give you this principle—ask, seek, knock—and then He gives you an illustration of the power of asking, and seeking, and knocking.  He says listen, it works with God; might it work with everyone else?  What Jesus is talking about here in the context of this passage, I believe, is intercession.  We stand in the middle of these two worlds—the kingdom world and the empire world.  The world that we long for and that’s here and that we have to choose, and the world that’s natural and everywhere around us and people wrong us and hurt us and it’s broken and it’s painful and we have questions.   We stand in the middle of both of those worlds with this confidence that God is present.  That God’s here.  That He loves us.  That He’s good. {Look up at me for just a moment.}  When I believe that God is present, that He hears and that He’s good, I don’t need to control all the people and the circumstances around me.  I don’t need to lob my judgments.  I can simply step back and ask and seek and knock with the conviction that God is at work.

Here’s what Jesus is not saying in this passage.  Jesus is not saying, “If you pray for something, you’re automatically going to get it.”  You only have to live long enough, or pray enough prayers, or bury enough people young who you deeply love, to know that’s not true.  And if you think it’s true, do an experiment for me.  This week, will you pray for a Rolls Royce?  Not just for you, pray for one for me also!  No, no, that’s not what Jesus is saying.  You may have heard it taught that way.  It’s not what He’s saying.  Can we just for a moment take a step back and say, “Praise God!” that’s not what he’s saying.  Because how many of us, if we knew we got everything we prayed for, would keep praying?  That’s a great burden to bear, is it not?  To think that you’re wiser than God, so anything you ask for He has to give you.  How many of you thank God for unanswered prayers?  Yeah.  No, no, if we believe that God is powerful enough to say yes—lean in for a second—we must also believe He’s wise enough to know whether or not He should.  Not even Jesus got everything He prayed for.  Take that in!  That’s not what Jesus is saying.

What is Jesus saying?  Jesus is saying God loves giving good gifts to his kids.  Every time you see a father or a mother delight in giving something good to their kids, they’re reflecting God in heaven.  He loves giving good things to his kids.   About four years ago, Ethan was just about to turn five years old.  We were on a little bit of a budget that year and he wanted one of these toy ATVs.  We found one on Craig’s List.  We found one in Castle Rock and went and got it and cleaned it all up and charged up the battery.  He opened it on Christmas morning and was beside himself!  Oh my goodness, mom and dad, thank you so much!!    He got on it, in the snow in the backyard, and started to go around the backyard.  He made it around maybe half the backyard.  The battery gave out and the back wheel stopped working.  I was like, “Ha! Gotcha!!”  NO, I WASN’T!  I’m not an evil father!  Kelly and I were both like. . . .oh my gosh! In order to save a few bucks, we went the cheap route and gave him something that was garbage, and now he’s heart broken.  There was nothing in us that went ha! ha! so glad you’re disappointed this Christmas; that’s what I had in mind.  NO! No!  If we love giving good gifts to our kids—and we do—how much more does our perfect heavenly Father love giving good gifts to His.  We can have confidence in our God and it frees us from having to control the people around us.  I don’t need to force things, I don’t need to be the savior, and I don’t need to be the judge, I can just stand in this nebulous in between; not having to bowl my way over people and not having to just sit on my hands and zip my mouth shut, but saying to God, “God, work, please.  Move, please. Do something, please.”  I’ll keep asking and I’ll keep seeking and I’ll keep knocking on their door, believing God, that you are at work.

So His illustration about asking, seeking, knocking is about prayer.  I love the way Dallas Willard defined prayer: “Prayer is talking with God about what we are doing together.”  The most important spiritual task in the lives of apprentices of Jesus is to continually, throughout the day, put our attention and affection back on God.  To learn to live in such a way that we’re in communion with our heavenly Father.  Jesus says two things about your God in this text.  He says, one, your God hears.  There are no prayers that hit the ceiling that don’t make it to Him.  So just sit back for a second.  The God who reigns above the cosmos, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, calls out every star by name each evening, causes the sun to dance with joy across the sky every day—-that same God hears every prayer you pray.  Every one.  Secondly, Jesus says, that same God is good.  What Jesus wants to do in this passage is focus, not so much on the skill or the technique of praying, but on the character of the One to whom we pray.  He’s through and through.  He is good!  In fact, in the book of James (1:17) it says every good and perfect gift comes from Him.  He loves giving good gifts to His kids.

Do you know what God’s response to your prayer is?  GIVING!  Your prayer is powerful.  That’s admittedly a mystery of how that works with His sovereignty, humanity’s free will, and all that….how that all works together.  Jesus doesn’t intend to answer those questions there, only to say your prayer {look up at me a second} WORKS.  It has an impact on the world around us.  In a companion text, Luke 11:11-13, where this is a Sermon on the Plain, but a very similar teaching of Jesus, it says:  Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!  It seems as though Jesus is saying here…when you ask you receive and you receive the greatest thing you could ever ask for.  And God says, “And that’s me!”  And you receive wisdom to know how to continue to ask and continue to seek and continue to knock when it doesn’t seem like there’s any movement.  You receive from your great God.

Let’s do a quick thought experiment.  Close your eyes for a second.  If God were to have answered every single prayer you prayed this last week, what would be different?  What would be different in your life?  What would be different in your relationships?  What would be different in His world?  Who would be influenced by your prayer? I think it’s a powerful question to ask.  Oftentimes are prayer is just a little bit too small.  If God answered every prayer, what would change?  Would the 200,000 people displaced because of massive floods in the Indian state…would that change?  What about some of the atrocities going on around the globe?  Would that change?  It’s just a question.

If you’re one of those people that are going, man, I want to grow in the discipline of prayer and how I approach God, Darrel Grassman and some people from our Watchmen prayer team are going to be doing a class on Sunday mornings starting this fall, where they’re going to sort of get into how do we become people more and more of prayer.  I’d encourage you to check that out.  Steve and Penny Schroeder are going to do a class this fall on how to live in the kingdom of God and prayer is an integral part of how to live in God’s kingdom, yes?

Here’s another thing you could do this week though.  If you want to get better, or practice, or train, in how to confidently approach God, what if you did what the Christian community has been doing for centuries?  It’s something they call fixed-hour prayer.  You could set an alarm on your phone or your watch, maybe you do it a few times throughout the day.  It’s an encouragement to just pause and pray and to remember that God hears, that He’s present.  What are you going to do?  We don’t come just to be INformed, we want to come to be TRANSformed.

Here’s how Jesus finishes this section—and it is all one section.  He says: So {So, in light of what you’ve just heard about asking, seeking, knocking and in light of what you’ve just heard about your Father who’s good in heaven, so….} in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.  See how this is a bookend to the judgment that we often lob towards people?  Jesus is having one complete thought here.  Instead of judging, how about you do this?  In EVERYTHING.  Everything in this sense means whether it’s sleeping, or eating, or going to work, or hanging out in your neighborhood, or going to the park, wherever you are, do to OTHERS.

There’s two primary words Jesus could have chosen for this word .  He could have used the word adelphos.  It means brothers.  It means your tribe.  The people who you worship with, the people who you look like, the people who you talk to often—YOUR people.  That’s not the word He chose.  There’s this other word — anthropoi.  It’s where we get our word anthropology.  It’s this idea of humanity, and that’s exactly what Jesus is talking about.  You’ve never met somebody that you were not called to love or interact with in the way that you want to be interacted with.  So in everything do to EVERYONE what you would have them do to you.

How do we live in this sort of Red Rover world where it often feels like we’ve got to pump our chest up and bowl people over?  Or our other option is to just sit on our hands.  Jesus says well, how about you humbly pursue others and confidently approach God and intentionally choose love.   What if you did that? In Jesus’s day, there were two sort of prevailing thoughts about this idea.  The first was from a really popular rabbi named Hillel, who preceded Jesus.  Here’s what Hillel taught his disciples, in line with this Golden Rule, he said:  “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.  That is the whole Torah, while the rest is commentary.”  Notice that he’s saying a similar thing as Jesus, but what do you have to do to fulfill the command that Hillel says is the greatest?  NOTHING!  You just sit back.  You can go live sequestered in the wilderness, not interact with anybody else, and you will fulfill the law of not doing to others what you wish they wouldn’t do to you.  But when Jesus flips this on its head, He makes it active.  He says to His followers, if you’re going to be my disciples, you don’t wait for the other person to do the right thing, you don’t wait for someone to show you love, you don’t hope that things get better between you and them; you are called, as a disciple of Jesus, to actively love the people in your life and to treat them in the way that you wish that they would treat you.

The Apostle Paul says in Galatians 5:14 — For the entire law if fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  It’s the same thing Jesus says.  This sums it up, this is the Cliff Notes of the entire Old Testament.  What do you want others to do to you?  Okay, now go and do that to them.  Here’s what Jesus knows:  We love us some us!  We love ourselves.  He’s not saying that that’s not necessarily wrong all the time.  What he’s saying is you typically know how you’d want to be treated in that situation and now your goal is to treat others in the same way you wish you were treated.  So how would you want to be treated at work?  95% of leaders say they prefer to be asked questions rather than told what to do, but 50% of the time they give instructions.  How do you want to be treated?  If you cut somebody off in traffic, how do you want to be treated? I was driving our minivan the other day and I got the longest middle finger I ever received in a car—driving a MINIVAN!  If you’re responsible for a miscommunication, how do you want to be treated?  If you fail the people around you, how do you want to be treated?  If you’ve immigrated from another country, how do you want to be treated?   Jesus is saying let’s not overcomplicate this.  We have one clarifying question: How do you want to be treated?  Then go and treat the people around you that way.

As we close, let me give you one question to ask.  All of us probably have a situation in our life right now with the relationships that God has blessed us with and given us….one thing going on where we have a conflict with somebody. Who might it be?  Let’s lay this Jesus way over that question — How would you want them to respond to you?  What would you want them to do?  What would you want them to say?  When we choose love we imitate our Father in heaven and we love because he first loved us.

A few years ago, we had the chance to host a quilt show, because Carolyn Schmitt is part of a quilting society and we had good walls.  We used the walls going down our kids’ hallway.  All of these quilts were really valuable; people had put time and effort and money into them.  All of them had this “Do Not Touch” sign on every single quilt.  So my kids would go get glazed donuts before they went to Sunday school and then they touched every single quilt as they went down the hall!  I’m sorry, Carolyn.  It’s interesting, because every day we walk out into God’s hallway full of extremely valuable people, people that He loves dearly, you included.  He doesn’t want us to avoid them.  He doesn’t want us to “Red rover, red rover, barrel them right over.”  No.  He invites us to ask…to ask better questions.  He calls us to seek.  He calls us to knock.  He calls us to pray.  He calls us to love.  To reach out and touch.  The people that are difficult.  The people that are tough.  The people that are broken.  The people that are lovely.  All of them!  Period.  Mother Teresa was once asked, “What do you see when you walk around the streets of Calcutta.”  She said, “I see Jesus dressed in disguise.”  So, South Fellowship Church, here’s what I say:  Red rover, red rover, send South Fellowship right over.  But not to barrel through and not just to sit back, but to ask, seek, knock, pray, and love.

In an effort to say we don’t just want this to be about information but transformation, here’s a few practices I want to encourage you to do.  Some of them I talked about already in this message, but what might you do in light of what we’ve heard from the Scriptures today?  We want to get more and more serious about actually saying we’re going to try some of these things.  Aaron has a video camera set up in the back.  Right after the service, if you did the practices last week, or maybe one of them, and God did something in your heart or through you through them, we would love to hear your story.  It can be 30 seconds or it can be one minute, but go back right after the service and tell your story.  Maybe this week you spend a day where you don’t give your opinion unless it’s asked for.  It’s not easy.  And you practice the art of asking questions.  What if this week you practiced fixed-hour prayer one day, or maybe more.  Maybe this week you memorize Philippians 4:6-7 — Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Or maybe this week—this is a practice I learned from my friend Carolyn—maybe in the morning and the evening you read through 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and put your name in the place of “love.”  Kelly is patient; Kelly is kind; Kelly doesn’t envy; Kelly doesn’t boast….    And the whole time you do this, you ask the Spirit of God, “Will you affirm where this is true and will you convict where it’s not and lead me in the way of righteousness?”  What are you going to do this week?

Jesus, we want to be people who live well with our feet in two different worlds.  God, we don’t want to bowl people over with the truth and God, we don’t want to just sit back and do or say nothing so, Lord, help us to ask better questions.  Help us seek people out and be present.  Help us knock and ask for an invitation into their life.  God, help us show up before we speak up.  Jesus, I pray, that all the while, we’ll be people interacting with you, living in your world, your kingdom and displaying your love.  Jesus, make us more like you, we pray.  In His name.  And all God’s people said….Amen.

Sermon On The Mount | Standing in the Gap | Matthew 7:7-12 | Week 122020-08-20T15:41:40-06:00

Sermon on the Mount | Gavels and Flashlights | Matthew 7:1-6 | Week 11

SERMON ON THE MOUNT: Gavels and Flashlights    Matthew 7:1-6

We’re going to wrestle with some very easy words from Jesus today — DO. NOT. JUDGE.  Or you too will be judged.  It’s Jesus’s teaching on the Sermon on the Mount and I joked last week about wanting an easy sermon. . . .one easy message from the Sermon on the Mount. . .and I think this is it.  Here’s why.  Because when we talk about being judgmental, all of us have somebody in our mind who should be here today, but none of us think it’s us.  Judgmentalism is always a problem for somebody else, but very rarely do you meet somebody who says, “I’m just one of the most judgmental people you will ever meet in your life!”  We don’t say that.  We say, “I think I’m right.  I’m not judgmental, I’m just right. And I’m right the majority of the time and I don’t mind telling people that I am right!”

So this gently—from somebody who’s been wrestling with judgmentalism this week—you might fall into the same category that I found that I fell into that I’m a secret judger.  I’m judgmental.  I don’t lead with it.  I cover it pretty well most of the time, but when it comes down to it, I’m judgmental.  Here’s a few things that I’m judgmental about:  I am judgmental of you if you are a Yankees fan.  Or if you’re a Patriots fan. {Bye, Felicia.}  If you think that cats are better than dogs, repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!  If you don’t like In ‘n Out Burger, I don’t have a place in my heart for you.

Maybe a little more seriously, I’ve found this week that I’m judgmental of people I perceive to be lazy.  I’ve found that I’m judgmental of people who carry the name of Jesus, publicly, but use it to wound people.  I’m judgmental of people who I feel like are judgmental.  And I don’t think Jesus wants to let me off that easy. Oftentimes when I judge somebody, what I picture is Jesus with his arm around me going, “Paulson, go get ’em!”  I picture Jesus saying, “I’m with you and I am backing you and I feel the same way you feel.  Go get ’em, Paulson!”  My guess is you do too.  It’s why we think we’re non-judgmental; we just think we’re right and we think Jesus is always on our side.  I just want to gently propose to you this morning that this message might not be for somebody else, it might be for you.  And the reason I know that is because I know it’s for me.

There’s a study done in a book called unChristian, by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, a number of years ago.  They did a survey of young people and asked them what they thought of Christians.  They gave them a number of different words to choose from.  There were three words that rose to the top:  87% of people outside of the Christian faith perceived those who are followers of the way of Jesus as being judgmental.  87%!  The other two words that they used were hypocritical and anti-gay.  So you just know if you tell somebody you’re a follower of Jesus and they’re not a part of a church or they don’t have a good idea what followers of Jesus believe, they’re going to draw a few conclusions about you.  One of them is that you are judgmental.  Maybe, just maybe, this is a bigger issue than somebody else’s issue.  Maybe what they’re picking up on is something that we need to wrestle with.  I don’t think the answer, “Well, we’re really not that way,” is going to get the job done.  I think that maybe there’s some mirror work we have to do to ask, “Okay, Jesus, is there a part of what they’re saying about us right?”  Are they calling out a part of us that you want to refine, that you want to shape, that you want to heal, that you want to speak to?  And even though I didn’t think I was judgmental, what I found is that there are some pieces of me that like judging others.  Quite honestly, it makes me feel better about me.  What Jesus, not so gently, says is man, when you do that you get into some trouble.  DO. NOT. JUDGE.

We’re going to talk about it , in just a moment.  That’s a massive word and we all have some ideas in our head of what that means.  Let me tell you first what it doesn’t mean.   Here are three things Jesus doesn’t mean.  When Jesus says do not judge, he does not mean do not think!  He doesn’t mean do not think.  Second thing he doesn’t mean is you’ve got to agree with everyone.  Did you know that would be impossible?  You can’t agree with everyone, because there’s a number of people who disagree on things.  You’ve got to choose which one you think is closest.  You can’t agree with everyone.  Finally, Jesus doesn’t mean that when you disagree with somebody or you think there’s a better way, you’ve just got to hold your tongue and sit on your hands and say nothing!  Don’t judge!  Say nothing!  That’s NOT what Jesus means.

So you may be asking, Paulson, what DOES he mean?  This word ‘judge’ in the Greek is the word krinó.  Which is completely unhelpful. . . .to say it and to study it.  When you start studying this word, what you find is that there is a massive range on what that word means.  It means to make a moral judgment.  It means to make a judicial decision.  It means to enforce a law or to exact a lawsuit.  It means God’s judgment.  It means condemnation.  It means all those things.  So when we read the words of Jesus, we start going Jesus, what’s the nuance, what do YOU mean when you say, “Do not judge?”

I ran across a little diagram by an author named Skye Jethani.  He wrote a wonderful book called With.  The diagram is not in that book, but he posted a picture that, I think, paints a great picture of what Jesus means by judgment.  There’s a wide range of meaning; judgment could simply mean to discern.  You have a group of apples and you have a group of oranges, you put them together and simply say, “Apples are not oranges.”  It’s an observation.  It’s not a moral decision, it’s just simply an observation.  Apples are not oranges.  But the other side of that coin is not just discernment, but it’s condemnation.  Apples are LESS than oranges.  God hates apples!  Death to all apples!

The word krinó in the Greek simply means to separate.  But we often take it further than just separating and that’s what Jesus is talking about.  He’s not talking about discernment.  In fact, you’re commanded to discern all throughout the Scriptures.  The Sermon on the Mount would make no sense if we didn’t have a calling to discern.  The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the church at Corinth, says this:  The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has know the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”  But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor. 2:15-16)  So what Paul says is the Spirit of God in you gives you the ability to discern what’s going on in the world.  That’s a really good thing.

But how many of you know that discernment can easily turn into condemnation.  It’s not just apples are not oranges, it’s apples are better than oranges.  God hates oranges!  Death to all oranges.  Condemnation is pronouncing a verdict.  It’s taking out the gavel, playing judge, and saying not only is that thing that you believe wrong, but you’re wrong.  God thinks you’re wrong.  It’s people who set themselves up as moral guides, as people who want to point out everything that’s wrong in everybody else’s life.  They’re critics of one another.  It’s who Jesus is talking about here.  People who carry around the gavel, not just discerning, but saying you’re wrong in the very core of your being, which is why judgment is so painful.  If you’ve been judged by somebody, you know the pain of trying to carry that and figuring out who God actually says you are.  It’s not just saying SOMETHING’S wrong, it’s saying SOMEONE is wrong.

What Jesus wants to do is chart a better way forward.  The early church wrestled with these words of Jesus.  In fact, Jesus’s own brother, James, says this.  He’s echoing Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.  Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another.  Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it.  When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.  {Catch this.}  There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy.  But you—-who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12)  He says when we put ourselves in the place of God, when we judge somebody, really what we’re saying is we’re God and you should listen to us.  You’re not God and I’m just going to tell you where you’re right and where you’re wrong.  That’s what James says. In judging, we make the same mistake that Adam and Eve made in the garden.  We set ourselves up as God and we fail to live as his citizens.  Love the way John Wesley put this:  “The judging that Jesus condemns here is thinking about another person in a way that is contrary to love.”

The reality is, friends, is that you and I have been placed uniquely and specifically, by God, in our families, in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods, in this world, and the reason we are here. . . .the presence of Kingdom citizens is to be life-giving not judgment-pronouncing.  Can we just admit that’s hard for people who spend a lot of time wrestling with the words of Jesus.  That’s hard for people who’ve tried to understand what God would want us to do and how God would want us to live.  It’s easy to hold the Bible in one hand and the gavel in the other and say, “This is what God says.  Do it this way and you’re wrong if you don’t.”  We have this proclivity to judge, especially if we feel we know God’s will.  But Jesus urges us, he pleads with us, in the Sermon on the Mount to posture ourselves as God’s citizens, in his kingdom, but NOT as gods.  Citizens in his kingdom, not as gods.  Look at the person next to you and say, “Judgment is not your job.”  Turn to the other person and say, “Condemnation is not your job.”  We often carry around the gavel, and sometimes it’s disguised and it’s hidden,  and sometimes it’s exposed.  I’ve noticed that I will typically put the gavel back in my pocket when people think the same way I do, talk the same way I do, believe the same things I believe.  I very rarely pronounce judgment on people who look like me.  But oh man, if somebody believes different than me, thinks different than me, looks different than me, talks different than me, I find myself reaching for my gavel ready to go, “I’m right.  You’re wrong.”  Maybe, just maybe, it’s not coincidence that everybody we want to judge doesn’t look like us.  Maybe there’s something that Jesus wants to draw to the surface this morning to cause us to wrestle with.  Maybe he isn’t just on our side, under our arm, going, “Go get ’em, Paulson.”  Maybe he’s in the middle, drawing both people to him.

So the question I think Jesus wants us to wrestle with—in a really practical way, this is beautiful—is why it’s better to be a non-judgmental presence in our world.  He gets really, really practical.  Boots on the ground.  He plays on our hedonistic desire to have a good life, and here’s what he says:  Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1-2)  There’s some debate whether or not Jesus is talking about temporal, earthly judgment now or eternal judgment later.  I think the evidence points best towards the fact that he’s talking about temporal, earthly judgment by other people now.  Here’s the way I’d reframe it:  If you’re a jerk to other people, they’re probably going to be jerks to you.  Jesus says judgment is like a boomerang.  You throw it out there and it just comes reeling right back to you.  He’s not saying the same thing someone who believes in Karma would say.  He’s simply saying that the way of wisdom, the way the world works, is that if you judge other people, they’re going to have a more critical eye towards you.

I’ve seen two examples of this in this last week.  Many of you know Dan Elliott, who is one of our associate pastors.  He is an amazing man of God.  What you see up here on the stage is who he is behind closed doors.  He’s just non-judgmental.  There’s been times I’ve tried to hand him a gavel and say just pound that thing down, they are wrong and you are right.  He doesn’t.  You have to be a really big jerk to be a jerk to Dan.  I want to meet the person who’s like, “Dan Elliott—I don’t know what to do with that guy!”  Why?  Because he’s just so genuinely caring and loving towards people and it comes back to him, rightfully so.  You’ve probably also seen some tweets go out this week that you’ve thought, “That doesn’t seem like that’s a nice thing to say.”  Then what happened?  People jumped on that person’s twitter feed and went, “Yeah, you don’t like them, so we don’t like you!”  No names mentioned.

What’s happening?  What Jesus is teaching is simply playing out.  If you judge other people, they’re going to have a way more critical eye towards you.  If you lead a moral majority and have a moral failure, there’s going to be people who hold a magnifying glass up to your life and go I’m not sure we like that guy.  Jesus says that’s simply the way the world works and we would go you’re right.

Here’s the second thing he says though:  Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? {Quick timeout.  Everybody in Jesus’s day, when he said this, would have paused for a second and chuckled a little bit.  Jesus is going for the laugh here.  This is comical.  There’s a log sticking out of your eye and you’re going up to your brother or sister and  going can I help you with that speck of sawdust in yours?  It’s intended to be humorous.}  How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite. (Matthew 7:3-5)

Here’s the second thing Jesus says about judgment.  Judgment is always hypocrisy.  Here’s why.  Because you and I could always be judged for something.  There’s something in our life that’s off.  There’s something in our life that’s broken.  There’s some way that we’re resisting the invitation and the way of Jesus.  There’s something we could be judged for ALWAYS.  How many of you are grateful that God doesn’t act like that towards you?  Jesus is saying listen, when we start to point out the speck in our brother’s eye, what we’re actually doing is feeding our own arrogance and pride, which is often our log, and that we’re doing so in a way that’s not going to bring them life or us life.  Judgmentalism is typically fueled by self-righteousness and pride.  That’s Jesus’s point.  It’s fueled by self-righteousness and pride.

The problem is that arrogance is probably one of the most acceptable sins in the church today.  It’s the hardest to detect and it’s the easiest to defend.  I’m just right and there’s nothing I can do about it!  Can we just admit for a moment today that we pick and choose which sins we want to judge?  And we pick and choose how harshly we want to judge them.  It was interesting that in the book unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, they said:  “Our research with Christians confirms that often we miss the point of reflecting Jesus to outsiders because we are too busy catering to the expectations of other believers.”  We’re just trying to keep everybody happy.  Let me say it like this, as clearly as I can:  We are a collection—the Church in general, but specifically at South Fellowship Church—of sinners that Jesus has called out as saints.  We do not gather under the banner of our goodness or our perfection, but we gather under the banner of God’s grace.  Every time we walk through these door, every time we walk to the communion table, we are making a declaration that we are people who are in desperate need of God’s mercy TODAY!  Amen?  That’s who we are.  Jesus asks us a question:  In light of who you are, what right do you have to judge?  And we try to take the log out of our own eye and go, “NO right!  None!”

