Sin is Serious – And So is Mercy

Today’s Bible Reading – Genesis 35 & 36 and Matthew 18

I have watched just enough mobster movies to know the awful fate of those who anger the mafia boss and receive the “cement shoes” treatment. That is the vision that always comes to mind when I read of the seriousness of leading a child to sin. “And whoever receives one such child in My name, receives Me;  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:5,6 NASB) Jesus was giving a pretty heavy answer to the disciples who had asked who would be greatest in the kingdom. He answered that instead of trying to be great, they should focus on being childlike instead – not immature (we see enough of that), but humble, knowing that they don’t know everything and they need a Father and a Savior. And while the child is standing in their midst – Jesus commends those who welcome a child and blasts those who recklessly (or accidentally?) lead a child to sin. As a parent and a Christian this is a strong warning that I will be judged based on how I am spiritually leading and guiding God’s children. I do not know where the line will be drawn. We might be able to safely point out some cases that would definitely receive Jesus’ condemnation (those who exploit children and youth for sex trafficking, pornography, cults or gangs). But what of the parent who signs their child up for the youth sports, campouts and Sunday morning jobs knowing it will take them away from opportunities for God’s little children to grow closer to Him? I don’t know. But it seems wise to do my best to err on the side of caution. What else can I be doing to spiritually guide His children away from sin? Life is easier when you don’t feel the weight of a millstone around your neck or cement hardening in your shoes.

And, if that isn’t scary enough – Jesus broadens the picture next – to all people and sinners and the extreme measures that need to be taken to keep oneself from falling into sin. “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:7 NIV). And then comes the gruesome cutting off of body parts that causes you to sin. This gives a strong mental picture of doing whatever it takes to hold oneself accountable and keep oneself from sin. If your eye causes you to sin, cut it out, to save yourself from judgment and hell. This is definitely true in a metaphorical sense. We need to do all we can, even what would be considered extreme measures, to keep ourselves from sin. And, sometimes that will mean cutting off the influence some people hold over us – cutting off a friend or family member or social media/entertainment who entices us to sin. It’s a hard thing to do, just like cutting off your hand – but it could save your eternal life. And, we must watch ourselves to make sure we are not the ones enticing others to sin!

While I love the parable of the lost sheep and it hurts to skip over it…I am going to skip ahead to the next two passages in Matthew 18 which both deal with the brother who sins against you. Having just established the seriousness of sin, the consequences for those who lead others to sin and the extreme measures we are to employ to keep us from sin – it is easy to assume that the best course of action is to shun all sin and sinners. But, wait, what kind of cut off, silent, lonely, bitter world would that be? While we are all sinners – God gave us a way to be forgiven and to restore relationships. Jesus begins to explain it here.

First, if a brother sins against you – go and talk to him. Matthew 18: 15-17 goes through an important series of steps to work towards either resolution or healthy distance and cutting off -and it starts with talking to the “offender”. Too often when we feel someone has sinned against us we talk to others about it. I know I am guilty of this and need to do a better job of lovingly confronting the person I have an issue with – first. So the steps Jesus laid out are: talk privately to the person, if he doesn’t listen take 1-2 witnesses and try again, if he doesn’t listen tell the church, if he still doesn’t listen cut him off. The goal is always to win him back to ‘God’s saving side’, not to humiliate, point fingers or feel better about ourselves or peace at any cost. But, sometimes repentance doesn’t happen, and then we must be willing to cut the ties that would bring others down to sin as well.

So, let’s assume we correctly followed the steps Jesus left. Peter asked how many times he needed to forgive a brother who sinned against him. He thought 7 sounded like a lot. But Jesus said no – 77 or 70 x 7 or whatever number you want to use to remind yourself to keep forgiving – the same way you want others to forgive you. And the same way God has forgiven you. I think we can safely assume this is not the brother who was unrepentant and cast out of the church, but a brother who was repentant and seeking to live a godly life – but still tripped up – like you and me. And so Jesus lays out the powerful Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (make sure you read it again). Now the harsh words and judgment are not for the sinner who tripped up, or even the one who caused him to sin, but for the one who didn’t forgive. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’  In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.” (Matthew 18:32-34).

