This week I'm trying to get in shape. Yesterday went alright. The workout called "Insanity" was tough, but I felt good after it. I was looking forward to this morning's workout and feeling the exercise endorphin high afterwards.
Not so much.
Maybe, it was the power squats. Perhaps it was the leg kicks. I know that the walking pushups certainly had something to do with it. Regardless, at the end of the workout I couldn't move. My stomach hurt. My
legs were sore. The only thing I could do was lay and soak.
My dog was amused.
Immediately, I began thinking, "I need to stop this. There's no point. This isn't fun anymore. I think I'm done with Shaun T."
Ever have that happen with church?
You enjoy the first Sunday you attend. It's all about God's grace. The second Sunday is fun too. You are reminded that God is with you every step of the way.
Then, there's that Sunday where the preacher seems to be talking directly to you. He challenges you with a sin that you have been struggling with. Then, he uses God's Word to back it up. Now God is against you.
You don't like it. You feel uncomfortable. It isn't fun.
Time to quit?
"All Scripture is god-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness."
Notice that this verse never makes mention of Scripture always being fun. In fact, it can be difficult! Scripture calls us to deny ourselves. It tells us to fight against our natural bodily urges. It tells us that some things we love are in fact dangers to our eternal welfare!
But just because it isn't fun, doesn't mean it isn't of extreme importance. Because these words of Scripture drive us to repentance. They turn our eyes to the Lord. These spiritual training sessions causes us to fall to our knees in prayer for God's mercy. They turn our hearts to the only way for salvation -- Jesus Christ our Lord!
Then, God gives it! Like a Blue PowerAde after an exercise, God pours out the Gospel of his Son Jesus Christ into our tired hearts. He promises forgiveness of sins, grace, eternal salvation, and his never failing love to those seeking him.
Our spirits hurt. But God heals them. They are now stronger than ever before. Spiritual exercise (aka studying the Bible in church, alone, in a group study) is full of benefits. Pride is cut. Faith is strengthened. Knowledge of God's goodness is increased. Courage mounts. Hope renews. Doubts subside!
Even though I didn't have a lot of fun, I think I will return to working out tomorrow. The benefits are simply too great to not continue.
May I suggest that you return to the Word as well? Make your way back into spiritual exercise - no matter what your reasons were for stopping.
The benefits are simply too great not to!
Valentine’s Day was a week ago. Many men showed their love with flowers, a nice Hallmark card, some chocolates, maybe even a night out. Some really romantic individual may have spent months collecting photos, downloading music, and editing video software in order to get his love a ‘movie’ about their time together.
Sweet, right? At least, I bet you’d consider him more sweet than the guy watching Olympic curling, drinking a beer, who, when asked about Valentine’s Day, simply says, “Yeah, I didn’t do anything for you, but I did think about you. That counts, right?”
Thinking is not the same as doing.
It doesn’t work in our world to say, “Honey, I thought about picking the kids up from school.” “Boss, I thought about finishing the project before the deadline.” “I thought about getting groceries, that’ll keep you from starving, right?”
Thinking is not the same as doing.
And yet, today Jesus says that when it comes to morality, God views our thoughts to be the same as our actions. In other words:
Thinking wrong is the same as doing wrong.
Look at Matthew 5: 21-22, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall no t murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” Again in verse 27 “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.”
This is not what the world thinks. Society believes that thinking bad things is not the same as doing bad things.
We don’t put people on trial for thinking about stealing.We don’t scold kids for thinking about taking a cookie. We don’t write someone up at work for thinking about touching a coworker inappropriately.
We don’t and (consequently) we can’t. We have no proof about what they are actuallythinking, until it becomes action.
Consequently, because there aren’t immediate societal consequences for thinking, a stigma has developed that “as long as I don’t actually do it, I haven’t sinned.”
In other words: “Yes, I have sinful thoughts. But I haven’t acted on them. Aren’t you impressed, God?”
Society believes – and I fear that we believe – sinful thinking isn’t really sinful at all!