Finally, he says:  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly….(Mt. 7:5) Jesus is saying oftentimes you don’t see clearly.  Have you ever tried to untangle the mess that’s often your own motivation for doing something?  Have you ever tried to figure out why you did something, why you said something, why you believe something, your own motivation for it?  How many of you think that’s a real easy thing to do?  No one.  Determining our OWN motivation is really hard.  May I suggest to you that determining someone else’s motivation is almost impossible!  It’s almost impossible.  Jesus is saying just hold up.  Oftentimes what we do. . . .the log that we have in our own eye, our own pain, our own brokenness, our own shortcomings, is what we often project onto the world around us.  It’s our pain that we often project.

So, maybe an easy example of judgmentalism is a Westboro Baptist Church picketing at a military funeral or picketing at a gay person’s funeral.  They have signs that say:  God HATES fill-in-the-blank.  I think that type of judgmental attitude breaks my heart on two levels.  First it breaks my heart that oftentimes that’s what people think of followers of Jesus.  That breaks my heart.  The second thing though is it breaks my heart because they’re probably projecting their pain and their internal narrative onto the world around them.  So what’s their internal narrative saying?  I think their signs could more accurately read:  I have this sneaking suspicion that God hates me!  I have this sneaking suspicion that I’m wrong, that I’m off.  Because our pain is what we often project.  If they’re projecting hate, it’s probably what’s filling their soul.  We all project what’s on the inside.  We all project our pain onto the lives of others.  When you meet somebody who’s sure of the love of God, they’re usually people who are deeply aware of their own brokenness.  They’re people who are aware—I’ve done nothing to deserve this and yet the King of kings and the Lord of lords has showered mercy and grace down on me.  They’re able to give that to the world around them.

So what Jesus says is because of these reasons. . . .judgmentalism is one, like a boomerang.  It’s always hypocrisy.  It’s often misperception; we’re reading a situation wrong because we have a log in our eye and we don’t see it clearly.  Because THAT’S true of judgment, Jesus says, man, judgment is really unhelpful.  Like, you’ve never judged or condemned somebody and they went back to you and said, “Thank you, I’m really glad you slammed the gavel.  It was really helpful.”  It wasn’t!  But. . . .Jesus doesn’t leave us there.  In this brilliant turn of a phrase, what Jesus does is leads us out of the woods of saying, “We don’t want to live that way.”  We don’t want to live as people who are judgmental of the people around us, but we do have people in our lives that we feel are making bad decisions.  We have people in our life who we feel like if they keep going down that road it’s not going to lead to a good place.  There’s people you know and love that are struggling with addiction.  There’s people that you know and love who are probably thinking of calling it quits on a marriage, or they’re thinking about getting into a marriage that you think they probably shouldn’t get into.  There’s people that we know that are standing on the edge of a cliff; how do we talk to those people?

Have you ever read through the gospels and thought, “There’s something about Jesus?”  He didn’t say easy things, he said really hard things.  He didn’t say what people always wanted to hear and yet, people who didn’t want to hear it gathered around him.  He spoke truth honestly and yet people seemed to love him.  Have you ever realized Jesus looks a lot different than the church looks today, let’s just be honest?  What is it about him, about the way that he treated people, about the way that he interacted, that allowed him to be this non-judgmental, life-giving presence in the people he encountered?  Instead of carrying around a gavel, Jesus carries around a flashlight.  To point things out.  To show us truth.  To invite us to align our lives with it.  It’s where he goes in this next section of the Sermon on the Mount.

Listen to the way he says it (verse 5):  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.    So his expectation is that we would do some speck removal, that we would be people who speak truthfully and honestly and life-givingly into the lives of other people.  If you’re going well, how do I do that? let me give you six ways:  Examine ourselves honestly.  {You may want to write this down.}  You cannot be helpful if you are not first humble.  If we don’t do the hard work of laying our lives bare before Jesus, praying that Davidic psalm, Psalm 139:23-24 — Search me, O God and know me, point out if there’s any way offensive or wicked within me, and lead me in the path of righteousness. If we don’t lay ourselves open and bared to say God, there’s something in me that’s off also, we will not have the ability to speak life-giving truth into the lives of others.   Your pride will shut them down; and Jesus says rightfully so. You’re not equipped to do the hard work of speck removal if you’re on your high horse.  You can’t!  You’ve got to dismount.  So the reality is, friends, that we are ALL just one beggar trying to help other beggars find bread.  That’s the truth.  I love the way Henri Nouwen put this.  I think it’s just brilliant.  I read it in The Wounded Healer this week.  “Experience tells us that we can only love because we are born out of love, that we can only give because our life is a gift, and that we can only make others free because we are set free by Him whose heart is greater than ours.  When we have found the anchor places for our lives in our own center, we can be free to let others enter into the space created for them and allow them to dance their own dance, sing their own song and speak their own language without fear.”  Oohh!  He goes on to say in that same book, maybe with a little more clarity:  “The great illusion of leadership is to think that person can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.”  This is divine, spirit-driven work, you guys.  So maybe one of your practices this week is to just get silent, get alone, let your heart get quiet, and pray that simple prayer— God, search me and know me. God, point out if there’s any way offensive in me.  {Which is often a prayer he likes to answer, because he’s got some material to draw from.}  And lead me in the path of everlasting life.

If we’re going to be helpful, we have to first be honest and humble.  Here’s what he says next:  First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.    So this whole approach is one of how do we become ‘speck removers?’  People who care about others in such a way that we go listen, there’s something in your eye that’s affecting the way that you see, that’s affecting the way that you live, and we want something better for you.  It’s not. . .you’ve got a speck in your eye, you’re wrong.  It’s. . .you’ve got a speck in your eye, let me help.  The goal, the aim, is always, always, always for their restoration and wholeness. {Slide: Aim for wholeness and restoration.} That’s the goal.  Repeat after me:  The goal is not to be right.  The goal is to be helpful.  It’s easy to just try to be right, but it takes discernment and it takes wisdom to bring something that’s of use to another person.  That’s what we see, that’s what we look at.  It’s John says about Jesus (John 3:17) — For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn (or to krinó) the world, but to save the world {To heal it, to bring it to a place of restoration} through him.  

The Apostle Paul writes back and forth to the church at Corinth.  There’s some things that he says that hurts their feelings and listen to what he says when he writes back — Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—-I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance.  For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.  Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.  (2 Cor. 7:8-10)   The invitation to people is to repentance, life, wholeness, and healing, not condemnation.   Repentance always leads us to life because of God’s kindness.

Here’s a thought experiment to do throughout the week. Instead of forming an opinion about somebody—-who’s different than you, looks different than you, believes different than you—what if you just paused when you sensed yourself doing that.  Then instead of doing that you prayed.  You prayed a prayer of blessing over them.  You prayed for their well-being.  You prayed goodness.  I decided to do that this week, leading up to this message, and what I found was that there are more times in my life than I’d like to admit to you that I have a tendency to judge, and diverting that and replacing it with prayer has been a practice that’s been life-giving for me.

Here’s what Jesus says — You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck {For their wholeness, for their good, for their healing} from your brother’s eye.   Whenever we do speck removal—having a hard conversation, addressing something with somebody that maybe we disagree with—we always, always, always operate from a place of relationship.  Listen, truth bombs only work if your goal is to destroy.  Truth bombs only work–lobbing it over the fence to somebody you don’t know, don’t care about–if your goal is to destroy.  Debates rarely change minds….   I don’t think you’ve ever seen somebody say something nasty on Facebook and then there was a comment thread that eventually ended with somebody going, “You know what, now I see your point.”  It might have happened, but I’m just not aware of it.  We typically don’t change when we hear something from people we don’t think care about us.  What Jesus is saying is that speck removal, life-giving presence in the lives of others, is always a relational endeavor.

Fourth, related to that, we patiently pursue cooperation. You’re not going to drag anybody, pin them down, say,  “Listen, you’ve got a speck in your eye; lucky for you I’ve done the hard work of removing my own logs, but now, I’m going to have to sit on you, pry your eyeballs open, and take that speck out of your eye.”  You know what you have to have in order to have that conversation?  Cooperation.  It’s why, if you’ve ever tried to intervene on somebody who has an addiction, you know they need to come to the place where they want help in order to receive your help.  It’s the same thing that Jesus is saying.  You ask for cooperation before you have that hard conversation.  A number of months ago, I had a sermon that I used some math in, which is always dangerous when preachers start using math.  My math was off.  I had a friend that came up to me after the service and he said, “Ryan, if you were wrong, would you want to know?”  I said, “Well, of course I would want to know.”  He said, “You moved that decimal one too many places.”  I said, “That makes a difference, thank you.”

If you were wrong, would you want to know?  What a great way to approach a conversation with somebody who may have a speck in their eye.  If you were wrong, would you want to know?  Would you invite me into the conversation with you and with Jesus?  When you ask that question, please, please, please follow it up by listening….by listening.  Because we always want to interact with gentleness, because we come from a place of care.  Jesus uses this analogy, this imagery, of an eye.  If you’re doing work on an eye, there’s some gentleness that’s involved in that.  It’s the exact same thing the Apostle Paul says when he writes to the church at Galatia about having hard conversations like this:  Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore {Our aim is for wholeness and healing.} that person gently. (Gal. 6:1)  It’s the picture, in the Greek, of setting a broken bone.  You do so with great care and with great focus on the other person.  You may not be aware of this, but your words carry weight in the lives of others, that they can either develop or they can destroy.  The question is: How do we use that?  What do we do with that?  Jesus says work with gentleness.

One of the practices that might be beneficial for you —- I often, when I see somebody different and I start to form an opinion or start to judge, come up with a story for why they are the way they are.  If they would have been more like me, they wouldn’t have been more like them, right?  What if we reversed that narrative?  What if we started to assume. . . .if I was born in the same situation, and if I had the same experiences, and I went through the same things, that I would probably believe the same things they believe and be doing the same things that they’re doing.  Here’s what that’s called:  empathy.  It allows us to approach people with a sense of gentleness.

Finally, here’s what Jesus says:  Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs.  If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.  (Mt. 7:6)   Well, I think that clears everything up, thank you, Jesus.  There’s some people who want to view this as an allegory, and if you do that, you need every single person or character in this story to be aligned with somebody in Jesus’s day.  You could also view this as a parable, where Jesus is telling this story in order to make a central point.  I think that’s more the case.  I think the point Jesus is making is exactly in line with the point he’s just made.

Is a pearl a good thing?  Yeah, it’s a treasure.  Have you ever seen a pig wear pearls?  {Somebody brought up a picture of Miss Piggy wearing pearls after the last service.  I stand corrected.}  The right answer is no.  A pearl is a good thing, but what does a pig do with a pearl?  Nothing.  They trample it.  They destroy it.  Jesus is saying listen, your judgments might be right, but when you lob them to other people, can they receive them?  Can they do anything with them?  Jesus’s encouragement to us is that we proceed with wisdom.  We do not just say true things.  We say things that are both true and helpful.  Because what’s our goal?  Restoration.  Wholeness.  That Jesus might enter in and that he might begin to heal.  We don’t say, “This is a pearl and you should want it!”  Right?  How dare you not want this pearl!  No, we’re more discerning, we pay attention to timing.  It matters in the way people receive things.  We pay attention to motivation—where we’re coming from and where they’re coming from. The desire isn’t just to be right, it’s to be helpful.  We pay attention to the way it’s received, because the goal is that we would be a life-giving presence in the lives of others.  Amen?

On the notes page , there’s a little box that says “My Practice this Week.”  I just want to encourage you. . . .I’ve given you a few ideas throughout the message, but how might you practice being a non-judgmental presence in our world?  What are some things you could do?  You could say, “Instead of forming an opinion about somebody and why they are the way that they are, I’m going to pray blessing over them.”  That’s a great idea.  You could decide this week that instead of getting to decide where you go out to dinner or what game you play or what movie you watch, that you’re just going to make a disciplined decision to say, “I’m going to let others choose this week.”  It’ll help you get out of the position of being in charge.  Maybe this week you do an imaginative reading and prayer exercise with John 8.  This unbelievable section of Scripture—verses 1 through 11—where there’s a woman caught in the act of adultery.  There’s religious leaders there and they say, “Jesus, here’s a stack of rocks. Why don’t we stone this woman?  She’s wrong.  Let’s condemn her.”  Jesus looks at them and he starts to write in the dirt and he says, “How about who’s ever without sin throw the first stone?”  What’s he saying?  Examine yourself honestly and why don’t you lead the charge.  They all start to walk away and he approaches this woman and he sees her, and he cares about her, and he speaks words of life not death.  He operates from a relationship.  He pulls her close and asks for her cooperation.  He interacts with gentleness and eventually he releases her to go and sin no more.  I want to be that kind of life-giving presence in the lives of the people around me.  How about you?

Jesus, we pray that you’d help us, because we’re probably more judgmental than we think.  But we want good for those around us.  We want life and we want to be a life-giving presence, not to be a condemning, judgmental presence in the lives of the people that we love and care about, our neighbors, our coworkers. So, Jesus, help us.  Help us to see our own brokenness. God, help us to fight for life in other people.  Help us to do so from a posture of relationship and with gentleness.  Jesus, our prayer is that you’d help us be wise in the way that we act and speak and live, because we know that our words carry a weightiness and we want that weight to be used to bring about life not death.  Help us, we pray.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Sermon on the Mount | Gavels and Flashlights | Matthew 7:1-6 | Week 112020-08-20T15:42:41-06:00

Sermon on the Mount | Bright Eyes | Matthew 6:19-34 | Week 10

SERMON ON THE MOUNT: Bright Eyes   Matthew 6:19-34

That was good worship, wasn’t it?  But it stirred this question in me.  We’re singing “This is My Father’s World,” right?  We see the sunrise, that he spoke into existence, that shouts for joy as it dances it’s way across the sky.  This is my Father’s world, and yet, I don’t know about you, but there’s time when I open my news app and think, “God, this is a weird world for you to own.”  Sometimes You’re way, way, way distant.  Sure, the mountains praise and declare your glory, but where are you when. . . .fill-in-the-blank?  Sometimes the darkness seems to hide His face, does it not?  There are times when the wrong seems oft so strong; one of the reasons we gather together is to say He is the ruler yet.  Amen?  So we gather today for a different vision of the world we live in, not one that’s less real, but one that’s more real.  Not one that’s less observant, but one that’s more observant.  To recognize that even in the midst of the darkness, our God is at work, and if we lose sight of that, it will dramatically shape the way that we live.  So all throughout the Scriptures, the God of heaven commands his people to live in such a way that they recognize that He’s not distant, but that He’s present.  He gives us commands and he gives us instruction that aligns with that reality.

So all throughout the Sermon on the Mount, we’ve been talking about a different way of life.  We’ve been talking about a way of wisdom, Jesus’s wisdom.  Sometimes Jesus’s wisdom feels crazy, does it not?  Love your enemies.  Pray for those that persecute you.  Do good to those who wrong you.  Rid your life of anger.  I’ve been searching for an easy message in the Sermon on the Mount and I haven’t found one yet.  Here’s the reason why. . .when God presents his kingdom and his kingdom ethic, it flies in the face of our kingdom.  If we want to hold onto our kingdom, we’re going to reject the Jesus kingdom.  In order to accept the Jesus kingdom, the kingdom of God or the kingdom of the heavens, we’ve got to let go of our own kingdom and—look up at me for a second—that’s hard for us!  It goes against the grain of everything inside of us that wants to hold on.

Throughout time, God has been inviting his people to be a different kind of people and, because of that, He’s given them different commandments that, at times, feel really, really strange and really, really weird.  Please open your Bible to Deuteronomy 15:1-3.  Let me show you one such commandment that Jesus alludes to in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 6.  I want to lay some ground work for us.  Jesus is going to give an allusion, a wink and a nod to something every Torah-observing Jew would have understood.  They would have known this is what he was talking about.  It was an interesting commandment given to the nation of Israel, and one we cannot find anywhere on record that they actually obeyed.  So the nation of Israel does what we often do with what we feel or deem to be crazy laws. . . .we ignore them, don’t we?

Just so you know, there’s a few of them out there still.  In the United States, there’s some really, really strange laws that are still on the books.  You’re legally bound to them, we just ignore them.  Did you know that in Connecticut it’s illegal to sell a pickle that will not bounce?  True story.  Did you know that in Georgia it is illegal to eat fried chicken with utensils?  In Arkansas, it’s illegal to mispronounce the name “Arkansas.”  In Colorado, we have a number of very, very strange laws still on the books.  Did you know that it’s illegal to lend your vacuum cleaner to your next-door neighbor?  You can lend it to somebody a few doors down, but not your next-door neighbor.  Did you know that in Logan County, Colorado, it’s illegal for a man to kiss a woman while she’s sleeping?  Did you know that in Alamosa it is illegal for you to shoot a missile at a car?  Now, a house or a building. . . .feel free, but a car. . .that’s where we draw the line.

So what do we do with weird laws?  We ignore them.  Same thing the Israelites did.  Here’s their weird law.  God says that every seven years I want you to erase all the debts.  We’re zeroing out every account after seven years.  It’s called the Sabbath year.  If somebody owes you something after seven years, zero it out.  As someone who has a mortgage on his house, I go wow, that doesn’t sound all that bad; let’s practice THAT law. As somebody who helps oversee three different businesses—a preschool, a coffee shop, rental property—we have this thing on our books called accounts receivable.  It’s money people owe us.  It would absolute wreck the fiber of our economy if every seven years we went, no, you know, it’s good.  So I started to think what I would do if I was in this culture.  Probably what I’d do is when it got close to seven years, I’d stop lending money.  I’d cut my losses.  I’d shut it down.  Generosity is for year one of the seven years, not year seven!

In Deuteronomy 15, God sees me coming and he sees you coming.  He says to the people as they get ready to walk into the Promised Land, after he’s given the command that after every seven years zero out the accounts. . . .he starts to see what people might start to do in response to that command—the loophole.  Verse 7 — If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say,  {God is going to say that there’s a way to look at the world that sees Him in it and there’s a way to look at the world that doesn’t.  We need to pay attention to the rhythms of our heart and the way that we see the people around us, because he says there could be an unworthy or a disingenuous or an evil thought in your heart which will change the way you see the people around you.  Here’s the way he says it.}  The seventh year, the year of release is near, and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, {Because it’s so close to the cancelling of debts, which in some ways we’d go that’s just wise.  Jesus goes no, that’s just stingy.}  ….and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin.  

If you go back and read verses 4-6, here’s what you find.  You find that as God gets ready to lead his people into the Promise Land, he promises them blessing, and he promises them favor, and he promises them good.  His blessing and his favor and his good is designed to cause them to open up their lives and their hearts to change the way they see the people around them, so that they’re not stingy but generous.  What God says is if “your eye look grudgingly on your brother. . .”  How many of you have hear the term ‘an evil eye?’  This is where we get it (Deuteronomy 15).  Jesus, in the Sermon of the Mount, is going to pick up this allusion and he’s going to talk about it in regards to the way that we look at the world and the way that we look at our stuff.  Look at what he says in Matthew 6:22-23 — The eye is the lamp of the body.  So, if your eye is healthy (unified or whole), your whole body will be full of light, {The way that you see the world impacts your entire being.} but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!   If you see the world as a dark place, as an evil place, as a wrong place, it’s going to change the way you see everything.  Here’s what Jesus is saying:  Seeing God in the world changes the world we see.

This has been the drum he’s been beating all throughout this section in the Sermon on the Mount.  Our last two messages have framed the way that we often do religious works to receive the applause of men.  The way we pray in order to receive the applause of people.  At the end of every refrain, Jesus says this statement — After talking about giving, he says “your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”  After talking about prayer, he says “and your Father who sees you in secret will reward you.”  Verse 18, after talking about fasting, he says “and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  Jesus is essentially, in this passage, is asking your Father sees you in public and in secret. . . .do you see Him?  

There’s two ways to see the world:  There’s the way of darkness.  There’s also a way of light.  We either see the world through a lens of light, or we see the world through a lens of darkness.  Let me say it like this:  Jesus wants us to have a different perspective on the world that we live in. {Slide:  Scarcity <— PERSPECTIVE —> Abundance} One that’s shaped not with a narrative of scarcity.  Do you know what I mean by that?  It’s possible to look at the world—and it’s a dark way to look at the world—and we essentially see the world as a pie and it’s divided into a certain amount of parts.  If somebody else gets something good, it means that I didn’t get it.  If someone gets the job, that’s one less job for me.  If someone gets engaged, that’s one less person on the market for me.  If someone gets accepted to the school, well, there’s only so many spots available at the school.  This is a narrative of looking at the world where we see the world as a scarce place.  It was what God was condemning in Deuteronomy 15.  He’s going no, no, no, God is present, God is good, God is here, and He’s blessing and He’s giving favor.   You’ve got to see it so you don’t slip into a narrative of scarcity.

Here’s the way you can often see a narrative of scarcity show up in your life.  Is it hard for you to celebrate when other people are blessed?  When someone else gets the job, can you say, “I’m really happy for you,” without in the back of your mind saying, “I’d be happier for ME?”  When someone gets accepted to the school, without thinking well, there’s one less spot for me?  Have you ever had somebody say to you, when something good happened, something like, well, it must be nice to catch all the breaks?  It’s a narrative of scarcity.  There’s only a limited number of joy and happiness and goodness and blessing, and we’re running out, and because you got some of it, it means that I didn’t.

Luckily for us, there’s another way of seeing the world.  It’s the way of seeing the world through what Jesus is going to call ‘light or bright eyes.’  We see that God’s at work.  We see that love and joy and peace and grace are present in abundance, that this world is teeming with his goodness, if we have the eyes to see it, and the heart to align with it.  So that we can genuinely say to the people around us, when something good happens to them, “I’m really happy for you.”  So that we can say to the churches around us, when they grow and they explode and tons of people come to faith in their churches, we can genuinely as a church say, “We are so happy that your church is exploding and growing,” without the check in our gut of going, I wish it was ours!  When someone gets engaged, gets married, you can say, “I’m real happy for you.”

I can remember when my first son was born and I held him in my arms for the first time.  My heart just exploded.  I immediately fell in love with that kid and knew that regardless of what he did or where he went that my heart would always be FOR him.  About his first birthday, we found out that we were having a second child.  My first thought was, “I don’t know if I could love another person as much as I love that kid!”  Any parent ever thought that?  It’s hints of scarcity, isn’t it?  There’s only so much of me to go around, and I’m not sure that I’m going to be able to love them as much as I love the first.

Do we see the world through a narrative of scarcity or abundance?  {Look up at me for a second.}  If you see the world through a narrative of scarcity, your life will be riddled with fear.  But if we’re able to embrace a Jesus perspective—an eye full of light because this world is God-bathed (as Dallas Willard said) and a perfectly safe place for us to be, even when it feels unsafe—if we’re able to grasp THAT perspective of life, instead of fear being our dominant narrative, we’ll actually be able to live a life of peace.  We all want that, don’t we?

Jesus goes on in this passage to tease out for us what a life of trust, what a life of faith, what a life of kingdom, what a bright-eyed life looks like.  He does that by addressing the way we treat our stuff.  Here’s what he says (Matt. 6:19) — Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, {Quick timeout.  When you think ‘treasure,’ think anything that you would want to keep, anything that you’d want to protect, anything that you feel like is going to add value or worth to your life.}  where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  

So what does it look like to have bright eyes?  To have a perspective of the world that sees God in the world, that changes the way that we see the world, so we operate in abundance, not scarcity.  Here’s what starts to happen—our perspective always shapes our pursuit, Jesus says. {Slide:  Earthly (treasure) <– PURSUIT –> Heavenly (treasure)}You’re going to be pursuing one of two things.  All of us are treasure hunters.  We’re all looking for things that we can build our life into, that will add value, that will add worth, that will add goodness to it, that will increase our enjoyment of the world around us.  You do not know a person who is not hunting treasure.   What Jesus says is is not that you can decide whether you’re a treasure hunter or not. . . .you are!  The question is what type of treasure are you searching after?  He says that there are two types of treasure.  You can search for treasure that’s on earth or treasure that’s epitomized by heaven.  Here’s what he means; he sort of defines it for us.

Earthly treasures have two things in common.  They all wear out.  This weekend must have been universal garage sale weekend, wasn’t it?  I drove through a number of different communities, and saw Facebook posts, and I think that this weekend was like, Jesus said you should have a garage sale on this weekend and a lot of people did, right?  I started to think about all the stuff in my house.  I think I started to think about this AFTER my son jumped on our couch and broke it.  I started to think, “All of the stuff in my house is going to end up in one of three places.”  We have two or three heirlooms that we might pass on to our kids.  {Kelly says not even.}  Either that or, if it does survive the onslaught of my children, we’ll sell it in a garage sale some day.  Or, it will end up in a landfill.  Everything in my house—one of three areas.  Everything in your house—one of three areas.  Jesus says listen, let’s just step back from the chaos of accumulation and consumption and ask a few questions. Is it worth us pouring our lives into things that will not last?