It isn’t that sin is nothing – and easily forgiven. Sin (of all kinds) is something huge and serious and able to block us from eternal life. If we could see how much our sin hurts others, handicaps ourself and damages our relationship with God we might more readily run from it. But we don’t always, and God in His mercy still lays out a way for us to restore a relationship with Him, ultimately it would cost Him the death of His Son Jesus. To accept the forgiveness offered to you, but not extend it to others puts you again in grave danger. Sin is a big deal – and so is mercy.

-Marcia Railton

Forgiven to Forgive

Matthew 18

One parable that comes up many times when you talk about forgiveness is the parable of the Unmerciful Servant.  This parable demonstrates how we should forgive others no matter how big their sin is.  But to understand this parable best, we have to understand to whom Jesus was teaching, why Jesus was teaching this parable, and what happened before Jesus started telling the parable.

Before Jesus taught the parable, Peter asks in Matthew 18:21 “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  To him, it probably felt like he was doing more than he needed to by forgiving others that many times.  But Jesus responded that you should forgive others up to seventy times seven times.

After saying this, Jesus goes into the teaching of the parable of the Unmerciful Servant.  The parable starts by telling how the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves.  One of the slaves who had been brought to the king owed him ten thousand talents, which was equal to 20 years of work.  Since the slave could not pay back the money, the king ordered for the slave, his family, and everything he owned to be sold.  The slave pleaded with the king and asked for time to repay everything back to the king.  The king then cancelled the slave’s dept in mercy towards him.

Just like the slave, we are in the debt of God.  The ten thousand talents which the slave could not repay back is like our sins.  We have all fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  Our response to God is to ask for the forgiveness of our sins, just like what the slave did.  Through mercy, God grants us that forgiveness and cancels our sins.

We are like the slave in the beginning of the parable, but we do not want to be like the slave at the end of the parable.  After leaving the king’s presence, the slave finds a fellow slave who owes him a hundred denarii, and demands to be repaid.  One denarius was worth one day’s wage.  The fellow slave pleaded with the slave, asking for time to repay his debt.  The slave, however, did not show mercy to his fellow slave and had him thrown in jail.  Other slaves who were watching this unfold, went and reported to the king what they had just seen.  When the king found out what had happened, he was very angry for he had shown mercy to the slave, but the slave would not show that same mercy to others.  Because the slave had thrown his fellow slave in jail for owing a debt, the king threw the slave in jail for owing him debt.

This parable concludes with Jesus explaining how if we do not forgive others, God will treat us the same way.  We have been shown mercy by God, deserving to be punished but instead were forgiven.  In the same way, we need to show mercy and forgiveness to others who sin against us.  Matthew 6:14-15 says, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  We want that forgiveness from God, and to receive it we must forgive others who sin against us.  If we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us.  

Saying that we forgive somebody, but not truly forgiving them in your heart, is not real forgiveness.  The forgiveness towards others must come from our hearts to count.  Matthew 18:35 states, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”  In every version that I have looked at, it explicitly states that it must be from your heart.

When forgiveness comes from our hearts, we are forgiving others with no pride or desire for revenge.  If we have pride or a desire for revenge, there is no true repentance or forgiveness.  The slave in the parable did not have true repentance and forgiveness, which caused him to not forgive others.  He had not truly repented, but was glad just to be “off the hook.”

As Ephesians 4:32 says, we need to be kind, compassionate, and forgiving towards others, just as God has forgiven us.

Kaitlyn Hamilton

Kaitlyn, a middle school student from Michigan, has made the most of a wild and crazy 2020 and she is already working on her third time reading through the whole Bible this year. Way to go! Thanks for sharing with us today!

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway – Matthew 18

Tomorrow’s reading will be John 7-8 as we continue on our journey through the Bible. Print your copy of our Bible Reading Plan and hop onboard! Kaitlyn will tell you there is something new to discover every time you read His Word!

Who Are You Blaming?