But God says differently. He treats evil thoughts in the exact same manner as evil actions.Take a look at His first example from the 5th commandment. In Matthew 5:21 Jesus say, “You have heard that it was said, “You shall not murder,” and that murderers are subject to judgment, and then in the same breath, anyone who is angry with another will be subject to judgment."
You might say, “Well, this judgment must be different. Death penalty for the murderer, a slap on the wrist for the hater.” But Jesus goes on to describe that judgment in verse 22, “Anyone who says ‘you fool,” will be in danger of the fire of hell!”
God says the same thing about the 6th Commandment sins. He says, “You have heard, ‘Don’t commit adultery.” –That’s having sexual relations with anyone that you aren’t married to in a God pleasing one man and one woman marriage.
Then he says, “If you look lustfully at a woman (or a man, or anyone you aren’t married to for that matter) then, you have committed adultery." The penalty for adultery? Well, it’s so bad that Jesus says, “You’re better off losing your eye than suffering the punishment for lust!”
In other words:
God treats bad thoughts the same way that he treats bad actions! As sin.
Why does God treat them in categorically the same way? From Scripture, I think we see three reasons for this:
1) Bad thoughts lead to bad actions.
In Matthew 15:19 Jesus says this, “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” This makes sense. If you do something bad, you have to first think about doing something bad.
1) Bad thoughts lead to bad actions.
This even happened to the great King David. He saw a woman from the roof top of his palace. Instead of averting his eyes, he began to think about her. He began to lust after her. He thought it would be nice for him to sleep with her.
So guess what he did? He acted on his thoughts!
Then, when it came out that she was pregnant. He thought it would be nice to not be embarrassed by his sin. So, he sent for her husband. He tried to get him drunk. He tried to make him sleep with his wife. (This was before the days of paternity test results on Maury.) When that didn’t work, he sent a letter to his general. He ask for this man to be left alone in the fighting. The man was killed and David had committed murder.
2) Bad thoughts ruin relationships.
Another reason that sinful thoughts are treated with hatred by God is that these thoughts ruin relationships! This is why Jesus says in verse 23, “Settle matter quickly with your adversary. Go and be reconciled to him!” Because without reconciliation, hatred will ruin your relationship! It festers. It causes distrust. It prevent relationships from growing. It hardens your heart and ruins a relationship OR stops one from starting.
Lust is similar. It literally, chemically, rearranges your brain’s neurons. Suddenly, you rewire yourself to find sexual happiness, not in your beloved spouse, whom you promised to only have that special happiness with, but with the secretary down the hall, the pixelated image on the screen, or the character written about in a steamy romance novel!
That doesn’t improve your relationship with your spouse. It ruins it! It’s not like it should be and at worst non existent.
Sinful thoughts ruin relationships!
3) Sinful thoughts, are in and of themselves, sin.
This is the biggest reason of all. Sinful thinking is appalling to God. It’s a open rebellion against Him.
And you can figure this out simply by doing some simple math. If A = B, then C.
Sin is nothing more than open rebellion against God. Consider that. When we think contrary to how God would have us think, we are in essence saying, “Get out of here God! You can have and be anywhere in the whole universe, but stay out of my head. I want to think about what I want to think about it. I want some privacy. I want to hate and lust and be greedy without your stupid rules! Leave me alone.”
If we continue to choose our own thoughts over God, he will leave us alone.
But now I'd like you to combine what we've learned from this portion of Scripture with a few thoughts from other parts of Scripture. It is clear from this section that God hates sinful thoughts. It is clear from other portions of Scripture that God also knows all of our thoughts. Jesus revealed this in Matthew 12:25 when he said that people were thinking that he was the devil. (and he was right!) In John 1:48, He impressed Nathan by revealing that He knew Nathan had been under a fig tree across town before coming to meet him. He told the disciples to toss their net overboard, because he knew that a ton of fish would be caught at his direction.
The point? Jesus preached our portion for today on a mountaintop surrounded by people. He must have known that these people struggled with what was common to humanity-- evil thoughts.
So...in math terms again.