We were at Mount Hermon a few weeks ago.  On the very last night, they have this Victory Circle.  It’s a time where people stand up and say what God has done during the week.  I was struck by one man, a little bit older than me.  I found out he had kids that were about my kids’ ages.  He stood up and said, “This is one of the first times our family has just taken time to be together.  My work pace is so crazy that one of my kids asked me this week, ‘When you retire will we be able to do more stuff like this?'”  All of us can slip into this pattern, it’s so easy, it’s so natural, which is why Jesus wants to address it head on. He wants us to wrestle with it — where am I putting my life?  What am I building my life into?  If it’s just stuff, eventually moths and rust are going to destroy it, or a garage sale is going to have it.  Jesus says there’s a second option — it might just get stolen.  Either way, what’s his point?  It’s not worth it.

These are the things—the earthly treasures—we often look to for two things:  security and pleasure.  Jesus is going you’re not going deep enough, because there’s more.  You don’t long enough.  As C.S. Lewis says:  “You’re content on making mud pies in the ghetto, when a vacation at the sea is being offered to you.”  Long for more.  Jesus calls ‘the more’ heavenly treasure.  You can think of it in two ways.  One, it’s a maybe a geographic location, the treasure is “store,” but I think it’s more helpful to recognize that what Jesus is talking about is not just throwing treasure up to heaven, but bringing the treasure of heaven down to earth.  So the question is what type of treasure is in heaven?  The God of the universe, who has everything he could ever dream of, and if he doesn’t have it, he just creates it, what does he treasure?  What does God treasure?  In Deuteronomy 32:9, says that God’s portion—his treasure—is people.  What does God treasure?  God treasures people.  For us to build a life that’s grounded on treasure in heaven, is to build a life around love of God and love of people.  To build a life around communion with God, learning to live in the presence of God—which, by the way, is what you’ll be up to for all of eternity.  Learn to live in his presence and enjoy his presence.  Not just when we get there someday, but so that we can enjoy it when we do get there.

Jesus ends with this little mic drop—Jesus out—sound bite and he says, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.”  Whatever you’re chasing you’re becoming like.  The psalmist will write it Psalm 115:8 that those who make idols and those who worship idols (those who bow down to them), they eventually become like them.  You become whatever you chase. 

Jesus goes on — No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money.    Who has a different word for ‘money?’  Yeah, mammon.  Mammon was the Aramaic term that Jesus spoke, and when Matthew translated Jesus’s Aramaic Sermon on the Mount into Greek, he left this word as ‘mammon.’  Why?  Presumably because there was a lot of weightiness that surrounded this word.  It didn’t just mean money.  It meant possessions, but it meant possessions that we often bow down to and look for purpose from.  Matthew, when he writes his story about the life of Jesus, leaves it like that.  It’s almost as though it were a god.  We make the same point by saying well, the ‘Almighty Dollar.’  Like we’re bowing down to it like the Almighty God.  One comedian said, “We joke about money because we are all too aware of its power: ‘Money talks,’ he said, ‘but what it mostly says to me is, “Good-bye!”‘”

Jesus’s point is we always serve what we pursue.  So our perspective shapes our pursuit, and our pursuit eventually becomes our master. {Slide:  Money <– MASTER –> God} Everybody has a master.  There’s no such thing as a master-less human being.  You follow something.  You bow down to something.  The question is is it something that’s going to bring you life, because your master will lead you to one of two places.  Your master will either lead you into prison or it will lead you into freedom, but it will do one of those two things.  So Jesus says listen, if you have a perspective of this world, if you miss me in this world, and you see this world through the lens of scarcity, all you’re going to do is chase treasure that you can touch and see because you think it will add security and value to your life, and you’re going to chase after money because you feel like it’s going to do something for you, and it’s going to become your master and you’re going to bow down and you’re going to worship it, and you’re going to lose out on the greater things in life.

As an aside — Jesus is not down on saving.  He’s not down on retirement.  He’s not down on planning.  He’s just down on trusting your savings, or trusting your retirement, or trusting your planning.  In 2008, the bottom fell out. . . .for many people!  What was revealed was maybe we’ve trusted in the wrong things.  Jesus isn’t down on any of those things, he just simply wants to say that there’s a perspective of the world, seeing the world, seeing the world through the light of the eyes, that allows us not to see a world of scarcity but to see a world of abundance.  When we see a world of abundance, we can chase after the Jesus-y, kingdom-y things in, this life.  And then, when we chase after those things, God in heaven becomes our God, and our life is aligned with his heart and his way.

We tracking?  Just a quick timeout.  Let’s just take a deep breath and think if there’s any place that we see in our perspective—-scarcity instead of abundance.  In our pursuit—-trusting in earthly things rather than the ethos of heaven—love of God, love of people.   Have those things become our master?  Everybody has a master; it’s one of those two things.  Which is it for us?

If you’re going, “Hey, Jesus, that’s really interesting, that’s really great, but what do we do with this?”  He’s like, “I’m so glad you asked that question!”  Here’s what we do with this—just keep reading, because here’s what He says (Matt. 6:25-32) — Therefore I tell you, {So in light of a different perspective that leads to a different pursuit that leads to a different master…}  do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  And why are you anxious about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 

There’s times I read the Bible and go, “Hey, Jesus, are you just burying your head in the sand?”  There’s a lot that we can be worried about in this world.  There’s a lot of things that should maybe cause our hearts to go, man, God, I’m not sure how that’s going to turn out.  I did a little bit of study just in case you weren’t worried when you walked in the door.  Here’s what some people are worried about:  their health; is it going to hold up?  Another thing people worry about:  finances; is it going to work out?  Things that cause worry in people’s lives:  stress from work, stress from school.  Things that cause worry in people’s lives:  relationships or the death of a loved one.  In Jesus’s teaching, are we really just suppose to. . . .Therefore, do not worry. . . . .Okay!  Put that on our task list every morning—Don’t worry.  Check.  Done.  What next?  Is it really that easy?  Is it that simple?

To worry is to be, literally, divided, to be pulled in different directions.  It’s in opposition to what Jesus talked about in having a healthy eye.   A healthy eye is unified, it sees God and it changes the way they see the world.  It sees Him in everything and a worried eye is pulled in a bunch of different directions.   I heard somebody say: “Worry is putting a down payment on a problem you never had.”

Jesus is teaching that there’s this progression.  Your perspective shapes your pursuit and determines your master.  Your master will always determine the health of your soul.  {Slide:  Worry –> SOUL <– Confidence} What He wants to teach us is how to live with what Edwin Friedman—a great leadership and psychologist, author who passed away and wrote a book in the late ’90s called “A Failure of Nerve”—-called a non-anxious presence.  That’s what Jesus is inviting us to, not this pie-in-the-sky, ‘everything’s going to turn out great’ mentality, but a settled conviction that even in the storms and trials of life, my God is present and He’s here.  Though the wrong seems oft so strong, He is the ruler yet.  What worry often expresses is not the conviction that God. . . . .though the wrong seems oft so strong, You are the ruler yet.  What worry really is is a conviction that I need to—you might want to write this one word down to epitomize and illustrate worry—CONTROL everything around me.  I need to control what people think of me.  I need to control the future.  I need to control where this thing goes.  Can I just point out how little you do have control over your life?  Let me illustrate it with one simple point:  Every person in this room could get ONE phone call that could dramatically change their entire life.  So, how much control do you really have??

What Jesus wants to do in this passage is NOT, is not, give you more reason to worry.  What he actually wants to do is to point out how ridiculous worry actually is.  So he says here’s what you want to do. . . .if you’re feeling worried, here’s the Jesus-way of freeing your life from worry.  He says, verse 26, why don’t you. . . .Look at the birds of the air.  Why don’t you just go outside and for a few seconds, look at the birds and check them out?  What Jesus is not saying is just sit on your hands and hope for the best.  Jesus could not have picked a busier animal.  Birds. . . .work. . . .HARD!  They just don’t worry.  Birds are way too dumb to worry!  But, hey, hey, hey, we are way too smart to trust sometimes, aren’t we?  So he says why don’t you take a look and be more observant actually—not less—more observant of the world you live in.  Jesus is so intuitive here.  He knows that when we fail to see God in the world and we see the world as a world of scarcity rather than abundance, it starts to shape our souls.

Just a quick timeout.  Jesus is talking—and you can see it a number of different places here—about the concerns of WHAT we eat and WHAT we wear, not IF we eat and IF we wear.  It’s an important distinction.

But he says, hey, how about this too?  Why don’t you look at the lilies of the field and, in verse 28:  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin…   They’re not working so hard so that they can look so beautiful.  What’s going on?  The fertilizer of their heavenly Father is causing them to bloom into something absolutely gorgeous!  So he’s talking about what we not only. . .not only. . .the way that we look at the world around us—in this idea of gathering and accumulating wealth—but he’s also talking about our physical lives.  How much of our life is consumed with worry about our physical appearance?  I wish I was a little bit taller.  How many of you in wishing you were taller actually grew?  How many of you who wished you had more hair on the top of your head, actually saw it happen because you worried?  How many of you who worried about how much you weighed, lost weight?  Me neither!  Jesus’s teaching is so practical because he wants to say two things to us:  Worry is unnecessary.  Your God knows what you need, he says.  You have way more value than the lilies of the field and He’s taking care of them.  He’s going to care of you.  Worry pretends to be necessary, but it actually serves no purpose!  None!  It’s unnecessary.

It’s also unhelpful!  Jesus ends verse 34 by saying listen, tomorrow has enough trouble of its own.  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  It’s as though he’s saying man, tomorrow may be terrible but you can’t do anything about it today!  Thanks for the encouragement, Jesus.  But really he’s saying, “How’s that working out for you?”  I think he’s echoing what Corrie ten Boom so brilliantly said: “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its trouble, it empties today of its strength.”  Edwin Friedman wrote in that same book, “A Failure of Nerve”  —- “A major criterion for judging the anxiety level of any society is the loss of its capacity to be playful.”  So we lose our capacity for strength (ten Boom says) and Friedman says we lose our capacity for joy.   Jesus says yeah, look up at me.  How’s worry working out for you?  It’s not productive.  So how about this?  How about instead of worry, you shaped your life around this settled confidence that in the good seasons and in the bad, in the sunshine and in the rain, on the mountaintop and in the valley, my God is present.  He knows what I need.  He’s my good shepherd, even when it’s painful.  Oh hey, this just in—what are my other options?  That’s what Jesus wants us to shape our lives around.

Here is your other option:  But seek first {That doesn’t mean to chronologically put it above everything else, but seek in a unified manner.} the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  The solution is not simply stop worrying.  It’s to redirect our lives and our vision and our mind, as apprentices to Jesus, to a proper heart orientation that lends us to a different pursuit that leads us to a different master that eventually shapes a different kind of soul.  If you figure your life to genuinely aim at the kingdom—love of God, love of people, the effective reign of Jesus in your life, in your home, in your neighborhood, and in your workplace—if you shape your life around that, the things you need to survive and thrive will deliver themselves to you.

What does a life of non-anxious presence look like?  It means that we move from being anxious—pulled in a bunch of different directions—to attentive.  Maybe this week you actually do go look at the birds and do consider the lilies of the field.  Maybe you do that.  It’ll shape your soul.  What if we weren’t so consumed with the god of mammon. . .that we had to hoard and scrape and claw because this world is a world of scarcity, but actually saw the world as a world of light and abundance?  You know what would happen?  We would be freed to be generous.  What if you practice that this week?  What if you went to your bank and took out $60.00 and you had it in small denominations, you put it in your back pocket and this week you just looked for little ways to bless as many people as you could?  Maybe you pay for a cup of coffee?  What if we move from this position of I’ve got to hoard and scrape and claw to a position of generosity?  What if?  What if we started to seek the kingdom and instead of being consumers—every ad on TV and every print ad you see in a magazine and everything you read is designed to make you a consumer of something—of more stuff, you started to be a steward with your life, with your time, with your home, and your relationships?  What if you started to be a steward?  The reality, friends, is that an unshakable life is built on an immovable kingdom.  Jesus invites us to build our lives on that such kingdom.

On Monday afternoon, somebody from our church body (her name is Pamela) came to see me.  She had just come from the doctor to try to figure out if she had cancer.  That was on Monday.  On Friday, she’d found out that she’d lost her job.  In the midst of all of that, her son’s health is struggling.  She stopped in my office and we spent some time praying together.  I said, “Ironically, Pamela, I’m teaching on Jesus’s teaching about being worried.”  She said, “I’m trying so hard to not be worried, but I’m just worried.”  I started to ask the question: what do we do when we don’t want to be worried but we’re worried?   We spent some time praying and talked about what worry actually does.  I think that’s the setting that we have to find our answer to what do we do with this text?  What do we do with it?

Here’s what we do — We step back and we remember that this is a God-bathed world, that He’s the Lord, that He’s the Lover, that He’s the Shepherd, that He’s the King, and it does not mean that everything—hear me on this—is like a genie in a bottle and everything turns out the way we hope it will.  It doesn’t.  But it means that He’s present and it means that He walks with us.  It means that He’s good, even in the valley of the shadow of death.  When we can say, “God, I see you in this world,” it changes the world that we see and we give Him space to move and to work and to breathe life into things that are dead.  It’s a disposition, not of control, but of trust.

As we come to the table this morning, would you come to the table with bright eyes?  Would you come knowing that Jesus knows exactly what you need and your greatest need. . .He’s already met.  We come to celebrate the fact that He calls us sons and daughters, that He forgives us, that He loves us, that He welcomes us into His arms because He’s gracious and good and He knows how to meet a need.  So we come hungry, asking to be filled.  We come naked, longing to be clothed.  We come with our hands open, trusting that God, you’re at work.  This is a world of abundance, help us see it and live in it, in such a way.

So Jesus, we do.  We come trusting.  We come loving and we come knowing that you’re here, so give us bright eyes as we come.  We pray it in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Sermon on the Mount | Bright Eyes | Matthew 6:19-34 | Week 102019-02-18T00:51:13-07:00

Sermon on the Mount | The Purpose of Prayer | Matthew 6:7-15 | Week 9

SERMON ON THE MOUNT: The Purpose of Prayer   Matt. 6:7-15  Shawn Wiebers

I want to say thank you to your pastor; we’ve been friends for eight months.  You have an excellent, top shelf, amazing, Bronco-rooting pastor in Pastor Ryan and his family.  I want to say thanks to Ryan and the whole staff for their hospitality and ministering to me as I come to minister the Word today.  I have been friends with Larry Boatright for 20 years.  We actually traveled for a year in a praise and worship band together.

On the screen is my family.  This is my wife of fifteen years, Jennifer.  Together we have Hayley, Carter and Griffin.  We did pastor in Oklahoma for 12-13 years, but we are all die-hard Broncos fans, so when God said, “Go to Colorado,” I said, “Yes, Lord, here am I, send me!”  My dad grew up in Sterling; my aunt lives south of the church here in Highlands Ranch, so it feels like extended family and it’s an honor to be here with you this morning.  As I get to share on the Lord’s Prayer in this series, The Sermon on the Mount: The Art of Human Flourishing, I want to specifically talk about the purposes of prayer.

About 2-3 years ago, my son Carter came up to me (about 5-6 at the time) and with his big eyes said, “Dad, I want to play Tee-ball.”  And I said, “Okay, son, let’s do this.”  So we went and bought cleats, and a glove, and a helmet, and a bat, and we went to our first Tee-ball practice with a bunch of 4-, 5-, 6-year-old kids who had never played ball before.  The coach had played collegiate athletics so he was all in, a big guy.  First thing, all the kids line up and begin to throw a ball back and forth to each other.  I’m sitting back in my lawn chair and I realize I had not done due diligence, because Carter could not properly throw a baseball.  As an athlete myself, I was thinking, “Where have I gone wrong as a father?”  The coach kept hollering at him saying, “Carter, step into it.”  Carter would throw and then step.  No, step into it!  And he would step and then throw.  There’s a rhythm to throwing a baseball.  It seems really easy if you grew up. . . .but for your first experience of throwing a baseball, there’s a rhythm to it and if you hadn’t had previous practice, it’s really difficult for a 4- or 5-year-old kid to throw a baseball.  When the time came for the kids to practice hitting off a tee, only two went to first base, most of them went to second, and some went to third.  Because they have never experienced the game.  I don’t know if they even knew how to keep score.  These were entry-level baseball players.

I was sitting there, humiliated as a father, and the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, “This is like the kingdom of God.”  It seems so easy if you’ve served God, if you’ve been a follower of Jesus for a long time, but if you first just come into it and we say things like, blessed are the meek, blessed are the mourners, FORGIVE, give, worship, it seems abnormal to someone who comes into the church or the kingdom of God for the first time, because there’s a rhythm to it.  Just like baseball, when I stand up here today and say let’s pray, some of you feel very apprehensive.  You go, “Oh my goodness, I’ve never done this before.  I’ve never prayed before.”

Last week, we were in my son’s bedroom and had a little devotional.  I looked at our two year old and said, “Griffin, would you like to pray?”  He said, “No, daddy, it’s too hard!”  Pastoring for fifteen years, I’ve heard that many times, not just from two year olds, but from seasoned men and women in the kingdom of God who say, “Uh oh, we’re not going to pray.”  Then the pastor comes along, puts his hands on their shoulder and says, “Hey, you want to pray out loud at service?”  Nooooo!  There’s this angst, anxiety, that comes with prayer.  Maybe you’ve experienced that.  Prayer is just difficult.

What I want you to see this morning is that the purpose of prayer is not to perfect it, but to allow IT to perfect you!  The purpose of prayer is not for you to perfect it.  In fact, we’ll look here in a minute how Jesus actually spoke against that, because it’s so much more than just words and lip service.  It’s not about you perfecting it, but instead it’s allowing prayer to perfect you.  The reason we have the Lord’s Prayer in Scripture, in Matthew 6, is because a disciple, according to Luke 11:1. . . . Jesus had prayed and he completed his prayer and a disciple went to Jesus and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”  {NOTE: Verses from English Standard Version.}  If you’ve ever had that question how to pray, you’re in good company because a disciple, who had a Jewish background, who knew something about prayer because the Jews would pray at least twice a day.  They had morning prayers and evening prayers.  On the Sabbath, at the synagogue, they had eighteen prayers of repentance.  That makes our prayer seem pretty simple today, doesn’t it?  A Jew would have an understanding of prayer.  A practicing Jew would have insight to prayer, but yet here’s a disciple of Jesus, and he leans in—he’s not a two-year-old, he’s a mature man—and he says, “Jesus, teach us to pray.”

I have served God since I was five years old, 35 years, I’ve been reared in the church and the last couple years I’m still going through this formation of God, teach me to pray.  Because in prayer, it’s a growing process.  You never arrive in your prayer life.  So why then did the disciple ask, “Jesus, teach us to pray?”  He knew down deep it was more than lip service.  He knew down deep it was more than ritualistic sayings, it was more than history.  There was something deeper to prayer that he was hungry for.  Matthew Henry says that prayer is “lifting up the soul and pouring out your heart!”  I love that!  Prayer is lifting up one’s soul and pouring out one’s heart.  Adam Clarke, a Methodist theologian from the 1600s, said, “Prayer is not designed to inform God, but to give man a sight of his misery; to humble his heart, to excite his desire, to inflame his faith, to animate his hope, to raise his soul from earth to heaven, and to put him in mind that there is his Father, his country, and inheritance.”  Jon Courson says that when we pray we “don’t need to inform the Lord, or convince the Lord, we need to connect to the Lord.”  In Matthew 6:8, Jesus said the same thing.  Jesus said: For your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  The goal of prayer is not to impress.  It’s not to entice, and it’s not to inform God.  The goal of prayer is to fellowship with your heavenly Father.  It is to connect with Him on a deep level.

So what is prayer?  When I pastored in Oklahoma, our church grew significantly, similar to South Fellowship, and I had an office kind of in the inner chamber of the office suite.  My three children had access to my office.  We had a large staff and they all had small children, and all their parents kept them out of my office, but MY kids had access into my office.  To be honest, it annoyed me.  I would go in after preaching or after a long day and my telephone would be unhooked.  Post-it notes would be everywhere!  All the pins would be ruffled through.  Scissors would be out.  Remnants of cutting up paper was on the floor.  It was just a mess!  But my kids had access to my office based on relationship, based on the fact that I was their father.  William Barclay says—and I don’t mean to simplify prayer—he defines prayer as simple access.  Unrestrained, unrestricted access to the presence of God.  In the presence of God is where you and I, as a Christ follower, grow and mature and grow up in Christ.  It’s in his very presence that we grow.  William Barclay says that prayer, at its simplest form, is simply access.

So, if it’s access, why should you and I pray, if it’s not about informing God, if it’s not about enticing God, if it’s not about impressing God?  Why should we pray?  We should pray because it’s an expression of a trusted relationship.  If you’re married, in the room, you’re going to have a deep and, at least, a more comprehensive view of prayer.  Because in your marriage relationship, it’s not all about impressing, enticing, and informing.  Something I was not prepared for when I married Jennifer fifteen years ago was this one word that you—especially as a man—have to lean into and learn and that is the art of LISTENING.  We did not come conditioned to listen.  We can hear, but hearing and listening are two separate things.  When the Broncos are on, it’s not a good time to have a deep discussion.  It’s like every time OU played, Jen would ask, “Can we talk?”  No! Come back in three hours and we can talk.  But there’s this art of listening, and in prayer, there’s this art of listening.  It’s not all about enticing and informing and impressing God, but it’s this expression of a trusted relationship.

Jesus answers this question of a disciple—How should we pray?—and Jesus said this in Matthew 6:7-13 — And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.   {So, off the bat, right at the start of this, Jesus is saying it’s not about lip service, it’s what Matthew Henry called soul service.  When you take your vehicle into be serviced, it’s to get an oil change and check the fluids and all this stuff.  When we go into prayer it’s for soul service.  It’s to allow the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, in relationship with Christ, to begin to heal our soul.  It’s not about lip service, it’s about soul service.}  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. {In verse 9 we have this very famous prayer.  We, the church, call it the Lord’s Prayer.  Earlier in the church, they called it the Disciples’ Prayer. Let’s say it out loud, but don’t say it ritualistically.  Let’s take a moment and pause and say it deep from our soul. This is really a community prayer, we’ll talk about that in just a minute.} Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

So today I want to dig into this text and discover four purposes of prayer.  Number one is this:  It moves us into God’s collective.  When you think about the very first word of the prayer, it is not ‘me’ or ‘my,’ it is ‘our.’  Our Father.  When we pray the Lord’s prayer, when we pray as a church and a community, it places us into God’s collective—from different backgrounds, from different ethnicities, from different countries—now we’re coming together under one banner—the banner of the name of Jesus—and we cry out “our Father.” OUR. FATHER.  So in prayer, we participate in God’s community called the kingdom of God.  In prayer, it moves us into the kingdom of God.  As I thought about that this week, I was thinking that prayer rips us from the desires of self-idolatry and self-identity.  It places us inside of this family known as the church, as a collective group of people, as the body of Christ.

When we pray “Our Father,” as one of my mentors has said, it removes us from the false trinity of “me, myself, and I” and it places us in the real Trinity of God our Father, God Lord Jesus, and God Holy Spirit.  When we pray it removes this self-sufficiency from our lives, and it places us into a church body. I just want to say that you need the church maybe more than you recognize or confess.  Iron sharpens iron as one brother sharpens another (Prov. 27:17); you were meant for community.  You were meant to be a part of what God is doing.

So when we say “OUR Father,” it gives us this excellent, healthy view of God, but it also gives us a healthy view of each other.  Because all of a sudden it’s not about me, it’s not about MY needs and MY desires.  It’s not about being self-sufficient, a self-made man, but it’s OUR Father.  When you see God as OURS, when you see God in this community of believers, then you’re ready to say “hallowed be Thy name.”  It’s in that community that now you’re ready to worship and praise God and his name.  Hallowed be Thy name.  It simply means that God is set apart.  He is holy.  There’s none like Him in all the earth.  There’s none like Him in all generations.  He is a stand alone God, self-sufficient.  We pray “Our Father, hallowed be Thy name.”  You see, reverence only comes in relationship.  You can’t say “hallowed be Thy name” if you don’t see God as Father.  Because reverencing God, or setting Him apart in your mind, only comes in the relationship of our Father.  We declare God as holy, we declare God as gracious, we declare God as self-sufficient One, we declare God as Savior, we declare God as healer. . . .because we know Him as Father.