Job 29-31

Job 31 2 NIV

I love the orderly layout for Job’s final 3 chapters of his defense before God and man.

 

In chapter 29 Job longs for his earlier days, “When the Almighty was still with me and my children were around me” (Job 29:5).  He isn’t dwelling on all the wonderful material  goods he once enjoyed, though we know they were many.  Rather, he is fondly recalling the interactions he had with others – the respect he felt, the ability he once had to help others: serving as the father to the needy, rescuing the fatherless, and comforting the mourners.  And, then he became the mourner.

 

In chapter 30 Job details his current despair.  Now he is detested by men.  He has lost all former dignity and safety and feels terror instead.  He is physically suffering with gnawing pain; blackened, peeling skin; and fever.  And perhaps worst of all, he feels like God is ignoring his cries for help.

 

In chapter 31 Job affirms his righteousness, denying his friends’ claims that he must now be suffering because of great past sins.  He describes many sins: lust, dishonest business transactions, marital infidelity, injustice, not caring for the poor and fatherless, abusing power, greed, idolatry, rejoicing over one’s enemy’s misfortune, and hiding guilt.  For each sin he says, I didn’t do it.  And for each sin he names a punishment a just God could give to him or anyone else who did that evil.

 

The problem is Job – and his friends we have heard from in the past many chapters – don’t understand that there are multiple reasons why we may be enduring trials.  His friends say trials are a result of God’s punishment.  And they were right – but only partially right.  They were erroneously blaming Job for his current trials because he must have deserved it.  Job says he was righteous (not sinless, but righteous) and thus shouldn’t be experiencing trials if God was just.  But, just who is God?  And why does He allow suffering?  These are still the questions that need answers today.

 

Last month I was delighted to watch the youth of our church develop and share a Youth Sunday based on several “apologetic” questions people ask about God.  Does God exist?  Did He create the world?  Is the Bible accurate and reliable?  Are science and the Bible enemies?  AND the biggie – why does God allow suffering?  Too many times a faithful person can believe all the right things and live the right life (just like Job) – until trouble comes.  And then the blaming and questioning tears them away from what they knew was true and the God that loves them.  It was powerful seeing these young people studying truth (guided by godly mentors) and gaining this understanding which will prepare them for trials to come.

 

I want to share with you a brief outline which youth group members, Kaitlyn and Addie, presented on “Why Does God Allow Suffering?”

  • The Fall (Genesis 3:14-19, Romans 5:12)
  • The Devil Causes Evil (2 Corinthians 4:4, 1 Peter 5:8,9)
  • God’s Judgments (Romans 6:23, Genesis 19:13) – this was the one Job’s friends knew about
  • God Uses Suffering for Good (Romans 8:28, James 1:2-4)
  • Sometimes People Don’t Get Healing Because of a Lack of Faith (Matthew 9:22-24, Mark 9:29)
  • Time & Chance (Luke 13:1-5, Ecclesiastes 9:11)

 

Many sermons could be written about any of these but I want to say just a few words about the devil, Satan, the accuser, the serpent, or the god of this age…the list goes on.  He goes by many names – perhaps a part of his deception and secret identities.  I find it very interesting that he plays a KEY role in Job 1 & 2 – and yet is not mentioned again by either Job or his friends.  He is the one bringing about these trials (which God is allowing) but everyone is pointing the finger at God rather than at Satan.  It is true that the Old Testament has a very limited number of references to Satan.  They did not yet have a very thorough understanding of many things God would reveal to His people through time – the Messiah, the resurrection, and Satan.

 

When Jesus enters the scene, he works to bring a clearer understanding of all these things.  All 4 gospel writers record Jesus speaking about (and sometimes directly to) the devil/Satan and the power he wields to tempt, deceive and inflict.  Every New Testament writer references the devil or Satan.  I believe we still point the finger at God often times when we ought to be recognizing, and fleeing from, the power of the god of this age.  Perhaps there is something you need to stop blaming God for and give the “credit” to Satan instead.

 

And, that is just ONE of the other Biblical reasons for our trials.  So much to think about in the book of Job!

 

I enjoyed looking into Job with you this week and I greatly look forward to the coming week when we get to hear from Cayce (Ballard) Fletcher as we get into the BEST parts of the book of Job!

 

Keep Reading and Seeking, Growing and Loving
Marcia Railton

 

To read or listen to today’s Bible passage check out – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Job+29-31&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow’s reading will be Job 32-34 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 

Poor in Spirit

Free Theme – Beatitudes – Matthew 5:3

Matthew 5 3 niv

Having just finished Revelation I thought it would be beneficial to revisit Jesus’ teaching for the next six days. There really is no better place to do this than the Sermon on the Mount. In my opinion this is the most important teaching that Jesus gave us. We will be expanding on six of these beatitudes over the course of the next week. Hopefully, a beatitude a day will keep the doctor away and make us spiritually healthy. And yes, my corniness knows no bounds.

So today let’s explore the first beatitude found in Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Let’s start with this first word “Blessed”. What does blessed actually mean? The debate over this topic is varied but I think we can generally assume it simply means happy. I don’t think it means momentary happiness. I believe what Jesus is aiming at here is long term, lasting happiness, the kind of happiness where you know all you are doing and being is worth it.

Now, for the command “poor in spirit”. For the longest time, like longer than a decade, this phrase left me confused. I have talked to all sorts of different pastors and people seeking an explanation but always walked away unsatisfied. I was left feeling like their definition was somehow incomplete. Finally, I heard it defined as spiritual brokenness and this finally made sense. But what does that really mean, right? This story may help.

When I was twenty years old my sister and I swapped vehicles because I was doing a lot of driving and had a truck with terrible gas mileage. My little sister wasn’t driving a lot and she wanted to drive my truck because well, it was really awesome. It was jacked up with a wicked exhaust system. Basically, it was every teenage boy/country girl’s dream truck. One super early Saturday morning my dad woke me up saying “There is something wrong with your truck” and hands me his cell phone with my sister on the line. He then left the room and probably went back to bed.

Much to my surprise on the other end was my now “frantic and scared for her life” sister. She explained to me how the truck had just stopped moving. Even though the engine was still running. Now this probably wouldn’t have been an issue if it was a normal situation but it wasn’t. The truck broke down during the middle of morning traffic on one of the few bridges that stretches for miles across the Hudson River with no shoulder or pull off at all. Even this would have been fine if it had been bumper to bumper traffic which is typical in New York City but it wasn’t. Traffic was moving well, really well actually and cars were flying past her at 60+ mph. She was stuck in the right hand lane of traffic literally praying to God that they would miss the truck.

In this moment she was experiencing the hopelessness of my truck’s brokenness with danger coming fast directly behind her. It is the same way with spiritual brokenness. Without God we are spiritually broken and helpless. The honest truth is that we are in danger and that without God and Christ our “trucks” are not moving on the middle of a highway, that if we were to stay there – it would end in our deaths.

We adopt this attitude of being “poor in spirit” when we realize how much we need God, his son’s sacrifice and how broken we are without him. We acknowledge God’s holiness and that we don’t deserve his grace or his love. We realize there was/is nothing we can do to earn any of what he has done for us. This isn’t condemnation for the sake of making ourselves feel ashamed or worthless rather it is acknowledgement of how much we need him and all that he has done for us. You can look at your sin and say “I suck” or you can look at your sin and say “I have a great, merciful God who loves me more than I understand.”

This is summarized well in the quote “Those who feel their spiritual need.” by Goodspeed.

So, let’s adopt this attitude of brokenness and helplessness before God because not only will we be happy but we will also have the kingdom of God as well.