Here’s the Why?  When you come together as a church—in small groups, in meet ups, in serve teams—you begin to visit and talk about God.  In that discussion, in that friendship, comes a different view of God.  You may know God as Savior and He redeemed you and delivered you out of, literally, a life of hell, but your friend might know Him as Healer.  Your other friend might know Him as Restorer, restoring a marriage, restoring a family that’s seen the lost.  You come together and now you can say, “Our Father, hallowed be Your name.”  I have a deeper understanding of you because of what Teresa’s going through, because of what Mark is going through.  I see you now, not only as MY Savior, but I see you as Redeemer, Restorer, Healer.  That’s why relationships are so important—they give us a deeper view of God.  So prayer moves us into God’s collective and removes us from being self-sufficient, having a self-identity that moves into self-idolatry.

The second thing—I struggled with this point—is that prayer moves us to collaborate with God.   Out of my struggling comes a clear understanding of what this means.  Dallas Willard says, “Prayer is a collaboration with God.”  By no means do I mean to humanize God.  By no means do I mean God is like one of us.  But as I’ve studied this—Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.—it’s truly us collaborating with God.  In other words, when we pray that, we cannot drop the mic and walk off and be done.  No, no, no, no, that’s not what this prayer means.  What THIS prayer means—let Your kingdom come, let Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven—means I must align my life with God’s purpose and principles on the earth.  It means that we are to actively participate in God’s promises.  We are to actively participate in God’s will being done on earth.  We’re to align our purpose with God’s purpose in saying let Your kingdom come.  In fact, the way I pray this is “Let me participate in bringing your kingdom to earth and let me participate in doing your will on earth as it is in heaven.”  We can’t pray it, drop the mic, and say see you tomorrow, God.  No, no, no, no.  It’s a collaboration.  Place yourself and say what am I doing in bringing the kingdom of God to earth?  What am I doing in my life that aligns with the will of God?  One theologian said it this way:  “Let your kingdom come” starts with ME, not we.  Your kingdom comes starts with me, and that reminded me of James 1:22-25 — But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.  But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. 

So this prayer is about actively participating in the kingdom of God and the will of God on earth.  If you want to be blessed in your doing, align your doing with the will and the purposes of God.  If you want to be blessed in your marriage, align your marriage with the will and the purpose of God.  If you want to be blessed in your family, align your purpose and your will with the will and the purpose of the heavenly Father.

I have a dear friend who’s become a mentor.  His name is Robert Barriger.  Robert has pastored a church in Peru for over twenty years.  Robert was a wild surfer from San Diego and had never even experienced church.  He came to know Christ.  He and his wife were married when they were young and God put on his heart “Peru.”  Not knowing much about Peru, they literally, instead of praying “God, you do something in Peru,” he said, “Lord, here I am, send me.”  So they raised enough money for one-way airline tickets to Peru, and they moved to Lima as a young couple with a young child and they literally knew nobody.  He tells the story now in one of his books, called “Honoring God,” of how he would pray and go check the mail and believe that God would put it on someone’s heart to send a check so they could make all their payments for the month.  Truly an act of faith.  Multiple times in the past twenty years, terrorists have focused in on him.  They’ve robbed him, have held him hostage, broken into church and stolen the safe.  I can imagine that multiple times he’s said, “Lord, this is too hard, I’m moving back to San Diego to become a surfer.”  This is too hard, Lord.  This is too difficult.  But he prayed this prayer—Let YOUR will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Today, twenty years later, Pastor Robert is on the council to advise the president of the country of Peru.  His church is now in five cities—they average, on a weekend, attendance of anywhere from 16,000-18,000 people.

When you pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done,” you can’t drop the mic and walk off.  You have to ask how can I participate in bringing the kingdom of God to Centennial?  How can I participate in bringing the kingdom of God to Denver?  How can I participate in bringing the kingdom of God to my family, and my neighborhood, and my city?  When we pray, it moves us to collaborate with God.

The third thing is it moves us to be cleansed by God.  Verses 11 and 12 say:  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  Many people—and it’s perfectly fine—separate these two phrases.  For the sake of time, as I begin to look at these, I really see this as a continuation—Give us this day our daily bread, AND forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.    The reason I see this as one is because God is both concerned about our physical and spiritual need.  God is concerned about our physical and spiritual state, and so what God does is He heals our soul, He puts right our spirit, so that He can direct our destiny.  So He can direct us, lead us, and guide us.  Jesus said it best in John 6:32-35 — Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”  Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”  What was Jesus saying?  When you get Jesus in your heart, when you get Jesus in your life, He begins to work on your soul and your mind to renew your mind, and He gives you the strength, He gives you the ability to forgive, to show grace and to show mercy.  You cannot forgive apart from accepting the forgiveness of God.

When Jesus says, “I am the bread of life,” we go that’s great, I love bread.  Fresh bread is good, I’ll take you Jesus.  What Jesus is really concerned about are the results of the bread.  You eat to gain fuel and energy for the day.  Remember a few years ago when Michael Phelps was in the Olympics?  He ate eight to ten thousand calories for breakfast!  It was a table—nearly as big as this stage—and it had food all over it.  He would literally eat for an hour.  It was not healthy stuff — biscuits and gravy, bacon, sausage and eggs…   It was my type of breakfast!  Why did he have to eat that much?  The results were that it was going to give him the energy to be an Olympic swimmer.  The reason Jesus wants you in His life is so that you will have the strength in your weakness to forgive the unforgivable.  So that Jesus can give you the ability and the strength to show mercy when you’re done showing mercy.  So that Jesus can come and use you as a grace agent when you say, “I cannot show grace anymore.  I am done with this, Jesus.”  Jesus says no, no, no, take a bite from me and I will give you the strength, I will give you the grace, I am sufficient for you today.

I’m reminded of the lady in Luke 7:47 — I tell you, her sings—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love.    When you understand that you have been forgiven much, it’s easy to forgive much.  When you understand that you have received unreasonable grace, it’s easy to show unreasonable grace.  When you have encountered Jesus as merciful, it becomes easy to show mercy.  He will give you the strength you need to do what He’s called you to do.  So I see this as one :  Give us this day our daily bread.  Yes, physical.  It’s also spiritual — Forgive us OUR debts, so that we can forgive our debtors.

Let me just say this, I have an entire series I taught in Oklahoma on taking offense and living in bitterness and offense, and if that’s you this morning, just release that.  It’s not doing you any good and you think it’s hurting the other person, but it’s not.  In fact, later in this text, Jesus says if you aren’t willing to forgive others, I can’t even forgive you. (Matt. 6:14-15) So it all begins with receiving God’s grace and his forgiveness, then He will give the strength and the empowerment to forgive others.  If you’ve tasted the goodness of God, the mercy of God, don’t withhold that from a person in your life.  Freely you have received; freely give. (Matt. 10:8)

The purpose of prayer is that it moves us into accepting and receiving the cleansing work of Jesus.  And the fourth thing, the last thing, and the most difficult thing is that prayer moves to accept that God is in control.  For all of you control freaks in the room, this is not an easy prayer to say, is it?  I hate to fly.  Someone asked, “Are you afraid of heights?”  Not necessarily.  Then why are you afraid to fly?   Because I’m not in charge and I’m not driving the aircraft.  Very simple.  My fear is based on the fact that I’m not in control.  What I’ve learned in serving God for thirty-five years, and leading a church, and now planting a church, is that we are really in control of less than what we think we’re in control of.  The tighter we hang onto control, the more we fail.  The more we let go and say, “God, lead us not into temptation—which literally means sin—but deliver us from evil,” we’re saying Lord, you’re the great leader.  You’re the great Shepherd.  Psalm 23:1-3 reminds us that: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul.  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  What is that saying?  God is a good leader.  He is a good shepherd.  He will lead you to places of plenty to where He can feed you, and restore you, and heal you, and He can get to know you.

We serve a good God.  He’s a faithful God.  He’s a gracious God.  In fact, the Bible says He has more patience than you and I.  He’s long-suffering.  When you understand that about God and you see Him as a Good Father, and a Holy God, you can say:  Lead me not into temptation and deliver me from evil.  So that job that you didn’t get that you thought was right for you and you prayed about?  It was really Jesus intercepting you and saying no, no, no, no, no, I’m going to direct you and lead you and keep you from evil.  That school that you applied for and you just knew it was a right fit and you didn’t get accepted and you went, man, Jesus, what happened?  He says no, no, no, I’m directing you and guiding you and leading you away from evil.  Here’s a good one:  That person you thought was going to be your spouse and you even prayed them into your life and Jesus, in the last moment, says no, no, no, no, I’m going to protect you and lead you and guide you and guard you and govern you away from evil.  When God is in control, you can simply put your trust in Him.  Put your trust in Him, He is in control.

So maybe you’re new to the faith, maybe this is your first time to South, the purpose of prayer is not for you to perfect it, but for you to allow it to perfect you.  It moves you into God’s collective.  It moves you into collaboration with God, seeing the world the way He sees it, allowing your heart to break for what breaks His.  Seeing needs and fulfilling the need; being the answer to someone’s prayer. . .that’s what it means to move into collaboration with God.  It moves us into being cleansed and setting us free, and filling us from the inside out.  So many times we’re looking for the external to bring pleasure to the internal, but it’s really when the Holy Spirit begins to work on the internal that brings pleasure to the external.  The joy of the Lord is my strength, Nehemiah declared.  (Nehemiah 8:10)  Finally, it moves us to accept that God is in control — Lead me, guide me, and govern my life.  Amen.

Let me pray for you.  Heavenly Father, I know this can be difficult, but really prayer is access into your presence, so God, let me just say on behalf of this church, thank you that you’ve made a way to fellowship and commune with us.  It seems hard to imagine that the God of the universe, who spoke into existence all that we can see, touch, and feel, would say, “I want to have a relationship with you.”  It’s all you’ve ever desired is that your people would know You.  So we thank you for that.  I pray blessings upon this congregation.  I pray blessings upon this staff, the leaders, the elders.  God, I just join my faith with theirs and know that the greatest days of South Fellowship are ahead of it, not behind it.  You’ve called this church with a purpose—aligning to be a part of your will and your purpose and bringing the glory of Jesus to this city and to this neighborhood.  May it be done.  God, we worship you, we honor you.

With every head bowed, in 1 John 1: 9, the Scripture says:  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Maybe that’s you and you wandered into this place—drug by a friend—and showed up here today, not knowing what to expect.  The Holy Spirit’s working on your heart.  The Apostle Paul says that if we confess with our mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead, we shall be saved. (Rom. 10:9) It’s that simple.  If that’s you, I just want to urge you and encourage you to take that step towards God.  As you draw near to Him, the promise is He will draw near to you. (James 4:8) I’m not going to lead you in a prayer, because a prayer is not magical.  It’s not what brings the totality of salvation and healing.  The Scripture says it’s confession and belief.  Right now, right where you are, say, “Jesus, you’re my Lord.  I give you everything.  I worship you.  I believe you’re who the word of God declares you to be.  My Savior.  My Redeemer.”   In Jesus’s name.  Amen.

Sermon on the Mount | The Purpose of Prayer | Matthew 6:7-15 | Week 92021-10-21T09:56:31-06:00

Sermon on the Mount | Real Religion | Matthew 6:1-6 | Week 8

SERMON ON THE MOUNT: Real Religion  Matthew 6:1-5, 16-18  Pastor Larry Boatright

How many of us, in this room, would admit that we’ve done something embarrassing that we wish no one would ever see?  Wow!  When we do something embarrassing and then later on we think about it, we still kind of feel it, right?  It’s crazy because the world that we live in now everybody has a cell phone and they can take video of this stuff, so when you do something stupid, it gets recorded for posterity.  Or security footage, as a possible example. You can visit original site for best CCTV surveillance camera system installation. As safety at home must be always prioritize so you should have better home security system. I did something kind of embarrassing recently, and I thought the wisest thing to do is to show you guys.  You okay with that?  Take a look.  I was in a hurry to get out (of the building) one day, I needed to make a phone call.  This is security footage from our lobby.  I was trying to get this call made…   (Video shows Larry crashing into tempered glass window.)  In my defense, as I was walking toward the window, there was a woman walking out and she had this cute little blond girl who was smiling at me.  I was like, ohhh! BAM!

For some reason, every person I showed this video to has laughed.  I’m not sure why.  I want to go back and show it in slow motion, because I want you to see just how hard my head bounced off the window.  Take a look….boom! boom! boom!  It hurt like heck and was super embarrassing.  The woman rushed in and was, “Oh my God, are you okay?”  I was not okay, but I said I was because I was embarrassed.  I was stunned and embarrassed, but it also cut my lip.  I heard my tooth hit the glass when it happened.  Beyond that, it gave me a full-blown concussion.  I spent about ten days in a fog.  I was driving a few days later—which I probably shouldn’t have been, but just to give you an idea the weird stuff my brain was doing—and I turned a corner and saw a gorilla on the street corner.  I told my wife, “There’s a gorilla on the street corner!”  She looked out the window and she looked back at me and was like, okaaayyy.  I looked again and it was a black street light.  My brain superimposed a gorilla some how.  If you hear me scream and run off the stage, I saw a gorilla!

You’re probably asking, “Why are you showing us this?”  Well, I want you to know that I have a brain injury today, and I’m still struggling.  I wanted you to understand why this sermon’s going to be three hours long.  I’m kidding, mostly.  Seriously though, I’m showing it because it is funny, but I want to make the point that we all have done things that are embarrassing.  We’ve all done things that we wish no one else knew about.  We work really hard to hide those things.  On the other end of things, we’ve all put on a facade for other people to look better than we are.  Don’t we?  We do these things to make us look like we’ve got it all together, when we really don’t.  We’ve all done things in between those two spectrums.

We’ve been in this series where we’ve been journeying through the Sermon on the Mount, and man, what a provocative, challenging series this has been.  Today, I want to look at the words of Jesus where he addresses this idea of putting on a show for others in order to make ourselves look good.  I want to see what he invites us to do as we practice living in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, as we talk about the kingdom of God.

If you have your Bibles, turn to Matthew 6.  We’re going to look at a few verses together (from the VOICE translation) (verses 1-5):  Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.  If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. {Skip down to verses 16-18.}   When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

What a passage, huh?  A few observations—This starts off with the phrase “be careful.”  Anytime we see Jesus say, “Be careful…” we should pay attention, because it means we might be in a place where we’re about to walk into a danger zone.  He says, “Be mindful of your motive while you’re practicing your righteousness.”  A chapter earlier, Jesus said, “Be perfect, as my Father is perfect,” right?  That sounds real intimidating.  I don’t know about you, but if Jesus says, “Be perfect,” is that intimidating?  Yes.  That’s crazy.  But he wasn’t setting a bar of perfection or righteousness that he intended for these people to instantly attain.  It’s like, well, follow Jesus and now you’re perfect.  Some people, when they choose to follow Jesus, think that’s what they’re suppose to do. . . .instantly be perfect.  He’s not saying that, that would be too oppressive.

This idea of practicing your righteousness was a way of conveying that we should be doing the things that work out becoming who God invites us to be.  Moving towards looking more and more like Jesus.  Maybe it’s practicing your righteousness as righteous practice.  It’s practicing being holy.  Jesus comments assuming that they ARE practicing.  Notice he doesn’t say, “IF you give….” What does he say?  WHEN you give.  He’s assuming that they’re doing that.

We have to remember that Jesus wasn’t speaking into a vacuum or just trying to sound religious like a religious teacher, he was speaking to real people in a real culture that had real expectations on them.  Giving, praying, and fasting were ways of moving toward holiness, of showing that you were holy.  This didn’t exist just in Judaism, it exists in almost all of the major religions of the world.  As a matter of fact, giving to the needy, praying, and fasting are three of the five pillars of Islam.  So it wasn’t unique to Christianity, it was sort of expected.  If you were moving toward righteousness or piety or holiness, you would be doing those things.  So he was speaking to very real things people did in order to feel like they were holy, or feel like they were measuring up to God’s standards.  It’s real important that we understand that.  He wasn’t condemning giving, praying, and fasting, he was commenting on what happens when people do it for the wrong reasons.

So in this passage, we see him sort of walk us through those things.  Don’t do it this way, but do it this way.  Why was he doing that?  Why was he even addressing this?  There are three reasons I want to point out.  One is that is was a very stoic culture.  It was a culture where you DID hide your imperfections.  You certainly didn’t want to look like you didn’t have your stuff altogether.  You needed to have the appearance of having it altogether.  You don’t want to show that side.  It was also a religious culture that was very formulaic and ‘prescribed’ what it looked like to ‘look holy.’  If the church is saying to you. . . or if your religious leaders are saying, “Well, do THESE things if you’re holy,” then it was a culture where people felt pressure to do those things.  Does that make sense?  Pray. . . .if you want to look holy, pray.  If you want to look holy, fast and make a big deal out of it.  If you want to look holy, give publicly.  So it was assumed that you would be doing those things to look holy.  People would assume if they see it in you, but then you clearly must be holy.

Then there were the hypocrites that he talked about.  The super religious people that went over the top.  They wanted everybody to know that they were doing these things and that they were holy.  The reason they were doing it was to get accolades from people.  Jesus was emphatic about the true reward for doing those things with that motive.  The reward was that you would receive approval of others.  You would receive the admiration of others, and if that was what your goal was, then that’s what you got.  But that’s all you got.  Jesus was saying that it was sort of a flash-in-the-pan, a short-lived reward.

Maybe we should bring it into a modern-day perspective.  We just had the offering.  Could you imagine that at the beginning of the offering the ushers are ready to go down the aisles, and someone pulled a trumpet out and doot-doo-doo and they played it.  Then they pulled out one of those huge checks—-like the ones you win from the lottery when you’re at a press conference, or if you have a business and you’re donating money and it says I’m giving all this money.  They came down to the front of the church and they showed it, and then they were like, come on.  That would be really weird.  Just in case you were kind of thinking of doing that, you might get tackled by someone on our safety team.  It sounds a bit ridiculous, but it’s not so far off from things that people in our culture do.

There’s the one side where many of us stuff things down and we do whatever we can to hide the real us—the brokenness, warts and all—from other people.  Things we don’t want others to see.  I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and I showed him this video.  He said, “How’d you get that?”  I said, “I went home and I logged into our security camera and I recorded it so I could show the church.”  He said, “This is what’s different between you and me.  I would have logged in and deleted the video.”  And now that I’m saying that out loud, it’s a pretty good idea!

Some of us do that.  We get in a fight on the way to church with our spouse.  We’re screaming bloody murder and threatening divorce and all this sort of stuff.  Then, magically, when we pull into the parking lot of the church. . .BING!  We are GQ family.  Children look perfect coming into the church.  We do that, right?

A lot of us spend so much energy trying to look perfect for others, because we think that’s what’s expected of us.  We post memes on Facebook that sound real holy and spiritual.  Some of us, to look holy, raise our hands in worship.  If you grew up Presbyterian, you keep your hands below the chest.  If you grew up Baptist, like I did, it’s even with the chest, one palm up, one down.  If you’re charismatic, it’s a fully exposed armpit.  There are rules.  So do those things to look real good.  Sometimes, maybe, we say to someone, in person or on Facebook, “I’m praying for you.”  That’s almost become an empty phrase because most of us don’t.  We say “I’m praying for you,” but we don’t actually do it.   I’m guilty of that too.

Maybe, just maybe, after we do all of this work, we get a pat on the back and someone affirms us—you look holy.  Wow, you’re spiritual.  That does something deep in us.  It lights a spark in us that every time we get the accolades for ‘looking religious,’ ‘looking holy,’ looking like we have it altogether, it’s like an addiction cycle that we have to do more and more and more.  It’s crazy.  Why do we do this?

Giving, praying, and fasting are all portals to true communion with God, but they’re also great ways to get patted on the back. Our motives, within religious circles, can get twisted really quickly.  We can do a lot of things to appear that we have it altogether and to receive the applause of others.  We measure ‘am I okay?’ by those things.  So I look to see how many ‘likes’ did I get on Facebook video or the thing that I posted.  How many people come up to me after the sermon and say, “Wow, that was a great talk, Pastor?”  How many people affirm—like when we’re trying to keep up with the Joneses—the new car or the new house or whatever it might be?  How many times do we measure our worth by those things?  All too often, we do those things because it seems the right thing to do, because we know people will praise us.

Remember the proverb:  Before every person lies a road that seems to be right, but the end of that road is death and destruction. (Proverbs 14:12)   We live in a world that is so driven by approval and achievement that people will go to endless lengths to obtain those things and it becomes this addiction.  But the reward, Jesus said, the reward for that. . . .if my motive is for approval, then that’s ALL I’m going to get.

But pushing deeper for just a moment into WHY we do these things. . . .why we seek approval, why we seek to look like we have it altogether.  I believe that we ALL, whether we’re a follower of Jesus or not, have this suspicion that something’s missing or broken within us.  I believe that the image of God within us, no matter how marred or scarred or smudged by the brokenness within us, has a longing inside to move toward wholeness.  I believe God put that within us.  We go to great lengths to fix what doesn’t quite feel right within us.  It’s almost like we don’t feel okay with ourselves or with others or with God, so we go through these great lengths.  Jesus is trying to tell us if our motive is wrong, if our motive behind those things is wrong, it’s always going to lead to pain because the reward is short-term.  If our behavior is wrong, if the things we’re doing to practice our righteousness are wrong, we feel trapped, we feel fake, we feel empty, and we chase methods to feel okay.  We move from one theological camp to the next.  If I go to this camp, they say I should worship a ton.  That didn’t work for me so I’d better find another way.  So I’m going to go over here and read my Bible and pray, every single day.  We go through the motions of religiosity.  We wake up sometimes and go gosh, I’m exhausted!  Jesus wasn’t content to let us stay that way, and I’m so thankful.  He addresses these practices that really had the potential to be portals to union with God, but some people were doing them the wrong way and with the wrong heart and therefore, receive the wrong reward.

He reframes what a healthy motive looks like. He talks about ‘the Father sees,’ the approval of the Father.  Look at what he says:  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  The motive, he’s saying, should be a reward from the Father, not the approval of people.  I’ll unpack that in a second.  Then he reframes what a healthy behavior looks like.  He says, do this secret.  He gives this kind of weird analogy:  Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  He’s not literally saying don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.  He’s using that as sort of an extreme metaphor to say this should be private.  He’s not saying don’t pray in public; God clearly calls the Church to do this.  He’s not saying don’t give in public.  He’s saying your behavior should be that of an intimate connection with God, not a public display intended to earn the approval of others.

So Jesus, in this Sermon on the Mount, in this sort of radical, subversive going against the grain of the thinking of the day, invited people to think and act differently, for the glory of God, for their wholeness, and ultimately, for the renewal of all things.  He used this example to sort of grab people and shake people out of their mindset of this need to perform.  He invites them into deep communion and intimacy with God.  That sounds a lot better to me than the short-lived, fifteen minutes of fame.  How about you?

So THAT’S the ultimate reward.  Listen to what Robert Mulholland, one of my favorite authors, says about the reward that Jesus invites us to:  “Union with God results in our being a person through whom God’s presence touches the world with forgiving, cleansing, healing, liberating and transforming grace.  The world will not believe in Christ because of our sound theology, our correct creed, our well-defined dogma, our rigorous religiosity.  The world will believe when it sees Christlikeness manifested in our life.”  I don’t know about you, but when I read that I. WANT. THAT!  I want that kind of union with God.  Have you ever known somebody who seemed to be on fire connected with God?  That’s what I want.  I want others to see that Christlikeness manifested in my life.

Jesus’s invitation was to move away from performance and achievement, and trying to measure up, and trying to do rhythms and practices that made them look holy but left them empty inside, and invited them into joining in the kingdom work of renewing all things and enjoying communion with Him.  This idea of practicing our righteousness is to do the things that help us take steps toward, ultimately, getting what we long for, which is communion with God and wholeness.  Jesus is saying we don’t have to go through this endless parade of doing things to feel like we measure up.  We can be with God and practice taking steps to be like Jesus, and Christ’s likeness will come into us and people will see that and see the power and glory of Jesus.

So I’m going to give you the big idea, then I’m going to unpack how we’re going to get there.  Here’s the big idea:  Communion with God doesn’t come from DOING everything perfectly….   Look at me for a moment.  We all need to hear this.  We need to be reminded of this.  For those of us who are perfectionists. . . .we want to get it right every time and we self destruct. . . .you need to hear this.  Communion with God does not come from DOING everything perfectly.  We know, we’ve all tried and failed.  It comes from PURSUING GOD faithfully.  Do you hear me?  That’s good news.  If we pursue praise from others to fulfill that longing in our heart, we’re always going to experience emptiness in the end.  But, if we pursue communion with God, we’re ultimately going to get what we seek, which is to feel okay with ourselves, with others, and with God, and to experience wholeness and the joy of living in communion with God.

Listen, imagine a church filled with people who dropped their pretenses—said I’m not going to pretend anymore, you’re going to see the good, bad and the ugly—but we’re working together, we’re practicing our righteousness together in grace.  Imagine how powerful that would be for a city that so desperately needs to hear that a Savior loves them.  I think that’s the work that God is continuing to do in our midst, and I’m so happy to be a part of South Fellowship Church.