 

Dan Wall

Divorce

Mark 10

Mark 10 8b

There are many things that man has come up with that God really didn’t create us to do. The Pharisees loved to bring the complicated subjects up to Jesus and see what he said. They were always comparing his teachings to the teachings of Moses. So the Pharisees go to Jesus and start discussing divorce. Jesus says for them to go ahead and tell him what Moses commanded.  They say that Moses said it was okay “to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” Jesus admits that this is true, but reminds them that the Hebrews Moses was dealing with were a rebellious and ungrateful people. This was not the best way. In the beginning God wanted man and woman to “become one flesh” and stay that way. In Mark 10:9 Jesus says “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

Jesus’ disciples wanted to make absolutely sure that they understood Jesus on this subject. So later they bring it up again. In verses 11 and 12 Jesus says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.” They knew without a doubt that adultery is wrong. It’s one of the ten commandments. “You shall not commit adultery.” Exodus 20:14

We might ask “Why is this so?” Ultimately we have to trust that God knows what is best and wants what’s best for us. We can look at divorce in our society and see some of the ramifications of it and see for ourselves that it’s hard on families. Does God want us to be happy? Without a doubt, YES! Read Psalm 37:3-5 God wants to give us the desires of our hearts. We need to trust Him, be committed to Him and His ways, and do good.  Our Father will take care of the rest.

Melissa New

 

 

Peculiar

Phil 2 15.png
If someone were to describe your behavior as “peculiar”, you would most likely not take it as a compliment.  Peculiar’s origin as a word stems from particular, singling out an item or idea from the rest, but over time the definition, and more importantly, the connotation has shifted.  To be peculiar is not simply to be different, but to be strange, funny, odd, specifically to a way we act or think seemingly with rational or reasonable explanation behind the behavior.  Peculiar could be someone who wears different styles, colors, and heights of socks simultaneously (me), or someone who doesn’t like the food on their plate to touch (my wife), or someone who would turn down all the wealth of this world to serve the will of God (Jesus, Matt 4).

There is truly something odd about the Christian life.  We are constantly denying our instinct in order to fulfill our call.  Many times Jesus uses radical, hyperbolic language to teach the most important disciplines of the strange Christian life.  These words are meant to shock, encourage whispers, and dramatically shift the way we act and think.  Those who want complacent faith? To have miracles without the mindset? To have salvation without giving up their reputation or station?  They walked and will continue to walk away.  They don’t want to be perceived as peculiar, and more accurately, don’t want to be forever changed – a holy-first mindset.

In keeping with today’s theme, here is a shortlist of six of the most odd and convicting teachings of Jesus.  If you’re not different or weird because you do these things, then you are doing them wrong.  As you devote time to reading this list, use this as an opportunity for a gut check – are you only a listless spectator watching and critiquing without any action or any sacrifice or are you actively working on becoming a sold-out slave to the Savior’s summoning?

1. You must be baptized for forgiveness and to receive the Spirit – Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – John 3:3 – Jesus has an eye-opening conversation with Nicodemus about the way God uses this symbolic gesture that had become a part of Jewish religious culture.  John the Baptist, like others before him, uses immersion in water as a means of symbolically cleansing us from our sins, but Jesus sets the example (Matt 3) that this also symbolizes a changing of our mindset.  The death and burial of our old self, and the rebirth of someone who is ready to receive the Spirit, the dwelling of God’s power in us.  There are theological nuances that we will leave to the scholars to debate, but this symbolic act is clearly exampled and talked about by Jesus, and practiced and talked about some more by his disciples.  This is the beginning.  If you haven’t been baptized, but you see the compelling case for Christ in your life, now is the time.  This symbol marks the launching point, not the precipice to our walk in Him.

2. You must be willing to live and die for Christ – “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Matt 16:24,25 – Obviously the apostles saw something happen that dramatically shifted the trajectory of their lives forever.  After the resurrection of Jesus, they were accused of moving His body to perpetuate the story that He had risen.  But would every single one of these men be ready and willing to travel so far and literally give up their lives for Christ? While a single man might die to protect a lie, I find it very hard to believe a whole group of men would do so. All of them, save John who was exiled, were put to death, each one receiving their punishment, not simply for their beliefs, but for their pursuit of evangelism and sharing the good news.  They each daily sacrificed their life, and even used their death, as testimony of the life-altering Gospel message.