If Jesus is inviting us to a different kind of life—a life where we live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, the kingdom way—how do we get what we ultimately want, which is communion with God, restoration of our heart, and wholeness?  I’m going to give just four things, in the rest of our time together, to help us pursue experiencing communion with God as we practice our righteousness.  The first one is sort of a no-brainer, but it’s the one so easy to miss.  Seek the heart of God and His Kingdom first.  

Someone once said the Sermon on the Mount is a manifesto of what living in the kingdom is all about.  It’s like the values of the kingdom.  Jesus is unpacking what’s most important in the kingdom of God.  These people, who were the hypocrites, had the wrong motive.  They were seeking the applause, the approval of others first, but Jesus was saying no, no, no, seek the kingdom of God first.  We can try so hard to do everything right and try to look good so maybe God will love us, but Jesus is saying that these practices of giving and praying and fasting can either be a portal to communion with God or a pathway to destruction.  It really all comes down to motive.

The Sermon on the Mount is building toward Matthew 6:33.  We’ve all heard this since we were little kids, but, hopefully today, we can walk away really getting it.  Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you too.  He’s telling the listener, in that passage, don’t worry about your house, and your car, and your food, don’t worry about the approval of others and what everybody else thinks, seek the kingdom of God’s righteousness, and listen, everything that you NEED you’re going to get.  If you’re chasing it for the approval of men, what you really want is to feel okay, to feel that God has restored you, that the brokenness is empty, but you’ll never get it that way.  If you set your intention on seeking first the kingdom of God, you’ll get everything that you need.  If we move toward Jesus, it’s about setting our intention on the kingdom of God and his righteousness, being more like God, letting Christ’s likeness—sanctification, if you will—begin to happen in us.

Our mission statement—living in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus—is not just some cheeky phrase we came up with to look good up on a wall, we really think it embodies Jesus’s call to live out the kingdom now.  The best think any of us can do is to pursue Jesus deeply, to spend time to get to know his heart, to get to know his way, and to take steps every day to walk in that.  For some of us, that means we need to start every day just setting our intention, before our feet hit the ground.  Setting our intention on making our motive chasing the kingdom of God, and doing it for God’s glory and not our own.  Maybe some of us need to write down Matthew 6:33 on a sticky note and put it someplace where we’ll see it constantly as a reminder to ask ourselves, “Am I doing it for my kingdom or God’s kingdom?”

Years ago, I had the immense privilege of traveling around the country and the world leading worship.  I got to lead worship in front of thousands of people.  I got to make some CDs.  It was a great adventure.  I had a couple of friends who were nationally-known worship leaders—one is probably THE most well-known worship leader in the United States; you would know them if I said the name.  Because I had a relationship with them, I was sort of doing my thing, I was paying attention to what was happening to them and how their songs were ending up on the radio, and how they were playing at larger and larger events, and selling more and more CDs.  At some point, my wires got crossed and I sort of started comparing my success to theirs.  How many CDs am I selling?  How many people are coming up and talking to me after an event, and going wow! that was amazing?  I got to go to Europe and lead worship for people from 18 different countries.  Man, I remember being at that, and it was a really neat experience, and going wow! I must have really made it!

One of those two men wrote this song called “Nothing Left of Me.”  He gave me a copy of this record and I was listening to it. The Spirit did something deep in me.  It cut through all the junk that I was telling myself—my own little bubble.  It says this:  “Strip away all that remains, for Your glory and Your name, till there’s nothing left of me.  Burn the kingdoms I have made, that You would shine and I would fade, till there’s nothing left of me.”  It just nailed me!  I realized that I had been trying to build my own kingdom, instead of pursuing God’s kingdom.  I was chasing people knowing me, money, and all these sorts of things—in Jesus’s name.  It broke me to my core.  I realized I had been doing all this to build up my kingdom, but really, the reason these people were so successful was because it was all about Jesus.  They were truly seeking first the kingdom of God and God was giving them all the stuff that they got, not so that they would look like rock stars, but so that they could continue to tell people about the good news of Jesus.

Seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness is really a matter of setting our heart’s intention and choosing to make it about Jesus’s way and Jesus’s heart.  Listen, it’s real easy to get sideways on this one, and if we do, then all the other things we do really won’t matter, because we’re not doing them for the right reasons, and our behavior will start to shift.  I can promise you, I’ve been there.

So I’d just ask, “How are YOU doing at this?”  How are you doing at seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness?  What’s one thing you may need to do, this week, in order to make this a focus in your life?  Think about that.

First we set our heart’s focus on Jesus and his kingdom.  Second, we engage in healthy rhythms and practices that move us toward righteousness, that develop us more and more into who God created us to be.  To sort of help you answer the question on this quiz, what are some practices we could engage in to move us toward righteousness?  Jesus gave us the answer key in this passage, so it’s giving, praying, and fasting. Those are things we could do.  The Scriptures talk a lot about practicing and training, right?  1Timothy 4:7 tells us:  Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths.  Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.   You’d be a fool to say, “I’m now a marathon runner.  I have never ran a day in my life and I’m going to sign up.”  You get to the starting line, the gun goes off, and you’re off to the races. . . .for 250 yards.  Right?  There’s a reason why people with amazing physiques still run a ton every day, building up for the marathon.  That’s the life that Jesus has invited us to, remember?  Be perfect.  It’s as you’re moving towards perfection.

There are different types of practices.  There are corporate practices, like we’re doing right now.  Did you know that you’re doing a practice right now? The Scriptures say don’t forsake gathering together regularly. (Heb. 10:25)  You’re doing that, you’re here.  Corporate prayer and fasting.  Even the church calendar—how we journey through Advent or Lent or things like that—those are corporate practices.  Individual practices like prayer, solitude, fasting, giving, meditation, reading Scriptures.  Those are individual practices we could undertake.

I’m really bad about. . . .when I get excited about something and I realize I need to get better at it, I go “all in.”  Anybody else like that?  I go crazy.  I’m going to get healthy and I’m going to change the way I eat.  So I just go crazy about changing the way I eat and I start working out like crazy.  I end up hurting myself, or I get really sick and then I just give up.  Back to the couch I go.  That’s not what I’m saying.  My challenge to you is this:  just pick one or two practices and start.  I’m not saying now and until Jesus comes back.  I’m saying this week—what are one or two practices you could put in place?  Some ideas directly from Scripture:  Giving —You can start giving, if you’re not giving.  You don’t have to give a ton, just start giving.  Be consistent.  Consistency is the key.  Praying.  Fasting.  Consistently read the Scriptures.  Meditate.  Be consistent in corporate worship.  Come on a regular basis. . . . .most of you we like seeing here!  We want to see you here.  So the question is what are one or two practices you could put in place this week to help you as you practice righteousness, to help you live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus?

The third thing we can do is really important—Listen to the nudge of the Spirit.  This is where it gets really personal.  We should ALL be seeking first the kingdom of God.  We should ALL be engaging in some kind of rhythm of practices.  But this is the part that gets real personal and it could be hard, right?  This is about what the Spirit of God is calling YOU to do.  Did you know the Spirit of God cares about you uniquely?  When Jesus talks about a kingdom, it’s its subjects working together.  Not just a few people, but everybody has their part.  God’s wired all of us with the unique gifting, background, socialization and all those things.  If we will listen, the Spirit will nudge us and give us a job to do.  Listen to 1 Cor. 12:4-7 — Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  We all have a role to play in the kingdom of God.  So many of us abdicate our part because we feel that we’re not important enough, we’re insignificant.  Another reason we abdicate is because we think kingdom of God is a someday thing—-I’m just going to hide out until Jesus comes back and makes everything right.  I don’t think that’s the posture God is calling us to.  That’s not living in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  Living in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus is using how God’s uniquely wired us to make a difference, to partner with Jesus in the renewal of all things, to help move things towards shalom, not hiding and just talking, but doing and listening.

Part of our role is to listen and do away with distractions—those things that keep us from hearing that little whisper from the Spirit saying do this.  For some, maybe it’s just talking to people you don’t usually talk to.  Maybe the Spirit tells you to talk to that person.  For others, God may call you to uproot your lives and move somewhere else.  For others, it’s serving in a very specific way.  One person is our brother, Ed (Squire), sitting right here.  He’s started an entire organization—you may have seen Facebook posts and Instagram posts—called #metoowhatnow.  There’s a movement called #metoo, where people have been abused by others.  His question was, “Well, what happens after that?”  What do I do to empower and equip others?  It’s a huge undertaking.  He’s had to learn how to do video.  He’s traveled around the country.  He’s going to be shooting a documentary.  He’s got a book he’s working on.  He’s doing all these things that are probably things he’s never dreamed in a million years that he’d be doing.  But the Spirit was like, “Ed, I want you to do this thing because there are hurting people.”  In obedience, he’s like, I don’t know what to do, I’m going to just start doing it.  He’s taking one step and another step, and he’s starting to get feedback from people who say they need this.  It all started because he postured himself to just listen to that voice from the Spirit.

For some of us, it might be simple what the Spirit calls us do, others it might be complex, but no doubt, part of practicing righteousness is positioning ourselves to listen to the nudge of the Spirit.  The Spirit will call you.  The Spirit IS trying to speak to you, if you’ll listen.  So maybe God’s call for you is to figure out where in my schedule am I positioning myself to listen.  Where am I stopping?  This is something I’m terrible at.  I’ve said this before in teaching, I go 400 miles per hour.  I have one speed — 400 miles per hour.  I feel like, for years, God’s been saying, “Slow down.”  I’m like, “I will some day.”  A few weeks ago, I was talking to Ryan about this and I’m like, I just really feel like I’ve got to focus on resting in this season, getting quiet and listening.  Two days later I got really sick for three days.  Lord, I already know!  I already told you I’m going to do this!  I got over the sickness and I jumped right back in at 400 miles per hour, then I smacked into a plate glass wall.  {The tempered glass is no joke.  It does not give at all!}  The Lord’s working on me to slow down and listen.  I will tell you, for almost two weeks having a concussion, it’s really messed with me, but for some reason I feel deeply connected to God.  I think it’s because I’ve been forced to slow down.  The Spirit’s whispering some stuff.  It’s kind of freaking me out, but it’s good.  We all need to do that.

So we start with prioritizing pursuing the kingdom of God.  We engage in some practices, then we listen for the instruction from the Spirit.  Then here’s the hardest part of this — Have the courage to obey the Spirit.  I tell my kids, “Clean your room.”  They say, “I will.”  It goes on and on.  There’s a disconnect between do this and actually doing it.  The Spirit speaks to us.  This is about having the courage to respond when the Spirit calls you to do something.  A lot of hear a nudge from the Spirit and it kind of freaks us out.  It kind of scares us, so we’re like, I think that was the pizza I had last night, it wasn’t the Spirit.  Then it comes back.  I think the Spirit may be saying to rest, but I’ll deal with that later.  I get sick.  I come back in.  I hit my head.  I have to slow down.  I signed up for this leadership thing.  They send you a book every month with a little guide to follow along with it.  What’s the name of the book that I got this month?  It’s called “Rest.”  I’m like, “I get it! I get it!”  At some point, I’ve got to read the book and follow the guide.  Make no mistake, if the Spirit calls you to do something and you say no, it’s not like the kingdom of God shuts down.  He goes okay, I’ll go to somebody else, but you miss out on an opportunity to train up in righteousness.  Obedience is part of that training up in righteousness and practicing righteousness.

Sometimes when God’s spirit speaks and asks you to respond, other people won’t get it.  It’s going to sound weird, it’s going to sound crazy.  You’ve just got to keep plowing forward.  Years ago, I was on staff at this church and things were going great.  We had just bought a new house and had had a baby recently.  We were building a brand new facility at the church and things were going great.  Right as it was going the best—this always seems to happen—the Spirit said, “I want you to move to Chicago.”  I avoided it for three months and it kept coming back.  God was like I want you to go to Chicago.  I did.  I had several friends that said, “You just made the dumbest move of your life.”  I could have retired at this church, but I felt like God was calling me to something else.  In Illinois, we went through a pretty rough season towards the end, and we decided to go to Florida for a couple of years and work my business and sort of rest and heal.  A lot of people thought it was crazy.  But that’s what the Spirit was saying so I did.  Then I got an email from a guy named Ryan Paulson when I was in Florida.  We started talking about this executive pastor position.  I knew that this was something I should look at.  We had this conversation and today I’m in Colorado.  I listened to what the Spirit said and I went.  It’s not always easy, but it’s the right thing to do.  When Noah was building the ark. . . .imagine. . . .it would be like building an ark in Colorado.  Big huge boat.  I don’t see a lake deep enough to need that, but in obedience the Spirit said do something and he did.  All of us have experienced the Spirit calling us forward into something and I wonder what that might be for you.

The last thing I want to say is that as we ‘practice’ our righteousness. . . .it’s that word ‘practice.’  You’re not always going to get it right.  I remember when I was in high school track and they did these plyometrics, where you’re jumping up on a box.  You jump up on this wooden cube and it gets progressively taller.  It’s training you to jump and have agility and all these sorts of things.  I can’t tell you how many times I wiped out and skinned up my shins.  I had to keep going and not stop.  Eventually I could jump up on that box.  {Today I’d probably break my neck.}

Sometimes we’re going to mess up on this journey.  Sometimes we’re going to say things we don’t mean.  Sometimes we’re going to say things we regret.  We’re going to do things that don’t feel real good, and as they say in the South, when you mess up, you gotta fess up.  So own your journey.  If you mess up, fess up.  Sometimes we get judgmental or we prescribe for others what their spirituality is suppose to be like.  We shouldn’t be doing that.  I love our board here at South.  There’s been times in meeting where someone’s particularly passionate about something and maybe they came off a way they didn’t intend to.  I’ve loved seeing someone look at another person and say, “You know what, I didn’t handle that well.  Will you forgive me?”  They messed up and they fessed up.  It’s part of the journey and it’s okay.  You’re not always going to get it perfect.

We looked at a really important passage.  We talked about how communion with God is the ultimate reward and I shared four ways to get there:  1) Seeking God’s kingdom first.  2) Engaging in healthy rhythms and practices.  3) Listening for the nudge of the Spirit.  4) Having the courage to obey the Spirit.  Now I want to spend a couple of minutes asking the question:  What about you?  The last thing I want is for you to have listened to this talk and understand a little bit about culture and understand what it says.  You can exegete it perfectly, but if it doesn’t do something transformative in you, then we’ve missed it.  My prayer is that the Spirit of God is calling every person in this room to take a step forward.  To take a step or two towards communion with God and to take a step toward practicing your righteousness that moves toward union with God and away from achievement and seeking the approval from others, because, friends, that’s a dead end every time.

So I’m going to put a couple of questions up on the screen and I’m going to ask you to look at those.  Reflection questions:  What are ways I ‘put on a show’ for the approval of others instead of the approval of the Father?  We’ve all done this.  Right now, between you and God, ask that question:  In what ways have I put on a show?  What are one or two tangible things I should do to make a shift towards having healthy motives and behaviors as I seek communion with God?  For some of us, it’s setting our intention in the morning with a sticky note or a reminder on our phone.  For some of us, it’s picking one or two practices and taking a step.  For some of us, it’s listening to the Spirit.  It’s posturing ourselves, putting time in our schedule, or even just our posture going I’m here to receive.  Here am I, Lord.  I’m convinced that in a  room with this many people that the Spirit’s been speaking to you about your next steps and you’ve not been listening.  You don’t want to hear it anymore.  I just want to invite you to train in righteousness, that’s God’s heartbeat for you.  I just want to appeal, if that’s you and the Spirit’s speaking, to just have the courage to obey.  I know it’s scary, but it’s on the other side of that that we look back and see that God did something so unique in us that couldn’t have been done in any other way.

I’m going to give you a few moments in silence, between you and God, to ask those questions, to wrestle with those things, then I’ll pray.  Lord, my prayer is that every person who is hearing this talk would have looked at these Scriptures and would have seen clearly the difference between working for others’ approval or working for your approval.  Lord, I just pray that the longing of our heart—that part of us that knows something is broken and wants so desperately to move towards wholeness—-that part of us that’s worked so hard in all these ways—to just be okay and to look okay.  Lord, I just pray you crumble those walls and strip away our kingdom, let your glory shine, let us fade.  Let it be about you and your righteousness.  Lord, I pray that everyone would see their role in this kingdom of God.  Lord, that you would draw them to you and that they would know you and they would be known.  I ask all of these things in the name of Jesus.  Together this church said. . . .Amen.

Sermon on the Mount | Real Religion | Matthew 6:1-6 | Week 82020-12-01T04:24:03-07:00

Sermon on the Mount | Kingdom Re-Action | Matthew 5:38-45 | Week 7

SERMON ON THE MOUNT: Kingdom Re-Action  Matthew 5:38-45

We are exploring the Sermon on the Mount this summer as a community.  We are sort of in the middle of Jesus’s teaching, it’s in the gospel of Matthew.  Matthew, one of Jesus’s disciples, records a collection of Jesus’s teachings in one place.  It’s probably the most famous sermon given EVER!  If you have your Bible, you can open to Matthew 5.  Over the last few weeks, we’ve explored some really light, fun subjects like adultery, lust, divorce, remarriage, being people who are honest.  Jesus decided to lighten up a little bit on us and today we’re talking about loving our enemies.  That should be easier, right?!  This is one of those passages that probably isn’t all that difficult to understand.  It’s just really difficult to live out.  It’s difficult to apply.  Let’s pray and ask Jesus that he would, by the power of his Spirit, open us up to what he would say.  Lord, we long to not only hear, but to obey, because we know that that’s where the foundation of our life is formed.  Father, that’s our posture today.  Would you move, would you convict, would you lead us to righteousness for our joy and for the sake of your name?  Amen.

The year was 525 BC, and King Cambyses II of Persia marched his army toward Egypt.  He knew something interesting about the Egyptian people. . .they had a deep love for cats.  They (the Persian army) carved into their shields an outline of a cat.  They brought with them hundreds of cats onto the battlefield.  In Egypt, it was a capital offense to kill a cat.  This battle was called the Battle of Pelusium, Persia vs. Egypt.  The Persians went onto the battlefield with hundred of cats.  Since the Egyptians so revered cats, they had a god named Bastet that was formed and shaped into the image of a cat.  They didn’t want to kill a cat so the Persians were throwing cats into the faces of the Egyptian army.  {For 38 years I’ve been wondering what good a cat is and now we’ve figured it out.}  What’s fascinating is that the Persians won this battle, hands down, without much of a fight at all, because the Egyptians were so nervous about hurting the cats.  Afterwards, to scorn and shame them (the Egyptians), they took the cats and rubbed them in their face after they won the battle.  I thought, “What a strange battle tactic!”  Can you imagine the strategy session?!  What a strange, ridiculous strategy!

Yet, I don’t think it’s the strangest strategy that’s ever been enacted to fight a war.  I actually think, as followers of Jesus, we have a stranger strategy.  I think we have a more ridiculous tactic, at least as far as the world would be concerned.  Can you imagine early followers of Christ, in the midst of a Roman Empire, where they all had friends who were pinned to Roman crosses and crucified as enemy of the state.  People, in the Romans’ eyes, who weren’t even worth the ground that they’re standing on.  Can you imagine the followers of Jesus gathered into a room and talking about how are we going to overthrow the Roman Empire?  How are we going to be the people who come out on the other end victorious?  Maybe we could gather enough of a following that we could get the voting block and win it that way.  Maybe we could get a bigger army than Rome.  Followers of Jesus would have looked around and gone that’s absolutely crazy, that’s insane, we’ll never get it that way.  I wonder if at any point in time there was a disciple or apostle who raised his hand and said, “You know what?  The Jesus way isn’t the way of a bigger or better army; it’s not the way of a bigger or better strategy; it’s not the way of the majority getting their way and imposing it on others.  The Jesus way is more ridiculous than bringing cats into battle.  What if we loved our enemies?”

Did you know that secular historians wrestled with this idea?  How in the world did this rag-tag band of early followers of Jesus, who had ZERO power, come to have massive influence?  How did people who had nothing to their name come to have significant impact in a kingdom that was dominated by a powerful empire?  It wasn’t through gaining a bigger army; it wasn’t through getting a voting block.  Anecdotally, post-Constantine and what happened to the church under Constantine in the Roman Empire, we have, as followers of Christ, bought the lie that if we can get the majority of the people behind us then we’ll be successful.  If we can get the majority of the people behind us then we’ll have influence.  We bought the lie in tying power and influence together.  Jesus wants to say to his early followers no, no, no, no, no, that’s not how you have influence.  It’s not by having the most power, it’s by having the greatest love.  If you want to see how my community will transform the world around them, it’s ridiculous!  It’s more insane than taking cats into battle.  But. . . .you step back and you look at the pages of history and as they turn they affirm that what Jesus said actually works.

If you have your Bible, Matthew 5:38-45.  You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.”  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.  You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

So pretty low bar.  Most people, when they read the Sermon on the Mount, have this line of thinking where we go well this is such a high bar, Jesus must have expected that we would read this and know that we were going to fail and therefore, turn to God’s grace.  Turning to God’s grace, I say yes and amen, but Jesus expects people who are his followers to be living this out.  He expects us to let this teaching sit on us in such a way that it would mess with us a little bit that we would have to say, “I’ve got to die to MY kingdom in order to enter the kingdom of God.”  I’ve got to surrender some of my rights in order to enter the kingdom.  I don’t know about you, but as a high school student, I can remember wrestling with the ‘way of Jesus.’  I can remember sitting in a church—not all that dissimilar to this one—and hearing the Sermon on the Mount taught and thinking, “I don’t want anything to do with that.”  I don’t want to be walking down the halls of Smokey Hill High School and have somebody slug me in the face and be expected to turn the other cheek.  Is Jesus off his rocker here?!  Does he expect us to just be doormats?  Is that what we’re suppose to do?  And all these wrongs going on around us.  What in the world is Jesus actually saying?  He’s saying that allegiance to Him radically transforms not only the attitude we have towards people but the way that we act towards people.  Our attitude and our actions are radically transformed because of life in the kingdom.  {Slide reads:  Allegiance to Jesus transforms both our attitude and actions toward people.}

I had the chance to coach baseball again this summer. . . .a little nine-year-old Little League team.  I love coaching.  I get such joy seeing a child come and learn the game a little bit.  Learn how to take a good cut, baseball-wise, and step up to the plate and hit it.  I find so much joy in seeing what we do in practice actually executed on the field.  I find so much joy in seeing that because it happens SO LITTLE!!!  Most of the time!!!  I’m like, were you there on Wednesday?  Did somebody steal your brain in between Wednesday and Saturday, because we talked about this?!  You’re suppose to cut the ball off, right?!

I wonder how many times we come into a service and go Jesus, we agree with you?  Yes!  That’s how to throw the ball, that’s how to hit the ball, that’s how to live life!  We agree with you, Jesus.  Then we get out onto the field of life and we just go back to the way that we’ve always done things.  We just go back to what’s deeply ingrained in our soul.  What Jesus is going to gently press on us this morning is. . .look up at me for a second. . . .Jesus isn’t looking for admirers.  He’s not looking for people who agree with his teaching, who go, intellectually I get it, yeah.  He is looking for people who would follow Him.  It’s on the wall right out front.  It’s our mission as a church—to help people live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  His teaching here isn’t one that’s difficult to understand—we’ll talk about some of the pieces that are nuanced and that I think, at the onset, are difficult, but ultimately, this teaching is really, actually, pretty straightforward.   But it’s easier understood here than it’s lived out in the world.  Martin Luther King, Jr., who lived this teaching out maybe better than anybody in our modern day, said it like this:  “One of the greatest tragedies of life is that men seldom bridge the gulf between profession and practice, between saying and doing.”

So the question in front of us today is not will we trust Jesus as Savior?  In fact, this passage is for people who’ve done that.  If you’re not a follower of Christ, you’re sort of off the hook this morning.  You get to look on to the way of Jesus and sort of window shop and go, wow, that’s a pretty drastic teaching.  But for people who have declared Jesus, you are my Lord, today he wants to say to you, am I also your rabbi?  Can I teach you HOW to live in my way with my heart?

As we’ve been doing the last few weeks, let me just point out a few things Jesus is NOT SAYING, then we’re going to jump into what he is saying.  Jesus is not saying you have to be a doormat.  In fact, he’s actually saying the opposite, and we’ll talk about that.  He’s not saying that if you’re in an abusive relationship or an abusive home or abusive situation that you’ve just got to continue to take it.  That’s not what he’s saying.  He’s also not saying that you MUST be a political pacifist if you’re going to live out this passage.  Although, I would say that there’s a massive stream of Christianity that has applied it that way.  You can wrestle with what you think it’s saying in that regard.  Here’s the last thing—This passage of Scripture is NOT saying that we do not combat and resist evil.  The church is called to be a prophetic voice that speaks up when things are wrong, that speaks out when people are dehumanized; we are not called to be passive observers of reality, we are called to be active participants in renewal.  Amen?

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what in the world is Jesus saying?  If he’s not saying all those things, what’s he saying?  Matthew 5:38-39a. . . .let’s explore.  You have heard that it was said, {This was Jesus’s methodology of inviting them to a Bible study.  You’ve heard that it was said in Torah.  You’ve heard that it was said in your writings.} “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.”    In fact, there was three different times in the Old Testament scriptures that this law was given.  It was the law of limited retaliation (lex talionis in the Latin).  It means you could only wrong somebody back to the extent that they’ve wronged you.  There was this really interesting study they did at one point in time where they had somebody hit another person’s thumb and they rated the scale of how hard it was.  What happened was that our perception of the way that we’re treated is always more so than the way the person thinks they’re treating us.  So what happens?  The cyclical cycle of ‘you’ve wronged me and I’m going to wrong you and I’m going to get you back a little bit more than you got me and therefore an eye for a hand!’  Sounds pretty good sometimes, doesn’t it?  In the Old Testament scriptures, lex talionis, an eye for an eye, was actually a very gracious way of people interacting with each other.  I’m only going to wrong you as much as you wronged me, no more no less, we’re just going to make it even.  What Jesus points out is not that he disagrees with that, he just goes that’s a pretty low bar.

But I tell you (Jesus says), do not resist an evil person.  He invites us to a completely different way of interacting with people we perceive—and they might too—to be against us.  Paul, in the book of Romans (12:19-21), will say it like this:  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary:  “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Here’s what the teachings of Jesus and the Apostle Paul say:  You can EITHER get even or you can have influence.  You can EITHER try to get revenge or you can have massive impact on the people around you.  But you cannot do both.  You can EITHER have revenge or gospel influence, but you cannot have both.

So think of it, for the early followers of Jesus in the Roman empire how hard this must have been.  Probably about as hard as it is for you!  Can we admit that this is a radical teaching of Jesus, but if I could summarize it, here’s what he’s saying—Our attitude towards people has to be tough-minded: We refuse to allow the way we’re treated to determine the way we respond.  Oh gosh!!  Jesus, take your foot off the gas a little bit.  Isn’t it so easy to get in a ‘tit for tat’ type of interaction with people?  They did this to me, therefore I must do this to them.  Jesus says no, no, no, no, no, life in my kingdom is you do not have to do that.  You could allow creative engagement with the people around you to replace justified retaliation.  Instead of just retaliating—even if it’s your right—what if you thought about it a little more?  What if you took a step back and prayed and thought, “Jesus, how would you want me to interact with this person that’s just wronged me?”  What might that look like?

People in the early church, in the Roman empire, were wrestling with this.  Do you know what the number one emotion we have to get over to live with this is?  FEAR.  What’s going to happen to me?  What’s going to happen to me if I do that?  If I turn the other cheek, what happens?  If I go the extra mile, what happens?  I love the way Dallas Willard said it: “This world, with all its evil, is a perfectly good and safe place for anyone to be, no matter the circumstances, if they have only placed their lives in the hands of Jesus and his Father.”  So now, if we’re in the kingdom, we’re free.  We’re free to go Jesus, what would you have me do in this situation?  In order to not be ambiguous, Jesus says let me give you a few examples.  If you’re going what might this look like, that’s a great question.  Jesus is really glad you asked that, and he’s going to give you four pictures of what it might look like.  These are brilliant pictures of creative engagement rather than justified retaliation.

Here’s what he says (the first picture) — If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matt. 5:39b)  I used to read this:  If somebody slugs you in the face, let them slug you again.  That isn’t what Jesus says.  He’s very specific.  If somebody slaps you on the RIGHT cheek….  If you were to slap somebody on the right cheek, what hand would you use?  The left.  In this culture, the left hand was the dirty hand.  It was not used for eating or signing papers.  It was used for things like wiping.  It was not the clean hand.  In an honor-shame culture, Jesus is not—hear me on this—talking about somebody who is being abused, he’s talking about somebody who’s being demeaned.  He’s talking about somebody who’s socially getting pushed down, and either slapped with a left hand or back-handed with the right hand like a little child would have been.  It was a way to insult somebody.  Typically, we would imagine we have two responses in mind to that—two options.  We can either ‘eye for an eye’ slap them back OR we could run away.  Or we could do what I probably would have done in high school — slap and run.  Sort of a combo of both.  Jesus is going what if there’s a third way?  What if you look at the person who’s dishonoring you and demeaning you and turn the other cheek and say why don’t you hit me with your right hand and treat me like a man?  Why don’t you treat me like a person, because that’s what I am?  Jesus is inviting us to a way of being a creative influence where vulnerability replaces revenge.  When I feel like I need to defend myself, I lose my influence.

At work, when you feel like you need to defend yourself, when you feel like your honor has been violated and you need to get even in order to be right, Jesus would say you could do that but you lose your influence.  Isn’t it better to influence the people around you than just to get paid back?  Oh, it’s way better to win over the people around you rather than an eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth.  Jesus would say that you now, as an agent of the kingdom, can look for strong, creative ways to refuse to participate in the mutual ongoing hostility that is so rampant in our world and SO ineffective.  Can we agree?  Is it working for us?  Is a bomb for a bomb, a gun for a gun, and an eye for an eye…   How’s that working for us?  It’s not!  Jesus invites his people to a different way.  What if you embrace the posture of vulnerability instead of revenge?  What if you did that?

Here’s his second picture (Matt.5:40) —  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  First century dress codes are essential to understanding what Jesus is saying.  Somebody is being sued for their shirt.  In first century Israel, most people didn’t wear pants.  They would have an undershirt that was sort of their underwear that would be a long undershirt that would be used as an undergarment.  Over that would be a coat.  The coat is what they would use as a pillow at night or as a sleeping bag, but it was a way to keep themselves covered.  So a poor person is being sued by a wealthy person for their underwear.  Jesus says how about you give them your coat also.  What would happen?  They would be naked.  Everyone around would go that person’s naked.  Jesus is saying what if you didn’t let yourself cover up the wrongs that people are perpetrating against you?    As the one who’s a little bit lower on the social totem pole, as the one who doesn’t have as much socio-economic stability in your life, what if you pointed out this gross offense that’s being perpetrated against you by giving away another piece of your clothing?  Jesus is teaching a methodology for impact where he’s saying listen, what if you valued your impact that you were having more than the comfort you so dearly wanted?  Think about this for a moment with me, you guys.  The people who have made the greatest impact in our world are people who are willing to sacrifice a little bit of comfort, are they not?  People who are willing to have a hard conversation.  People who are willing to take a financial risk.  People who are willing to forgive when it would be easier to grow bitter.  These are the types of people who consistently, throughout time, have changed our world.

I think of Dr. Jeff Brodsky.  We have the joy of partnering with he and Joy International.  Every year we participate in the Barefoot Mile.  It’s coming up again this Saturday, July 21st, Clement Park, 9 o’clock.  For years, Jeff Brodsky’s been going barefoot in order to go, “Hey! There’s an issue we need to be aware of.”  He’s given away his coat in order to expose a wrong.  That’s what Jesus is teaching.  What if we valued our impact over our comfort?  How might that look?  What if we didn’t allow anxiety or fear to rule, but we were free to step into the places God’s called us to step into?  We might volunteer in our Kids’ or Student ministries.  We might have a conversation about our faith.  What ways are we stepping back from impact in favor of comfort?  Jesus says no, no, no, no, no, draw it out, embrace a posture of discomfort in order to have great impact.

Here’s the next picture he paints:  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.   You may know the context:  In the Roman Empire, a Roman soldier, part of a Roman garrison, could be marching along and, at any point, could call somebody who was a citizen of the country they were occupying to carry their gear a mile.  Imagine planning a nice picnic for your family on Sabbath, sitting around a lake enjoying it.  You just sat down with your lamb chops and hummus and a Roman soldier comes up and says to you, “Carry my gear.”  Oh man!  Jesus wants to step into this moment that most of his listeners have had where they’ve been inconvenienced by the Roman empire.  Jesus goes, I know, everything in you wants to go one mile, drop their gear, and tell them to go back to wherever they came from.  Jesus says what if you started to see the people around you, not just as soldiers, but as sons and daughters of somebody?  Not as people of the state of Rome, but as image bearers of God, and as people having a ridiculously hard day.  Instead of dehumanizing the people that are against us, what if as followers of Jesus, we started to have compassion on them?  Isn’t it so easy to dehumanize the people we don’t like?  Jesus says what if you look for ways to actually serve the people around you?  Even people who were inconvenient.  I often think it would be way easier to share my Google calendar with Jesus so he could bring me opportunities to serve him that fit in the slots that I have open.  Anyone with me?  What I found is that he has a copy of my Google calendar and he often picks the most inconvenient times to bring people into my life.  The question is in those moments are we willing to serve people?  Are we willing to go the extra mile and extend compassion, maybe relationally or maybe financially?  It’s not a lot.  Jesus isn’t saying that you always have to do this.  That’s not his point.  His point is you could if you wanted to, it’s an option for you now.  Instead of bitterly gritting your teeth, going one mile, and dropping it saying, “I’m out!”

So vulnerability replaces revenge.  Impact replaces comfort.  Compassion replaces inconvenience.  And finally, here’s what Jesus says:  Give.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one what wants to borrow from you. (Matt. 5:42)   Jesus uses an illustration of a story that everyone of his listeners would have understood, and we understand too.  There’s certain people in our life that are needy.  There’s certain people in our life that always seem to be sort of in the place where they want something from us.  Jesus says what if you looked at those people. . . . .I don’t know about you, I often make up a story about how they got to where they got.  If they would have made these decisions, like I’ve made, then they wouldn’t be in this position, right?  If they just pulled themselves up by their bootstraps—like I’ve done—then they’d be okay.  You know what that’s called?  Judgment.  It’s called judgment.  Jesus is saying that we’re so prone to doing this.  When someone is needy, what if instead of judging and coming up with a story, what if you were generous to them?  It doesn’t mean you have to give to every single person you see that’s in need.  It means that your heart is now free from making up a story so that you can love the people that the Spirit would say, “I’m calling you to step into this.”  Sometimes these are called EGR people.  Extra. Grace. Required. People.  Do you know some people like that?  If you don’t, you ARE people like that!  Jesus is saying maybe it’s a gift of food.  Maybe it’s a gift of honesty.  Maybe it’s a gift of truth or confrontation or money.  He’s saying you are free to look at the people in front of you to see them as people and to give them what you think they need the most.  That’s the freedom.  That’s the kingdom freedom.  We’re tough-minded, our attitude’s changed by the gospel, we don’t just respond to people based on how they treat us.  We actually respond to people based on how we’ve treated by God.  And it changes everything.  Four little vignettes, stories, that Jesus talks about.  Aren’t they just beautiful and brilliant?  I think they are.  When your head and your heart are not consumed with revenge, you’re free to love the people around you creatively and invite them to step into the kingdom.

Here’s the way Jesus continues.  It’s easier now.  It’s really simple.  You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  {Ironically, you can find the command ‘love your neighbor’ all throughout the Old Testament, specifically Leviticus 19, but you cannot find ‘hate your enemy’ ANYWHERE in the Old Testament.  So Jesus is picking up a particular teaching that has been popular in THAT day, that took the Scriptures and combined them with some other thoughts.}  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matt. 5:43-44)  Do you know the number one factor, for every person in this room, that determines whether or not we like somebody?  Is if we think they like us.  It’s the number one factor.  We often surround ourselves with people who look like us and talk like us, ’cause we love us some us, right?  Everybody does.  Jesus is pushing back against that.  You could find out that Mother Teresa didn’t like you.  You’re like. . . Mother Teresa!  Did she ever do anything great?!  Jesus is pushing back against that mentality and saying what if, what if, what if.  What if you were not only tough-minded, but what if you were tender-hearted?  What if you refuse to allow your tribal allegiance to determine the extent of your love?  {Slide:  Tender-hearted: We refuse to allow our tribal allegiance to determine the extent of our love.}  What if you refuse to allow the lines that have been drawn in the sand. . . .maybe the flag that you fly, the language that you speak, the color of skin that you have. . . .what if you refuse to allow, whatever tribe you’re a part of, to determine that’s the extent of my love?  What Jesus is doing is looking at his followers and saying, “As a follower of mine, as a disciple and as an apprentice of mine, you do not any longer get to determine and choose who you love.”  You love whoever is in front of you.  THAT’S the calling of followers of the way of Jesus.  You don’t get to choose WHO you love, you can choose HOW you love, but you do not get to choose WHO.

That word ‘love’ is such a slippery word, isn’t it?  We read it and sometimes we have romantic love in mind.  There’s a number of different words, in the Greek, that Jesus could have chosen for this word ‘love.’  He chose the word “agape.”  It’s this Greek word that means to wish and to will for someone’s good.  It has action attached to it.  You can’t agape somebody and not have it come out in the way that you treat them.  To wish and to will for the good of another.  Jesus says, to his followers, look up at me for a moment, you’ve never met somebody you weren’t called to love.  In fact, your battle is not against flesh and blood.  You’ve never met a person who was your enemy.  Your battle is not against flesh and blood, it’s against powers and authorities, the enemy in this dark world, but it’s not against people! (Eph.6:12)  You’ve never met somebody who you were not called to love.

Jesus makes this point.  Just look around.  Do an experiment, he says.  Next time it rains in your neighborhood, go stand in the middle of your street and look up.  Then look down your street. . . . .there’s probably some really nice people on your street, and maybe some who follow the way of Jesus, and then, my guess is, you have a jerk neighbor somewhere down the road, right?  Walk down to his house when it’s raining and see if the rain is hitting jerk-neighbor’s lawn?  Yes!  When the sun came up, did it come up on jerk-neighbor’s house too?  Yeah.  What Jesus says is wired into the fabric and fiber of creation is the ridiculous generosity of God.  Theologians call this Common Grace.  It’s everywhere!  It’s oftentimes so common we miss it.  But Jesus says just look around you.  The sun rises, the rain comes—and it’s a picture of the love of God—on every person.  What he says is when you live in the way where you don’t just love the people who are like you, but love the people who are opposed to you, you start to look like God.  He says you may be children of your Father.  It was an idiom, it was a picture.   It was like saying someone was ‘a chip off the old block,’  they’re exactly like their dad.  When we love radically, we become a reflection of our Father, our Father in heaven.

He gives you two practical things you can do.  First, what if you prayed for those who are your enemies?  When was the last time you did that?  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a great little book called “Life Together,”  makes this point.  It’s true, try it.  He says:  “It’s really hard to hate somebody you pray for.”  Try it.  Jesus says you can pray for them, or, second, you could love them or bless them.  What if you looked for active practical ways to bless the people who curse you?  What if, in light of this teaching this week, you just said, “Jesus, point out for me somebody who I disagree with, or somebody I just don’t like a whole lot, somebody who rubs me the wrong way, and give me a vision for what it looks like to love them this week.”  {Watch you start getting all these ridiculous gifts from the friends around you who are sitting here, and you’re like am I everybody’s enemy?}  What if you did that this week?  Because Jesus is calling the church to be a light to the world, a city on a hill, and I believe, maybe more than ever, that our world needs us to step into this calling.  To not just be admirers and go Jesus, we like that, we agree with that, but to be people who live it out.  Do you know why it’s so hard to imagine what would happen if we actually did this?  I’ve been reflecting on this a lot in my life this week.  I’m like, “God, why is it so hard for me to imagine what it might be like if I did this?”  I just sense the Spirit say to me, “It’s because you do it so infrequently.”  Maybe you do too.

Here’s how he closes:  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  {I don’t know that he’s talking about a tangible reward, maybe a heavenly reward at some point, but I do know that he’s talking, AT LEAST, about what we would call an intrinsic reward.  If you’ve ever loved your enemies, if you’ve ever prayed for those who persecute you, you know that that boomerangs back on your soul and God enlightens something, enlivens something in you and there’s a blessing that’s intrinsic in living in the way of Jesus.}  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:46-48)

The word ‘perfect’ in the Greek is the word ‘telios.’  It means to fulfill, or to take to an appointed culmination.  You could read it ‘mature.’  Therefore, be mature, grow into maturity.  What does Christian maturity look like?  How do we measure maturity as a follower of Jesus?  It’s not based on how many Bible verses you can recite.  It’s not based on how many classes you’ve taken.  It’s not based on how good a theologian you are or how many questions you can answer in apologetics.  Maturity, as a follower of Jesus, is based on one thing. . . . .LOVE.  That’s what Jesus is teaching.

But, friends, we can only live in the kingdom if we know first that we have been loved by the King.   I want to end by pressing this onto us, I hope it falls like a weight on our souls that we get how much we have been loved.  Because this is the King who was on trial and was slapped.  He turned the other cheek.  They didn’t just take his outer garment and they didn’t just take his undergarment, they took everything that he owned, stripped him bare, humiliated and naked; had scornful words lobbed in his direction and he hangs on the cross, naked and exposed, in order to declare that you are loved and you’re forgiven.  Based on nothing that you have done but based on EVERYTHING he’s accomplished on your behalf.  This is not the King that just goes one extra mile; this is the King who carries his cross all the way up to Calvary’s hill where he hangs and he dies.  And he gives GENEROUSLY.  He does look down on people in judgment.  Who’s glad that that’s the case?  Amen.  He doesn’t look on us with judgment saying, “They just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” or “If they were a little bit more like me they’d get it all together.”  He looks down on us in GRACE and generously loves his enemies.  When we were the enemies of God, Christ loved us and died for us, welcoming us as children of God.  Amen!

Friends, it’s that love when it sits on us that actually frees us to not just admire the words of Jesus, but to live them.  And that’s the calling.  I’m convinced that there will be opportunities for you this week that you think are meant to destroy you, but what God wants to do is develop you.  So I’m going to invite you to have one phrase in mind this week:  Opposition is my Opportunity.  When I’m wronged—somebody cuts me off in traffic or cuts in front of me at a grocery store. . . .opposition is my opportunity.  When I’m criticized or somebody speaks negatively against me or maybe says something that’s even untrue about me. . . . .opposition is my opportunity.  When I’m taken advantage of, when I’m not thanked, when I feel like I just got run over. . . .opposition is my opportunity.  When I’m hated, not because of anything I’ve done, but because of who I am. . . . opposition is my opportunity.  Maybe in that opportunity we deliver a cup of cold water or a kind word in return.  When your head and your heart are not consumed with hate, you are free to love, and when you love, you’ve never looked more like Jesus in your life.

If your looking for a few ideas of what this looks like, I commend to you Bob Goff’s work, Everybody Always.  A friend gave me this book recently and I read it.  There are a number of stories in it that I could share with you of Bob Goff going into jails in Uganda and ministering to witch doctors and all sorts of crazy things.  But there was one story, for me, that stood out.  It was the story of Bob Goff going to teach at a church in Texas.  He was away from his wife and was hurrying to get back to his home and wife.  He was running late.  He was returning a rental car and chose the line that he thought would move the quickest because it was the shortest.  As he got stuck in that line, he realized it might have been the shortest because the guy at the counter was the most incompetent person on the face of the planet.  Bob tells the story of sitting in his car wrestling, impatiently. . . . .I chose the wrong line. . . .this guy, this moron. . . . .all these things going through his head.  Jesus does some work in his heart and his life as he sits in this line.  He gets to the front of the line and the guy says, “How was your trip?”  Bob says that there were a lot of things he wanted to say.  He responded, “I had a great time.  The car was awesome.  You’re awesome.  Airplanes are awesome.  Life is awesome.  I hope you have a great day!”  He missed his plane.  He was walking through the airport and he heard these feet come up behind him and felt this finger tap his shoulder.  He turned around and here’s the guy from that line.  The guy looks at him and says, “Mr. Goff, I just want you to know that I was at church today, and that sermon that you gave was the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard.  Thank you so much,” and he walked away.

We don’t choose who we love, we just choose how.  We never know how God might use that to change somebody’s life, to change somebody’s eternity, and also to change us.  So Jesus, I pray that this week, you would help us see opposition as our opportunity.  That in the great words of Martin Luther King, Jr., that we’d recognize,  “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  That you would make us people of great influence, not because we have the most power, not because we have the majority, but just simply because we live in ridiculous, radical love.  Would you transform our lives and the lives of the people around us by it, we pray.  In Jesus’ name. . . .Amen.

Sermon on the Mount | Kingdom Re-Action | Matthew 5:38-45 | Week 72020-08-20T15:46:42-06:00

Sermon On The Mount | The Paradox of Freedom | Matthew 5:31-42 | Week 6

SERMON ON THE MOUNT: The Paradox of Freedom    Matthew 5:31-37   

We’re continuing our series in the Sermon on the Mount.  I’ve spent a lot of time in fear, trepidation, and prayer over these last two messages.  Last week we talked about lust and adultery, and that was really easy, so we decided to build on that and now we’re going to talk about divorce, remarriage, and oaths.  Did you come to hear from the Lord today?  I hope you did, because as much as I’ve wrestled with this passage, I feel like there’s freedom that Jesus wants to bring.  As Isaiah (50:4) said, my prayer has been along that I’d have the tongue of one instructed that I might have a word for the wounded today.  That’s my heartbeat.  Jesus, would you help us as we wrestle with your Scripture and your words.  Lord, I pray against the enemy’s voice of condemnation in the hearts and minds of your people here today.  God, may they not confuse condemnation with the conviction that your Spirit wants to bring because of your kindness that leads to repentance and to life.  Lord, let us not confuse the enemy’s condemnation with your conviction.  We want your words over our hearts and our lives that we might walk in your life and in your freedom.  And all God’s people said. . . . Amen.

The year was 1773.  There were boats sitting in the Boston’s harbor, Griffin’s Wharf, just waiting to bring in 342 chests of British tea.  You know the story?  Where roughly a hundred colonists jumped on those boats and they unloaded, over the next three hours, 90,000 pounds of tea into the Boston harbor.  It was the first act of defiance that the American colonists perpetrated against the motherland of Great Britain.  It effectively began the Revolutionary War.  That war commenced a year later, but it was that act of ‘we don’t want any taxation without representation so we’re going to throw your tea into the ocean,’ it was THAT act, that began that war that we celebrated the victory of on the Fourth of July.  We celebrated by blowing stuff up, to the glory of God, didn’t we?  Nothing quite says we love our freedom like lighting stuff on fire and blowing it up.

I started to wrestle with this idea of freedom, this week, because oftentimes we think something will bring freedom and it doesn’t.  Sometimes we’ll think things will bring freedom and they actually bring confinement.  I think of the smartphone we hold in our pockets.  I remember the day I got that.  I thought, “Oh my goodness, this is going to save me so much time!  I’ll be able to work everywhere now.”  You know what happened?  I started working everywhere!  Anybody else wonder where all that time went that we were saving?  Some things that we invite into our life thinking they’ll bring us freedom actually bring confinement.  Some of them are just neutral.  But oftentimes we get that story wrong, and Jesus, in the gospel of John (8:31-32) wants to speak into our lives and here’s what he says about freedom, because he knows that the human soul is longing for freedom, and he also knows that he’s the God that designed us to walk in freedom, and he knows the pathway to it.  Here’s what he says:  To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to {some translations say obey} my teaching, {So not just that you admire it and go, I agree.  I agree that we should love our enemies.  Jesus goes, that’s great, but do you?} you are really my disciples. {My apprentices.  You’re learning to live in my way with my heart.}  Then you will know the truth, {Did you know the truth Jesus talks about, the truth Jesus teaches, is something you only know when you start to live it out?  Is something you only know when you put it into practice?  We can read about it all we want in the Scriptures, we can know it intellectually, but we only KNOW it when we start to live it out.  He says, then you’ll know the truth.  You’ll know that this is the way that I’ve designed life to work.  Life is way better when you forgive people that wrong you than carrying the bitterness.  He goes, that’s true, just try it.  You’ll figure it out.}  …and the truth will set you free.”  

Freedom, according to Jesus, isn’t the ability to do anything we want, whenever we want, with whomever we want.  Right?  Freedom, according to Jesus, is the ability to become his disciple—to learn to live in his way with his heart—and so align ourselves with the way he’s designed the world to function.  We push back against that freedom all the time, almost every day, by thinking, “I think, Jesus, you’re a little bit off your rocker when you’ve talked about this one.  I think I know a better way.”  But what he gently does is he pushes back and says no, no, no, no, no.  True freedom is found in healthy limits rather than infinite options.

A number of years ago, they did a study where they took a pre-school teacher and a number of her students, and they took them to two different playgrounds on two different days.  The first playground had no fences around it.  Do you know what happened?  All those kids started to play, but they only played in proximity to their teacher.  They wanted to stay close.  They wanted to be able to get back to her, in case anything went wrong.  They wanted to be able to touch her.  A fenceless playground led to a confined playing.  The next day, they took them to the same sized playground that had a fence around the outside.  Do you know what happened?  The kids ran all the way up to the fence.  They used the entire playground.  They used the whole thing because they knew. . . now we’re were safe.  We’re protected.  We have some limits. Did you know, that limits actually bring life?  We think they bring confinement.  We THINK they put us in a jail, but actually, what Jesus says is, the right limits actually lead to our life.