3. You must live out communion  – “For My flesh is real food, and My blood is real drink. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on Me will live because of me“ – John 6:56 – Here we have another physical gesture that is symbolic of Christian life.  While it is not too difficult to eat a piece of bread or crackers, or knock back a cup of wine or grape juice, the conviction of these symbols is terrifying – we must always remember that we are striving to be one with Christ.  Anything we put in our body, use our body for (i.e. sex, 1 Cor 6:18), or anything that happens between our two ears, has to be reconciled by or repented to Christ for Him to remain in us.  This means the act of communion, whether done formally or figurative as a daily discipline, should be convicting and purging us from the things that tear us away from Christ.

4. You must find joy in persecution and dejection – “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Matthew 5:11 – Our natural instinct when we are attacked is to strike back.  If you hit me, I will return the blow.  If you hurl insults at me, I will use my wit and tongue to put you in your place.  Even when we gratify ourselves with revenge, there is no joy in it.  In Acts 5, Peter and the apostles receive a verbal and physical lashings.  What is their response?  Jubilation.  They found great joy in suffering for Christ because it meant they were becoming more like Him, and they were living out the Great Commission.  We should be ready and willing to be challenged, made fun of, and even receive physical abuse because we have taken a stand for Christ.  When we take a stand and our joy grows, but so does our testimony and resolve (James 1:2,3), compelling others to seek out the reason for our peculiar perseverance.

5. You must be willing to count anything as loss – “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.” – Matthew 18:8 – The example Jesus uses is a challenge to control our carnal nature using figurative language. If someone had the resolve to literally cut off the hand or foot, they definitely have a resolve to control other behaviors in the life.  But are we willing to literally cut out other things?  Are you willing to give up comfort? Opportunities? Sports? Friends? Family members?  Would you be willing to be thought of as dumb, ignorant, a fool, and even pitied?  Would you be willing to part with all of your money, all of your possessions, and all of your time?  It is better to lose your identity in this world or  to have no home, than to be thrown alongside your pride and identity in the fire.  It is better to throw away a coveted scholarship than for you to be thrown alongside your degree to be thrown in the fire. It is better to find new friends and family, or even have no friends and family, than to be thrown alongside them in the fire.  Now each of these things are placed in the proper perspective; pride, a degree, friends, family can all be great God-filled things, just like hands and feet, but if they are moving you away from Christ, they are not beneficial.  We have to remove them.

6. You can’t stop loving others. Ever. – “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:39 – It would be so much easier if Jesus never said this.  The most radical, the most challenging, the hardest-lived statement is in these five words.  Loving God is truly easy – He deserves honor and praise, He loved us first, and He has established things in past, present, and future for us that are greater than we can ever imagine.  I would even dare say I am loving God more than myself on my greatest days of faith (which is not nearly enough).  But loving my neighbor. C’mon.  What have they done to deserve my love?  My neighbor could bash my faith on social media.  My neighbor could be making such poor choices with their money.  My neighbor could be abusing their family.  My neighbor could be lying to me, stealing from me, and badmouthing me all over town. My neighbor could physically spit in my face, beat me to the point of death, and hang me on a cross.  And that’s when we realize, we are Christ’s neighbor.  He have power to change our lives forever by living out the love of God.  He was so purposeful in His love in God that He saved us all from eternal separation.  By doing this, He has given us the power to peculiarly love people we don’t know, but even more so, people we know well.  We have the same opportunity as Christ.  We can do everything possible to love our neighbor into conviction and submission that comes from seeing, hearing, and feeling the Gospel message coming from God through us.  Yes, this is the most peculiar of all, but as strange, odd and weird as it is, it’s the most beautiful, the most attractive, and the most fulfilling thing we could ever do on behalf of our Father in heaven who so much loves His peculiar people.

-Aaron Winner

Keep Racing!

matt 24 13

In the wonderful theological “comparison” that’s the parable of the sower (Matt. 13; Mark 4; Luke 8), Jesus said that salvation is a process which must begin, continue and persist to the end. It all depends on an initial intelligent acceptance of the “seed” Gospel of the Kingdom as Jesus preached it. Only those who maintain faith and obedience to the end will be saved (Matt. 24:13).