If you just open your Bibles and start reading in Genesis 1—and I’d encourage you to do this sometime throughout this week—look at one of the very first acts God does.  He creates and says it’s good, but then what does he do?  He starts to set limits, right?  He separates the darkness from the light.  He says to ocean, to the sea, you can only go this far and then we have land.  What is that?  Those are limits.  Those are limits that lead us to life. Did you know that God has wired us for limits?  He’s put it in our DNA—in the fabric and fiber of our very being.  But we oftentimes push back against that, so I want to explore this paradoxical truth, this ironic truth, that true freedom is found in healthy limits rather than infinite options.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is going to give two back-to-back teachings about healthy limits that lead to freedom and life and good that sort of go against the grain of our humanity.

We’ll be camping out in Matthew 5:31-37 today.  Here’s what Jesus says:  It has been said, “Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.”  But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.  Let’s just take a moment and take a deep breath.  I’m well aware that this issue of divorce is one of immense pain.  Every single person in this room has been touched by it in some way, some shape, some form.  It might be first hand where you’ve been divorced.  It might be in your family where your parents got divorced, your grandparents, or somebody in your line, or it’s your friend.  We’ve ALL been touched by this in some way and there’s pain around that.

I just want you to know that Jesus’s words are not intended to be cold.  They’re not intended to be lifeless.  They’re not intended to be just a law or a rule where we go, okay, I get that.  Jesus is actually (on the Sermon on the Mount) entering into a conversation that’s been going.  The context — It has been said, “Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate divorce.”   Jesus is quoting from Deuteronomy 24:1.  Here’s why Moses gave that command to Israel.  If you divorce your wife, you’ve got to give her a certificate of divorce.  It was actually really, really gracious.  Back in ancient cultures that surrounded the Israelite people, a man could divorce his wife—basically just say I’m out of here—go to another town, get a different job, start a new family.  If he wanted to, within five years of divorcing her, he could come back and take her back as his wife.  He would have the “right” to do that.  God goes that doesn’t make sense.  If you’re going to divorce your wife, you must give her a certificate of divorce so that she can move on.  It’s not fair to have her sitting around waiting five years—okay, finally now I’m free.  That doesn’t make sense Moses says.  So God gave them the provision of divorce and a divorce certificate.  Here’s what he says in Deuteronomy 24:1 — If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house.   There’s a whole discussion that goes on after that, but this is the main idea of what Jesus is talking about.

So he quotes this passage, but he does it knowing that in the first century and in the century preceding that, there’s been a massive discussion in the culture about divorce.   There was this line of thinking perpetrated by this rabbi named Hillel.  Hillel was a famous, sort of rock-star rabbi and had a large following.  When he talked about Deuteronomy 24:1, he said that displeasing and indecent mean anything that your wife does that you don’t like.  If she burns the toast, you can give her a certificate of divorce.  This happened!  If you didn’t like her looks any, you could give her a certificate of divorce.  You’re outta there, no big deal.  This line of thinking had a massive following during Jesus’s day.

Here’s the problem with that:  A divorced woman had three options, and really, only three.  She could go and live with a wealthy family member or maybe her parents.  She could move back in with her parents.  She could get remarried, and many, many women did in this day and culture.  But it was almost as though they entered into this marriage and it was tainted; it was seen as sort of second-class.  Or she could become a prostitute.  She had to make money somehow.  A lot of commentators say that when Jesus says “You force her to commit adultery,” that’s what he’s talking about.  She’s got to go “work the streets” because she has to make ends meet somehow.  So this was Hillel’s teaching.  He said listen, if there’s any cause for divorce. . . .burn the toast—divorce.  Don’t like her looks anymore—divorce.  It doesn’t matter if she violates the marriage covenant, if you don’t like her anymore, you can divorce her.

There’s this other rabbi who came after Hillel that said that’s insane; what Moses is talking about in Deuteronomy 24 is adultery.  He’s talking about infidelity within a marriage.  So when Jesus comes on the scene, there’s this massive discussion going on.  Are we with Hillel or are we with Shammai?  Is it Hillel’s way or Shammai’s way?  Jesus goes Shammai nailed this one, you guys.  When Moses talked about divorce, he wasn’t talking about any little reason that a wife displeased her husband.  They were talking about infidelity within a marriage.  So Jesus chimes in and he does what he does throughout the Scriptures.  He comes to the defense of women, because they were the ones getting pushed down by this.  They were the ones getting run over.  They were the ones being wronged.  Jesus comes and he says no, this “Any Cause” divorce, which Hillel talked about, is absolute rubbish.  What Deuteronomy 24:1 is talking about is not “Any Cause,” it’s talking about uniquely adultery.

Take another deep breath.  We all know people that have gotten divorced for reasons other than adultery.  Some of you are sitting in this room.  We’ve heard some teaching around that where we go well, is that really the ONLY time where divorce is an option?  Is that it?  What about abuse?  Should a woman stay in that situation?  It’s not adultery.  Should she just go into an adulterous relationship so that she can get divorced?  Is that the option?  I think we’ve heard some potentially inaccurate teaching on this, and I’ve been a part of that. . . .because we want to stay true to the Scriptures and we haven’t really stepped back to ask the question, “What is Jesus really talking about?”

Before I tell you what he’s talking about, let me tell you what he’s NOT talking about.  He’s NOT saying that adultery is the only time divorce is an option period.  You’re going, Paulson, that’s the way it reads.  I get it.  But what he’s answering in this discussion is what is Moses talking about in Deuteronomy 24:1?  He says well, Moses, right there, is talking about adultery.  That’s what Moses is talking about.  The question is is that the only time in the Old Testament that divorce is discussed?  Here’s the answer. . . .no, it’s not.  So he answers a question that’s a common discussion amongst the rabbis, amongst the Pharisees, and goes this is what Moses is talking about.  You also have Exodus 21:10-11 that talks about divorce as well.  The context is an Israelite who marries a slave and then takes on a second wife in addition to her—that’s for a whole other message.  Here’s what it says:  If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights.  {Some translations say conjugal love.  He can’t stop sleeping with his first wife because he likes his second wife better.}  If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.  She can leave the marriage.  She doesn’t have to pay back any dowry.  She can leave because she was wronged.  So all throughout the Jewish culture during that time, you have Deuteronomy 24, which talks about adultery, and you have Exodus 21, which talks about neglect.

Did you know that in the Jewish marriage vows, they vow these three things to each other.  I vow to clothe you.  So for the husband, it was providing enough money to have clothing; for the wife, it was I’m going to be sewing.  I vow to feed you.  I’m going to provide enough money (traditional household) to put bread on the table, and for the woman, I’m going to prepare that meal. . . .I vow that to you, I promise that to you.  I promise to you. . . .this is in their vows!  Can you imagine them standing, one person in front of the other. . . . I vow to make love to you often.  I always ask people if they want traditional vows or if they want to write their own, and I’m like I’m starting to rethink my traditional vows a little bit.  I promise to clothe you, feed you, and make love to you often.  That was the marriage vows that they took.  Jesus wasn’t talking about these, they weren’t debated.  They were just assumed within the Jewish culture that these are reasons that people exit a covenantal marriage.  What Jesus isn’t saying in this teaching is that adultery is the only reason for divorce, because he’s not discussing Exodus 21.  This is a whole other teaching and a whole other debate that the Scriptures don’t talk about them having much in the New Testament.

Here’s the question—If you’re going, Paulson, I’m not sure I agree with you, because it says clearly I do not permit divorce EXCEPT for adultery.  Okay.  I hear you, but my encouragement to you would be to flip over to 1 Corinthians 7 and read it.  The Apostle Paul says. . . .oh, and abandonment.  Did God change his mind between Matthew 5 and 1 Corinthians 7?  No, he didn’t.  Did Jesus get it wrong?  No.  Did Paul get it wrong?  No, I don’t think he did.  I think they’re talking about two different instances and two different cases.  We need to read the Scriptures intelligently and go how do these things fit together.  Neither Paul nor Jesus {look up at me for a second} intends to give a complete list of where divorce is acceptable.  They don’t.  If we want to figure out why divorce takes place, we need to figure out, first, what the covenant of marriage is about, then we can figure out why divorce is even an “option” when God designed it to be one man, one woman for one life.  That’s what we need to figure out.  I think Scot McKnight, in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, says it well:  “If covenant love is commitment to be ‘with someone and for someone as someone who is working unto divine ends,’ then marriages are destroyed when one partner refuses to be ‘with’ the spouse or who becomes someone who is ‘against’ that spouse.  When a man obviously fails to be the husband that covenant love demands, or when a wife obviously fails to be the wife that covenant love demands, grounds for divorce may be present because the covenant is being destroyed.”

So you may have heard, what I would humbly submit to you, some potentially bad teaching on this.  So much so that you have women who are being physically abused stay in a marriage because they want to be true to the Scriptures.  You have well-intentioned, typically, men that would counsel them, “Stay in it, stay in it.  Jesus only says divorce is an option when adultery’s the case.”  I just want to humbly submit to you that I don’t think that that’s what the Bible actually teaches.

When Jesus says, “You force her to commit adultery,” what he’s saying is. . . . .you go back and you read it, but I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife. . . . .This “Any Cause” (Hillel), any reason. . . .she burned the toast, divorce and sort of tosses her to the curb. . . .anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her a victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. . . .he’s going, listen, the marriage isn’t really void if you just tossed her aside without any violation of the marriage vow.  You read all throughout the Scriptures that the only one who’s capable of breaking the marriage vow is the one who is wronged, the victim.  Which opens up a whole other line of questions, which is probably for a different sermon.

So what Jesus is NOT saying, number one, is that adultery is the only case or reason for divorce ever.  And he’s NOT saying that anyone who remarries commits adultery.  He’s saying that if someone’s tossed aside and that man decides to go get another wife and potentially do another “Any Cause” divorce, he’s going THAT person is committing adultery because they never really were divorced.  Does that make sense?  I hope it does.  If it doesn’t, let me recommend some reading for you.  I found this book to be THE book I wish I was given in seminary about this issue.  It’s called “Divorce and Remarriage in the Church” by David Instone-Brewer and it’s wonderful.  It’s brilliant!  It’s gracious!  And it actually explains the issues.

What is Jesus saying?  Jesus IS saying that giving your wife a certificate for divorce is a pretty low bar.  That’s what he’s saying.  He’s going let’s talk about this.  Is that really our standard?  That we could just toss a woman to the side and as long as we give her a certificate of divorce because she burned the toast we’re okay in God’s eyes?  He says no, that’s not the case.  In the Sermon on the Mount, the bar is being raised and raised and raised so that we’re forced to go deeper and deeper into our souls and wrestle with what’s on the inside. Jesus wants to address what’s on the inside, and what’s on the inside is that we typically want to get our way.  And what’s on the inside is that we want it our way right now!  Jesus goes that’s not the way that marriage works. 

What is Jesus teaching?  That he did design marriage to last a lifetime—one man, one woman, for life.  But the reality is that doesn’t always happen.  From the get-go, it didn’t always happen.  So in Matthew 19:7-10, which I would say is a companion passage to Matthew 5, Jesus says:  “Why then,” they (disciples) asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”   {The context (in verse 3) is Jesus, are you for “Any Cause” divorce?  Go read it, it’s right there.  It would help if it were capitalized in our Bibles.  It’s a discussion that they’re having.  Here’s Jesus reply.}  Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.   {There’s two way a heart could be hard.  One, it could be hard in the person who is violating the covenant.  Maybe they’re sleeping around.  Maybe they’re neglecting.  Maybe they’ve abandoned and they refuse to repent and they refuse to come home.  That could be one way.  Another way a heart can be hardened is by a spouse that’s been wronged and can forgive but can’t come to the place of reconciliation.  They just can’t get there.  The perpetration has been too long, it’s been too painful, and it’s too much.  Jesus says that’s why we have the “provision” of divorce.} But it was not this way from the beginning.    In verse 10, the disciples said to him, “Oh my goodness, if we can’t have “Any Cause” divorce. . . .this situation between husband and wife, it’s better not to marry at all.   They’re going that standard is really, really high, Jesus.  If we can only divorce our wives if they violate the covenant, we shouldn’t even marry at all.  It gives you an insight into the context that Jesus is speaking into.

It’s designed to last a lifetime.  Second, reconciliation is always the goal, until it’s not possible.  It can’t be possible for two reasons—one, you feel like the options have been exhausted, or two, a spouse has moved on and they’ve gotten remarried.  God would say don’t break up that covenant in order to try to restore the first.  Don’t do that.  Reconciliation is always the goal.  Jesus taught against both Hillel and Shammai. . . . they would say that adultery always needs to end in divorce.  Jesus goes no, no, no, no, that’s not the case!  You could choose to forgive.  Unless your heart’s hard, they’re heart’s hard, you can choose to forgive, you can reconcile, you can move forward. . . .even after adultery.  And you can have a grace-filled, healthy marriage.  It was a revolutionary thought in Jesus’s day.  But he’s elevating the value of marriage, because he knows that divorce is painful and he knows that God hates it because it tears apart lives.  He also knows, back to the beginning of our message, he knows that there’s freedom in covenant.  We think there’s confinement, but there’s freedom.

Admittedly, that was by far the longest point. If you’re looking at your outline going I didn’t bring a snack today….  I really felt like we needed to have that discussion because there’s so much pain and baggage around that.  What Jesus wants to do is hold up covenant and go, think about the freedom in covenant.  Think about the freedom in not having to decide or think about whether or not you’re going love, but you just do.  You’ve already made that commitment.  You decide to love based on the vow that you have made.  What Jesus wants to do. . . .especially in his day, but in our day and time too. . . .he’s moving, men specifically, but I’d say men and women, towards a covenantal view of marriage rather than a consumerism view of marriage.  It’s not hey, does this fit my needs right now?  Is this making me happy in the moment?  Am I pleased, am I satisfied, am I good?  No, no, no!  He wants us to have the freedom of going I’ve decided that I’m committed to this and I’m going to stick with my commitment. . . . .’til death do us part, in sickness and in health.   I will count myself forever blessed, as long as I live, to have watched my father love my mom as she got really sick.  To see him hold to the vow that he made in marriage.  For two years, as she got sick and life slipped through her hands, and he continued to love.  When there was nothing coming in return, I can assure you.  Except the knowledge of knowing that he was living exactly as Jesus had invited him to live.  To have that picture in my marriage. . . .I’m going, when my wife’s healthy, I want to treat her as well as my dad did when my mom was sick.

I just want you to know that I get it.  There’s a ton of pain in the room around this issue.  There’s pain on the side of people who’ve been walked out on, and you went I wanted to fight for that and I didn’t get that option.  I want you to know, Jesus sees you, Jesus hears you, he has compassion for you.  Then there’s people that have made decisions. . . . .maybe some of them you regret or maybe some of them you don’t, but you’ve made decisions that have led to divorce and there’s pain around that too.  I want you to know, go read through the discussion where Jesus meets a woman at the well, who is in her fifth marriage, and see the grace that he gives her.  See the grace he gives the woman in John 8 who’s caught in the act adultery.  He just showers his love down on us.  Grace always meets us exactly where we’re at and move us forward.  So wherever you’re at this morning, know that God, in his grace, wants to meet you and he wants to move you forward.

There’s more, but I’m going to, admittedly, fly through this.  Here’s what it says in Matthew 5:33-36 — Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.”    {This is a combination of teachings out of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.  Jesus is sort of clumping these all together.}  But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all:  either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.  Here’s what was going on.  There was a lot of discussion, in Jesus’s day, about taking oaths and what is it that swear on.  In the Ten Commandments it says that we shall not take the Lord’s name in vain.  What the Jewish people did was they interpreted that as we can’t swear on God’s name.  So they’re like, ah, the Bible didn’t say anything about swearing on Jerusalem.  And it didn’t say anything about swearing on heaven, or on earth, or on our own heads. . . . . .so I’ll see your ‘you cannot swear by the name of God,’ but I’ll raise you ‘let’s swear on these other things.’  Jesus goes hey, why do we play this game?  Don’t you think it’s a little silly?  We could address the fact that God wants us to keep our oaths, and that’s what we can see on the surface, but there’s something going on underneath.  He goes let’s go after that.  Let’s go after the heart issue.  What’s going on underneath?  Really, it’s manipulation to try to get our way, that’s what’s going on.  I love the way that Dallas Willard wrote about this passage:  “Jesus goes right to the heart of why people swear oaths.  He knew that they do it to impress others with their sincerity and reliability and thus gain acceptance of what they are saying and what they want.  It is a method of getting their way.

So if you’re part of the group that that whole discussion about divorce didn’t really apply to, welcome back, and I would submit to you that Jesus’s words here apply DEEPLY.  We may not be in an oath-giving and -taking culture in the same way, but which one of us hasn’t added a little something to our words in order to prop up our identity and make people think something about us that may or may not be true?  What Jesus is talking about is reputation management with the words that we use to prop ourselves up and add to our resumé just a little bit.  So he goes, there’s immense freedom in covenant love knowing that you’re loved, without having to decide, just knowing that there’s some hedges around that and you’re loved deeply within that.  And he says, secondly, that there’s freedom in honesty.  They were adding to their words in order to manage and control the way people thought about them.

Here’s a few ways that we do this.  I’ll throw them out and you can chew on them and ask Jesus which one of them you may struggle with, if any.  I think we do this through name-dropping.  Oh, I know so-and-so and that makes me a little bit more important.  We do this through embellishment.  I’ll just be real honest with you. . . .when I have the chance to go and to teach at different conferences and different camps, inevitability, every single person. . . .not EVERY, that’s an exaggeration. . . .a lot of the people there come up to me and ask me, “So how many people are in your church?”  So I have this internal turmoil. . . .do I give them an Easter number or do I give them a July number?  Both could be true based on the day.  So I’ve had to work through, when I’m in these situations, I always go alright, what’s our average, and that’s what I give them.  But what they want to know is how important are you?  What I want to tell them is I’m really important!  Everything in me wants to say that.  It’s just not true.  Jesus is saying instead of trying to manage how people think about you, what if you’re just honest?  What would happen then?

Trying to add words to what you say and maybe even bring God into it and introduce half truths. . . . .in some circles it might sound like, “Well, God told me to do this.  We’re suppose to get married.”  Well, God didn’t tell me that so we sort of have to meet in the middle there.  Or, God told me I’m suppose to have this leadership position.  Or, I have a peace about this because. . . .which very well may be true, but it also just may be that we’re adding words to make it seem like something is the case when it’s actually not.  Jesus is saying what would happen if you’re just honest?  I think what he wants to do is protect community from the incipient sickness of misleading people and eroding the very ground that we stand on with one another.  It’s so easy to do, isn’t it? It’s fear, covered up in words.  If I can make you think something about me, then I’ll be okay.  I think what Jesus might want to say to us this morning is that if you know that you’re loved, that reckless love, then you have nothing to prove.  If you have nothing to prove, then you have nothing to defend.  If you have nothing to defend, {look up at me for a moment} you are finally and fully free to love.  And that’s where he wants to get us.

He ends by saying this — All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’;  {He’s riffing off his previous point.  Just yes or no!  You don’t need to take an oath.  Just let your yes be yes and then let your no be no.  Now, let’s be honest with each other, we live in a state of perpetual FOMO in our culture, don’t we?  Do you know what that is?  It’s Fear of Missing Out.  And it’s rampant.  We will say yes to one engagement, but then we want to keep our options open just in case we get a better offer.  Somebody invites us over for dinner — What are you having?  Spaghetti and meatballs.  Yeah, I’ll be there, but if somebody offers me steak….  See ya, meatballs!  Jesus goes, oh man, you think by keeping all your options open that you’re walking in the way of freedom, but how free would it be to not have to pray about whether or not you’re going to say yes or no to that other one because you just said yes to this one?  Just let your yes be yes and your no be no.  In our day and in our culture with our adventure-seeking, the grass is always greener, the mountain is a little bit higher, I’m going to leave this one in order to go there. . . . AND in our people pleasing, because that’s the other side of this coin, we’ll say yes to everybody because we don’t want anybody to be mad at us, then when it really comes down to it I really want to do this so I’m out!  Jesus goes how about this?  How about instead of trying to manage all that, you just stick with your commitments?  I think what Jesus would say is freedom isn’t found in keeping all of our options open, it’s found in keeping our word.  There’s a lot of freedom there.

The freedom of covenant.  The freedom of honesty.  The freedom of commitment.  They go against the grain of what we think will actually lead us to life, and Jesus goes no, no, no, no, no, pause, take a step back.  Don’t let what’s going on on the inside of your soul, the insecurities, the selfish pride, don’t let that stand in the way of the life that I want to bring to you.

So, as we close and Aaron comes back out to lead us in one last song, can I just impress upon you what I feels is the gospel imperative here and it’s this—we step back from our lives for a second and look at our maker of it all.  You do know that he’s a covenantal God, don’t you?  In the person and in the work of Jesus, he said you’re my people, you’re chosen, you are holy, you are loved, and I am for you.  Think about the implications of God being in covenant with us.  He doesn’t have to think about whether or not he’s going to love us.  He just does.  He does, because he’s decided that that’s what he is going to do.  I LOVE that!  ‘I will be your God and you will be my people’ is all throughout the entire Scriptures and it’s God’s anthem.  He is an oath-making God.  {Ryan sings} His oath, his covenant, his blood//Protects me in the whelming flood// When all around my soul gives way//He then is all my hope and stay.  It’s HIS covenant.  It’s HIS oath.  Jesus is the oath of God.  He’s promising to be for us and be good to us and bless us.  Jesus is the word of God.    {Look up at me}  Jesus is the swear word of God!  It’s God swearing!  I love you!  I love you!  I love you!  I’m for you.  I’m for you. I’m for you.  You can’t run too far.  You can’t get too dark.  You can’t get too pain…..   I am coming after you.  Jesus is God’s swear word.  The Limitless One becomes the Limited One that we might become loved ones.  That’s our anthem.

Finally, God is a God of his word.  His “Yes” also has a name.  His Yes’s name is Jesus.  All of the promises of God find their “yes and amen” in Him.  (2 Corinthians 1:20)

Would you stand with me?  Friends, I’m convinced that for you and I to live in and experience the counter-intuitive freedom of Jesus, we must first experience the reckless love of Jesus.  It’s that love that provides the hedges for us.  It’s that love that holds us.  It’s that love that keeps us.  It’s that love that drives out fear.  It’s that love that allows us to follow through on our covenants and our commitments.  It’s that love that frees us to be known when everything in us says hide or run.  So we’re people that know that we’re loved and so we stay.

Maybe this week, if you’re married and you’re in covenant with someone else, maybe you decide to take one step towards saying, “This is something I deeply value.  Something I want to honor.”  Maybe this week you just pay attention to the rhythms of your soul that want to embellish some of the things that are half-true about you.  You catch yourself and you go, Jesus, I just want to say it as it is, as messy as it is, I just want to say it.  Maybe this week you’re thinking about saying no to something you already said yes to and you think, that’s not the freedom of commitment, Jesus.  I don’t need to pray about whether or not I’m going to do that.  I already said I was, so I’m in.

Jesus, I pray for all my friends in this space.  Lord, especially for those who carry a pain of divorce, where things didn’t work out the way that they thought that they would.  Maybe they were wronged or maybe they were the one wrong.  Lord, I pray that they would just know your grace, your love, this morning, that holds them.  Father, that we would be people of our word.  That we would be people of honesty in the dark parts and in the good parts, that we would invite people in in such a way that we could allow ourselves to be known, valued, and loved, instead of hiding and trying to manage the expectations of people around us.  Father, may we be people who do what we say we’re going to do as a reflection of you, the God who says what He’s going to do and does it.  Spirit, come, we pray.  Amen.

Sermon On The Mount | The Paradox of Freedom | Matthew 5:31-42 | Week 62020-10-19T11:03:38-06:00

Sermon on the Mount | Directing Desire | Matthew 5:27-30 | Week 5

SERMON ON THE MOUNT: Directing Desire (Distorted Desire)   Matthew 5:27-30

If you have your Bible, turn to Matthew 5.  We’re continuing our series of the Sermon on the Mount.  We are about six messages in.  Let me give two disclaimers as we begin this morning.  Number One — You got a service guide when you came in and it has an outline to follow along with the message.  You can make a big ‘X’ on said outline and flip it over.  There are three days between when I made that outline and today and God’s done some different things in my heart and soul in that amount of time, so I want to be true to where I sense God leading us.  Secondly, we are going to be dealing with an issue this morning that may be an issue that has more pain surrounding it than anything else in our culture, and the by-product of it has destroyed many lives and many marriages.  I want to take as pastoral an approach as I can to this difficult subject, but I also want to hit it head on because I believe Jesus wants to bring some freedom this morning, and I believe the Scriptures want to invite us to live more in the kingdom of God, and I believe that’s possible for us.  So let’s pray and ask that God would invade this space of our hearts and minds and lives.  Spirit of God, we ask that you would do what we cannot do by will power alone.  Lord, we don’t want the enemy’s voice of condemnation in our ear, so we rebuke that voice.  Lord, we do receive your conviction, in order to lead us to a better way.  Lord, help us to discern those two voices in our own hearts and minds, and let us move in line with your Spirit as you lead us to life.  We pray this in the name of Jesus, and all God’s people said. . . .Amen.