Salvation for New Testament Christians is like a race. The goal, salvation, “is now closer to us than when we first believed” (Rom.13:11). We are “being saved” now (1 Cor.1:18; 15:2), and we were saved “in hope” (Rom. 8:24), and we will be saved at the return of Jesus.

You don’t win a gold medal when the starting gun goes off and you don’t graduate from the university at orientation. Salvation is a race to the end and the stimulus which gets us started is the Gospel of the Kingdom, which imparts to us the energy of God Himself (1 Thess. 2:13; John 6:63; Gal. 3:2).

-Anthony Buzzard of Restoration Fellowship (http://focusonthekingdom.org/)

Bearing Fruit

Matt 21 43

Matthew 21

After Jesus radically cleansed the Jerusalem Temple by driving out the thieves that were there, he came to a fig tree because he was hungry. Unfortunately, the fig tree was not producing any figs at this point in time. In a bizarre twist in the story, Jesus condemns the barren tree and it begins to wither. What is even more confusing about this story is that Jesus never explains it.

This is what most people today believe happened with this tree: Jesus was condemning the current Jerusalem for producing the fruit of righteousness that God desired. The story has basically nothing to do with the tree itself; it was a prophetic condemnation on Israel for not doing what God wanted them to do. They were simply going through the motions of their religious practice, and lacked what they truly needed: a love for their God, and a love for the people around them.

We do not want to be condemned by Jesus for not “bearing fruit”. We need to make sure that we are producing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in our lives, and “being Jesus” to the rest of the world. We need to act as faithful stewards of the grace that has been given to us. We need to be “good trees”, producing fruit that God would be proud of.

-Talon Paul

How to Find Life

Matt 10 38

Matthew 10:37-39

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

After commissioning the twelve apostles, Jesus proceeds to teach them about what this commissioning entails. First, they will be persecuted (vv. 16-25), but they don’t need to be afraid because God will be with them and cares for them (vv. 26-31). Then comes a section that deals with the seriousness of the need to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, which can be a controversial subject (vv. 32-39). Jesus says that he did not come to bring peace but a sword (v. 34). This proclamation is not Jesus’ war cry as though his intention is to bring violence, but rather, it reveals that Jesus recognizes and discloses that he will be a point of contention and disagreement for many people. In other words, the truth that Jesus came to bring (and which he represents) will inevitably cause disunity and conflict.

It is on the heels of this declaration by Jesus that we read of the even more severe nature of this conflict—it may happen even within one’s own family. Jesus assumes the natural love of one’s family as a premise and then moves to identify that as a lesser priority in life than love for him. When he says that a person who loves him less than their family is “not worthy” of me (v. 37), he is making a value claim upon himself as more important than them. To be “worthy of me” means to “be fit to be a disciple.” It is important to clarify that Jesus is not advocating that his disciples not love their families. Instead, he is simply stipulating that the value attachment of a person to their family must not exceed their value attachment to him. To be Jesus’ disciple is to prize him above even one’s own flesh and blood.

The implications of this statement are far reaching. Who would say that loving a brother, sister, child, or parent should be subservient to the love of another? But this is precisely the demand that Jesus is making of his disciples. It is a declaration of discipleship that calls for absolute devotion. This extreme requirement is extended as Jesus also says that those who would follow him must “take [up] their cross” (v. 38). This is an expression referring to being willing to self-identify and endure the shame and suffering of one who is crucified.

Jesus elaborates by uttering one of the most interesting paradoxes: Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (v. 39). In essence, Jesus is saying that the life that matters is the life that is lived for the sake of Christ. To take the road of self-denial and live for something other than one’s self is to “find life.”

From these three criteria of discipleship, where do we find ourselves? Are we willing to follow Jesus no matter what? Does our love for him exceed our love for anything else? Are we willing to take up our cross? Are we will to die to self in order to find that which may truly be called “life”? Such a price is the price of being a disciple. Are we willing to pay that price? What might be stopping us from wholehearted devotion and service to the Master?

-Jerry Wierwille