When I was 10 years old, I had a friend of mine invite me to go to his parents’ beach house in Oceanside, California.  We were good friends from school, so my parents let me go.  He had this tent in the backyard, sort of on the patio of their beach house, and we were sleeping out in the tent.  I can remember vividly him grabbing a stack of Boys’ Life magazines and us walking into the tent.  He told his mom that we were going to be looking at the Boys’ Life magazines before we went to bed.  In addition to the Boys’ Life magazine, there was a Playboy magazine tucked in.  I can remember for the very first time in my life seeing pornography.  I’m almost three decades removed from that, and I can tell you, those images are still with me.  They did something to me.  They messed with me.  They imprinted themselves on my imagination.

That’s not a unique story, and it’s certainly not a unique story for kids growing up in today’s day and age, where pornography is a $97 billion industry world wide.  $97 billion industry!   Somewhere between 10%-30% of our vast internet is consumed with pornography.  That’s probably on the low end.  Catch this:  90% of boys and 60% of girls are exposed to internet pornography by the age of 18.  Pornography sites attract more than Amazon, Netflix, and Twitter combined.  There’s even a song in a Broadway musical entitled, “The Internet is for Porn.”

Here’s the question I want to ask:  On a fundamental human level, why is there a market for this?  Why do these things exist?  $97 BILLION INDUSTRY!  WHY?   Because you and I, as human beings, were designed for intimacy.  We long for it.  It’s wired into the fabric and fiber of our beings.  There’s no person that walks the face of the planet that doesn’t long for intimacy.  You can go back and read about it in Genesis 1-2; Adam and Eve being wired for life together, and sin fractures that.  Instead of being naked and unashamed, they’re hiding and covering themselves.  Originally, they’re designed to walk with one another; it’s wired into the DNA of being human, nobody escapes it.  But when those desires go awry—-and they have—-when those good, God-given desires get distorted, we start using what God intends for intimacy and we start turning it on ourselves and start using it for gratification.  But the desire’s still there and the desire is still good.  God’s design for intimacy is carried by our desires.  The desires are part of what make us human.  It’s not even necessarily our sexual drive that makes us human, it’s our drive for intimacy, our longing to be known, to be valued, to be loved.

So what happens when a good, God-given desire gets distorted?  What happens when it gets off the rails and when it goes wrong?  You DO know that one of the enemy’s greatest tactics in our life is to take what God’s designed for good and to twist it and use it for evil.  What happens when the good, God-given design gets distorted?  Let me put it another way:  What happens when our soul gets unhealthy?  What happens when our heart gets sick.  Here’s what happens:  We turn love into lust and people into objects.  Jesus has strong about that.  Let’s let this rest on us.  Remember, let’s try to engage without the voice of condemnation, but with an invitation to conviction.

Here’s what Jesus says:  You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.”  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  Now, you may not hear this kind of stuff talked about a whole lot in church, but Jesus addresses it very head on, nearly two thousand years ago.  Can we all just take a moment and admit that maybe our methodology has changed a little bit, but the motivations of the human heart have remained the same.  Yes?  This is a word we need to wrestle with today.

“You’ve heard that it was said,” Jesus teaches, and what he’s doing is he’s falling in line with where Dan led us last week.  He’s addressing six commands that the Old Testament has held up.  He’s inviting people to a new way of wrestling with this.  He says it’s a righteousness that surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees.  “You’ve heard that it was said….”   Where did they hear it said?  As part of the Ten Commandments.  It’s commandment number seven:  You shall not commit adultery.  ‘But I tell you, Jesus says,’ and his point is you can be technically true to honoring the command and still have a heart that’s rotting on the inside, and still have a sickness that’s unaddressed.  Jesus wants to teach people what ‘fulfillment’ of the law, or a righteousness that surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, actually looks like.

How many of you have seen one of these pictures of an iceberg taken from underwater?  Anyone?  I think it’s a good image for Jesus’s ‘you’ve heard it said’ statements.  You’ve heard it said, “You shall not commit adultery,” and we can sort of place that on the top—that’s what we can see.  You can check that one off pretty easily, and you can go either I have or I haven’t done that, but Jesus wants to get underneath.  Jesus wants to get to the core of our humanity.  He wants to get to the reason that anybody would commit adultery, and he goes there’s something going on in your heart and your life.  There’s something beneath the surface.  He goes, let’s talk about THAT thing.  Let’s not just talk about the behavior and the action, let’s talk about the heart.  Let’s talk about the motivation.  You do KNOW that EVERYTHING you DO, EVERYTHING you think, every action you execute, comes from your heart.  Proverbs 4:23 says it well:    Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.   There’s no such thing as an “Oops! That wasn’t me! That was completely unlike me!”  Have you ever said that to yourself?  Do you know what Jesus would say?  No, no, no, that’s exactly like you!  Do you know why?  Because you did it.  We often want to run from that, and we want to try to polish it up, and say that’s completely unlike me, and Jesus says no, no, no, unless you actually look at who you’re becoming, you will never change the rhythms of your heart.  You can keep covering that up and keep relegating it to the side, rationalizing it, justifying it, theorizing it, but it is you.  You know why?  You did it.  And that’s okay.  For out of the heart (Jesus says) come evil thoughts—-murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.  (Matthew 15:19)  Jesus wants to address those things head on, but the first thing you want to realize is these are all coming from underneath.  They’re coming from a soul.  They’re coming from a heart that’s grown sick from desires that have gotten off track.  Good, God-given desires gone astray. 

Now, I think it’s going to be helpful for us as we engage this text to take a moment to try to wrestle with what Jesus is NOT saying.  Here’s what Jesus is not saying and I want you to lean in because we get this twisted oftentimes and it takes us to some strange places.  Jesus is NOT teaching that our sexuality is bad.  He’s not teaching that our sexuality is wrong.  He’s not.  God is the designer of our sexuality.  It’s his idea.  There are parts of your body that they’re only purpose is to serve for physical pleasure.  And God goes, that’s all me.  I wired that into you, that was my idea.  You’re welcome.  Jesus is not saying our sexuality is wrong.  It’s God’s design.  God is not anti-sex.  He’s the most pro-sex being in the universe because he’s the designer of it all.

Jesus is NOT saying that an acknowledgment of beauty is wrong. There are some people who are very physically attractive.  {You’re welcome.}  You do know that beauty is a culturally influenced thing.  Aaron Bjorklund was telling me that when they (Journey Corps) were getting people ready to send to Africa, they told them, “You just need to realize that in Africa many of the women are going to be walking around without shirts on and that’s just a thing there.”  It’s not a sexual thing for them.  Ankles are a thing, so make sure you wear socks, because you don’t want to cause men to stumble.  Shirt: optional; socks: not optional.  That’s in Africa, not here.  Jesus says listen, we were all created in the image of God and acknowledging beauty in other people is not wrong.

Thirdly, he’s NOT saying that temptation is sin.  In the book of James, James makes this very clear:  But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire {Desire that’s gone wrong} and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin (James 1:14-15)    Certainly temptation can lead to sin, but it doesn’t necessarily.   In fact, the Scriptures are really clear to say that Jesus was tempted in every way and yet was without sin (Heb. 4:15).  So that initial attraction, that desire for another person, can be stopped at that point without it becoming sin.

So here’s the question:  What IS Jesus saying?  Let’s look at what he says:  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.   This is the NIV version; I think the ESV gets a little closer to what’s going on in the original in the Greek.  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.    There’s three words that drive what’s going on in this part of the text.  The first is the word ‘look.’  There’s multiple words for ‘look’ in the Greek language.  The word that Jesus uses means to look with the intention of holding on.  You could almost picture it as tracing somebody’s physical body with your eyes.  That’s what Jesus is talking about.  Not just to see, but to look and to hold on and to trace.  There’s another word in the Greek, it’s the word ‘pros.’  It’s not translated into the NIV, unfortunately.  It’s a causal statement.  It means ‘to look with the intention to.’  That’s a really important part of what Jesus is teaching.  He’s talking about a choice someone makes to look and trace with the intention to. . . .and then he says lust.   It’s sort of a church word; we don’t hear it much in our culture anymore.  It’s a churchy word.  It’s a compound word meaning to hold onto or to imagine or you could even translate it to focus on.  The second part of that compound word is with passionate desire.  So, in Jesus’s terminology, lust is a desire to possess.  It’s an intention to dominate.  Which then inflames to a coveting desire.  So when a man lusts after a woman, he takes the mystery of personhood and reduces her to a consumer item and covets her as a thing, rather than a person.

Jesus is talking uniquely and specifically to men, so we’ll teach it as such, but I just want you to know that pornography/lust is not just a male issue, you know that right?  Even recently it’s become more and more a female issue in our culture, in our day, in our time.  I don’t know if that would’ve changed the way Jesus taught it, if he were teaching it today, but he teaches it uniquely to men in this situation.  Maybe for women who are a little less visually-inclined, it might read something like. . . .a woman who lusts or passionately desires after a man, she usually covets riches, or power, or fame, or things like that.

What’s going on here is not only a desire that gets off track, but a God-given imagination that we all have.  Really, it’s a beautiful thing.  It moves culture forward.  Imagination is why we have rockets that go to the moon.  It’s why we have all sorts of inventions all around us.  It’s because people have the ability to dream up new things.  But you do know that that good, God-given imagination has the ability to take us to some dark spots too. Jesus is saying that that’s what’s going on.

One more side note about what Jesus is NOT saying — he’s NOT saying that lust and adultery are equal.  He’s not saying that they’re the same thing.  Don’t flatten what Jesus is saying and equate lust after a woman and doing something horrific to a child.  Those are not the same thing.  And Jesus isn’t teaching that they are.  He’s saying they both come from the same place, and that an unhealthy heart {here’s what Jesus is teaching} turns love into lust and human beings into objects for gratification.  That’s the pattern.  It’s a heart that gets unhealthy or fractured by sin, we have a distorted desire, and then, instead of loving somebody, we lust after them and sort of identify them as a gift from God and carrying the image of God.  We objectify them and then use them for our own gratification.  But, underneath it all, it’s this longing for intimacy.    Here’s the way G.K. Chesterton put it:  “The man who knocks on the door of the brothel is really looking for God.”  That’s the longing.  That’s what’s underneath.  There’s a great book I highly recommend if you want to look into this further.   It’s by Michael Cusick called “Surfing for God,” and he plays off of this idea.

Friends, the truth of the matter is that you and I live in a day and a culture and a time where we couldn’t be on more different pages than Jesus.   Because Jesus says no, no, no, war against lust, and we say no, no, no, just go with it.  It’s no big deal.  It’s identified by the reality that you cannot find somebody outside of religious circles who talks about the damage that lust causes in the lives of people.  It’s not even in our public vernacular anymore.  You mention it to somebody who’s not a follower of Jesus and they’ll look at you like you’ve grown a third eye.  It’s not a part of our public discourse anymore. 

Let me do some cultural diagnosis with you.  In the 1960’s we had the sexual revolution.  It was a movement of “free love.” The mantra of the sexual revolution was do whatever you want, with whomever you want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody.  But I don’t think we stopped long enough to recognize whether or not we’re hurting ourselves, and whether or not we’re actually hurting the people around us.  I don’t think we’ve thought well enough about that truth.  So now, in our day and time, you have, this month, ESPN just released their “BODY” issue of their magazine.  It’s sort of soft porn.  It’s not explicit, but it’s definitely a gateway drug.  We have “Game of Thrones” which is one of the most popular TV shows on television.  I’m not here to heap guilt on you, but it was popular, so I hopped on to watch it.  I made it through half of an episode and thought, “This is essentially pornography.”  And it’s one of the most popular shows we have right now.

Just this last week, a website entitled “Ashley Madison” sent to USA Today their list of cities that “had the most member signups per capita” during a 2017 period.  Any guesses what Denver ranked?  Second.  It has 50 million members today.  Their tagline is the “global leader for affairs.”

So we’re going to go a little bit deeper into this.  Take a deep breath.  A little while back, I read an article in Vanity Fair magazine—because that’s the way I roll.  The article was entitled “Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse.”  The subtitle was “As romance gets swiped from the screen, some twenty-somethings aren’t liking what they see.”  Listen to a few of some quotes from people.  We just need to get into this world, because I realized I was blissfully ignorant of a world that most of our young adults are growing up in.  The author is interviewing people who are in a New York nightclub.  One response:  “With these dating apps,” he says, “you’re always sort of prowling.  You could talk to two or three girls at a bar and pick the best one, or you can swipe a couple hundred people a day—the sample size is so much larger.  It’s setting up two or three Tinder dates a week and, chances are, sleeping with all of them, so you could rack up 100 girls you’ve slept with in a year.”  He goes on to say, “A lack of intimate knowledge of a potential sex partner never presents an obstacle to physical intimacy.”  We may know each other’s name, but that doesn’t mean we can’t hop in bed with each other.  One guy says, “I sort of play that I could be a ‘boyfriend kind of guy’ in order to win women over, but then they start wanting me to care more. . . .and I just don’t.”  In February, one study reported there were nearly 100 million people—perhaps 50 million on Tinder alone—using their phones as a sort of all-day, every-day, handheld singles club, where they might find a sex partner as easily as they’d find a cheap flight to Florida.  “It’s like order food,” says one guy, “but you’re ordering a person.”  The article goes on to say that there’s a deep lament in the souls of the people who are in this world, going it’s not getting the job done.  It’s not satisfying.  There’s this soul loneliness that we’ve entered into, and we’re having a hard time recovering from.  They call it the ‘dating apocalypse.’

We’ve equated love with lust.  But listen to the way the Scriptures define love, and then imagine how different this is from what you’ve just heard.  Love is patient {not immediate}, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  {It’s not self-seeking, which everything I read in this article was self, self, self, me, me, me, more, more, more….  Honestly, you guys, that’s the anthem of the lustful heart.  If you get underneath it all, it’s the crying out for me.}  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor. 13:4-7)   Here’s the core human problem Jesus is addressing:  We use what God intends us to love and we love what God designed to be used.  Think about that for a moment.  We use what God designed to be loved and we love the stuff. . .the physical possessions.  We’re patient with those.  We’re kind with those.  We keep no record of wrongs with those.  But, those weren’t designed to be loved.

What Jesus is pushing back against. . . .because remember all of this is in the context of how do we live life in the kingdom of God?  How do we live life under the rule and the reign of Jesus?  Jesus is saying that it’s impossible to live in His kingdom when we objectify his crown creation, which is humanity.  Let me say that again.  It’s impossible to live in the kingdom of God when we objectify his crown creation.  Human beings.  But I do think we’re starting to see the cracks in our prevailing modern-day philosophy.  I think we’re seeing the cracks in people raising their voice in this #metoo movement saying, “No longer will we be silent when people run their desire and lust to the extreme and take advantage of other people.”  So 81% of women surveyed would say that in some way they’ve been sexually harassed in their lifetime. . . .43% of men.  You had this explosion at the end of 2017 with the #metoo movement of people raising their voices and going, it’s not okay, we’re breaking the silence.

I think we’re seeing the cracks in it, in people like Jeff Brodsky and Joy International and a number of great organizations around the world, who are fighting and advocating for the ceasing of child trafficking.  Praise the Lord.  Remember, those all come from a heart space that’s convinced that it’s all about me and I can objectify God’s crown creation without it affecting me at all, and use what God intends us to love.

I think we’re seeing the cracks in the rise of things like Pornography Induced Sexual Dysfunction (or erectile dysfunction).  It means someone’s watched so much pornography that they’re no longer stimulated by a live person.  It’s a thing.  It’s a popular thing.  I didn’t do enough research on this so I’m just going to throw it out there—who knows where the development of Artificial Intelligence and our sexuality and our desire for lust. . . .who KNOWS where that’s going to head.  That’s the new frontier after swiping and dating apps and we’ve just got to start addressing it on a heart level, you guys.  We’ve got to start addressing it on a heart level.  I think the theme song for the rising generation is “I can’t get no satisfaction.  I try and I try and I try. . . .and I’ve tried EVERYTHING and I can’t get no satisfaction.”  The reason is because those desires were designed to be challenged in one direction and we’ve driven off course.

Jesus has strong words for this in this next section (which we’ll get to in just a moment).  He describes THAT reality—the heart that’s consumed with lust—as hell or ‘Gehenna.’  If you’ve been in the position where you’re actively fighting against lust and you don’t seem to be winning, you read Jesus’s words and go, “That’s exactly what it’s like.”  It’s like a fire on the inside that I just can’t put out.  We’re waging war on our own souls and we’re winning, or losing, I guess, depending on how you look at it.  

If you’re asking, “Okay, Paulson, I agree, and what should we do about it?” listen to what Jesus says:  If your right eye causes you to stumble, 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.  And if your right hand causes you to stumble, 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. (Matthew 5:29-30)    Now, I just did a brief survey, when you guys walked in, most of you have both eyes and both hands.  Which I just want to affirm is a good thing.  We’re not having a station in the lobby where we’ll cut off your hand and surgically remove your eye.  That’s not what Jesus is saying.  Oftentimes we say, “We take the Bible literally.”  Have you ever heard somebody say that?  Did they have both eyes?  Just sayin’.

I think it’s better for us to say rather than we read the Bible literally, we read the Bible intelligently.  We try to figure out what Jesus is saying.  I think what Jesus is saying is hey listen, if you could address lust JUST by tackling physical things, here would be your methodology—pluck out your eye, cut off your hand.  But if Jesus was being serious about this as a methodology to combat lust, he forgot one body part that you could cut off that would deal with most of the problem.  Just. Sayin’.  It’s not what he’s saying.   It’s a Hebrew idiom that you can read again in Matthew 18:8-9.  I bet he sort of chuckled after he said it.  Like, you guys, all have both eyes and both hands, he says to the Pharisees, but even that wouldn’t work.  That wouldn’t work.  Because the problem is on the inside.  The problem is deeper.  Now, you can’t just “cut it off,” as he says, and solve the problem.

I think the bigger question is how do we become the kind of people free from lust?  What does it look like for us to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus?  Because Jesus is for freedom, Jesus is for intimacy, Jesus is for the value of all people.  Jesus is for healthy, vibrant, life-giving sexuality, not the cheap substitute that we often settle for.  If we read this and go, the goal is to avoid adultery—not Jesus’s goal.  If we read this and go, well, the goal is to not lust. . . .how many of you think a game plan to not lust is I’m just going to try really hard not to lust?  Has that worked for anybody ever?  I haven’t met him yet.  So what do we do?  ‘Don’t do it’ doesn’t seem to be cutting it.

Everything flows from the heart, but let’s step back and ask the question how do we shape and form our heart so that what flows from it is the life that we long for?  I know this is a struggle for many people—statistically, many people in this room right now.  So allow me to enter into your life a little bit, and without the guilt and the shame that the enemy wants to heap down on us, let’s enter into this with the sense of conviction and say, “Jesus, where do you want to poke?  Where do you want to prod at my heart and my soul, to lead me forward?” Here’s what it looks like, I think, to fight for our heart, because Jesus is saying that we should take it seriously.

I think, first, we’ve got to admit that in some ways ALL of us are sexually broken.  This isn’t a unique thing for some people; this is a human reality in a broken world.  It comes out, it exhibits itself, in different ways, but we all carry wounds, and we have to be more aware of what’s going on in our heart and our lives.  We can’t just be carried along with desire without ever discerning if it’s healthy, if it’s God-given.  We’ve got to become aware that there’s probably some things from our past and there’s probably some things from our present that bring about some semblance of brokenness in our life, and we’ve got to bring those things to God, instead of just, as Jeremiah 2:13 says, digging cisterns that won’t hold water, we’ve got to bring them to God and bring our brokenness to him.  {Look up at me for a second.}  He can handle your brokenness.  He can handle it. . . .as dark as it is, as painful as it is.  He’s God, he can handle it.  That’s first step in the journey.  All healing comes through honesty.

Second, here’s what the Scriptures teach:  Flee from sexual immorality.  In 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, Paul’s writing to a church that’s primarily made up of people that are coming out of cultic, prostitution, religious practices.  You had people who served as prostitutes in the temples to the pagan gods.  You had people who would visit the prostitutes in the temples to the pagan gods, and now they’re called the church.  That might be a little messy.  Here’s Paul’s advice to them, here’s his command:  Flee from sexual immorality.  All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.  Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your bodies.   Here’s his point:  Do not think that your will power will overcome your circumstances.  Don’t think that your will power will overcome your circumstances.  There are certain things that we do that just lead us—they’re like the pathway into falling.

Here’s some for me.  I just know that on Instagram, I cannot push that ‘Search’ feature.  I can’t.  It’s a rabbit hole of destruction for my own soul.  I know I can’t do it.  For some people, it may be that you need to get some nanny software on your computer.  For some people, it might mean you start thinking through whether or not you should actually have a smart phone.  I know you don’t think you could live without one, but for some people, a dumb phone may be the smartest idea you ever have.  Here’s the way Martin Luther said it: “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

Third, here’s what we do.  We cultivate healthy intimacy.  If you’re married, the Bible commands you to have sex with your husband or your wife.  It’s a command.  In 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, Paul would say:  Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.  {Then he gives the reason for not depriving each other.}  ….so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.  The Scriptures are saying just KNOW that what you do with your physical body has an influence on your spiritual life, number one.  And KNOW that when you’re deeply satisfied in a relationship with your spouse, the devil has less room—he still has some room—to attack.  So, part of your practice may be to have more sex, if you’re married, okay?  But also recognize, within this passage, the enemy attacks us when we’re weakest.  My guess is, if you’re married, the time you’re most tempted is when you’re fighting with your spouse.  If you’re single, the time you’re most tempted is when you’re struggling with loneliness, the desire to want to be married or want to have somebody you share that with.  To single people in the room, I would say the same thing applies—cultivate healthy intimacy.  Friendships.  Relationships.  Know when you’re tempted and fight it.

Finally, and I think most importantly. . . .I’ve chosen to put this last because we’re going to come to the table in a moment.  The best thing you can do to keep your soul healthy is worship.  The best thing you can do to fight against lust is to remember who Jesus is and to discipline your soul to worship him. . . .in good seasons and in bad.  The Scriptures clearly say:  We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)  If you want to love God more, remember his love for you more.  Friend, you are a child of the Most High God.  You are deeply loved.  You are deeply cherished.  You have been made holy by his grace and his mercy that’s been showered down on you.  The person who walks in the most freedom is the person who has the most confidence that they’re loved.  Not because of anything that they’ve done.  Not because of anything that they’ve earned.  Not because they can check so many boxes because they’ve gone so many days without doing fill-in-the-blank.  That’s not why!  That’s not it.  We feed on the reality that we are loved simply because we’re called children of the Most High God and we have been showered down by his grace.  That’s it!  If you’re struggling with lust, remember that you’re loved.  Then remind yourself again…and again…and again…and again, because that is a slippery truth.

So what do we do?  We’re going to come to the table in just a moment, but maybe today is just a time of saying, Jesus, this has gotten into my heart and soul and I don’t want it there.  I want to bring it to you.  Do you know one of the best spiritual disciplines you can embrace if you’re struggling with lust is fasting?  Because we remind our soul that our body doesn’t control us.  We start to rewire parts of our brain to go no, no, I don’t need that.  I can feed on something a little bit different.  So maybe you’ll say you’ll hit this head on and fast.  Or maybe we go a little bit different direction and say, I’m going to participate in the Barefoot Mile coming up on July 21, in order to advocate AGAINST where this leads.  It’s a discipline to say I want to engage the issue.  The best thing I can tell you is feed on divine love.

People, for 2000 years, who call themselves followers of Jesus, have been coming to this table to remind themselves that in the midst of the battle, in the midst of walking around the wall thinking it’s going to fall and it doesn’t, in the midst of the struggle, that they are still people that are loved.  The ploy of the enemy is to heap guilt and shame on us, to try to tell us we AREN’T loved and it just goes deeper and deeper and deeper down that downward spiral.  As you come this morning, remember that you are loved.  The table is open to anyone  who says they’re a follower of Jesus, who’s repented and entered the kingdom, giving Jesus their life, making Him their rabbi and their Lord. The table is open to all who would come.  Let’s pray.

Jesus, we do. . .we take this teaching of yours seriously.  We want it to rest on us, with a sense of weightiness, but not weightiness that brings condemnation.  Weightiness that brings conviction.  Would you do heart work in our lives this morning as we come to your table?  Would you remind us who we are?  Would you remind us whose we are?  Would you lead us to the freedom that we have in You?  We love you, Jesus.  It’s in your name we pray.  Amen.

Sermon on the Mount | Directing Desire | Matthew 5:27-30 | Week 52021-01-17T13:51:10-07:00
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