And you know what else? As we read scripture here today, we do so as people plagued by the human condition of sinful thought. Yet God hasn’t destroyed us. Instead, he has brought us here today and through the words of Scripture he has warned us! Why?
Because while God thoughts were filled with hatred for sinners, at the same time, his thoughts were consumed by an even greater thought:
“God our Savior wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
In other words, his thoughts were consumed with love for humans…for you.
But God didn’t sit back on his divine couch, pop a can of Pringles and simply say, "I am thinking about how much I love you." No way! God actually acted on it.
To put it simply: Jesus thought it was better for him to die than for you to.
This means that God, in Christ, forgives you for your hate filled thoughts. It means that God, in Christ, forgives you for your lust filled thoughts. It means, that God, in Christ, forgives you for all your evil thoughts!
And thank God Christ knows all your thoughts! This is scary at first, because you can’t get away from his knowledge, but the comfort is that he didn’t miss one of your evil thoughts. God won’t do an autopsy of you before letting you into heaven, where he says, “Ooops. We missed a lustful thought for his high school classmate in the upper corner of his heart. Guess he can’t go to heaven.”
No! Jesus knew all of your sin –even your thoughts – and he died for all of your sin – even your thoughts. He didn't miss paying hell for even the deepest, darkest, most awful secret thought that you might have.
What an awesome thought! What an awesome action! What an awesome love!
May this love motivate you to act–against thought sins. Instead of continuing in your evil thoughts, do what it takes to prevent those thoughts!
If hatred, go and talk peacefully to the one you hate. Go reconcile with your brother. Go speak kindly to your sister. Get what’s bothering you onto the floor (and do it peacefully). Do what it take, however hard, in order to not have hatred in your heart.
If your problem is lust, then cut out what causes you to lust! Put a filter on your internet. Cancel the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Stop paying for cable. Put all of your steamy romance novels into the recycling. Do what it takes, whatever it takes, to not have lust in your heart.
Now you might be thinking, but if I don’t have this hatred what will I filled my thought life with? If I don’t have this lust, how will I go on? What will I think about?
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is God-pleasing, my brothers, think about such things.”
Brothers and sisters, there is nothing nobler, purer, more lovely, or more God pleasing than the work of our Savior Jesus Christ. Fill your hearts and fill your thoughts with him – the one who filled His thoughts with you.
This is my prayer for you this week and always. Amen.
So I was thinking.
Since manufacturers and big business have hijacked Christmas, making it all about toys, electronic shavers, and smelly perfumes...
And since the same have also hijacked Easter, making it all about marshmallow chicks, chocolate bunnies, and 1/2 off Easter dresses...
Why don't we get them back?
Friday is Valentine's Day. It's THE commercial holiday. Candy. Flowers. Cards with Snoopy on them. Expensive bottles of wine. Fancy jewelry. It's, in part, a holiday that can easily become all about things, stuff, money, and merchandise.
This Valentine's Day don't let it happen. Instead, let's hijack this holiday for Jesus.
What do I mean?
The Bible describes for us how real love isn't found in paper cards or in the third mystery chocolate. (No...wait, that's coconut.) Real love is found in the sacrificial death of our Savior Christ Jesus: "Greater love has no one than this: that one lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)
This is what Jesus did. He laid down his life for us. Dare I say, this was a greater way to show love than a $45 teddy bear holding a bouquet of fresh flowers with twelve red balloons tied to his arm!!!
Make Valentine's Day about His love. Hijack the Holiday!
Pass on God's love with a message in your cards.
In other words -- dwell in God's love and share God's love! Do this and I know we'll be on our way to accomplishing our goal.
Let's hijack Valentine's Day for Jesus.
The Olympics have started. Athletes from around the world are competing for the world to see and we marvel at those who are the fastest, strongest, smartest, even bravest. We watch them hold their hand on their heart while their country’s national anthem plays and we can’t help but be a bit envious.
They are blessed!
Today’s sermon teaches us the opposite. Jesus says that it isn’t the most powerful, the smartest, the bravest, even the most moral who has real blessing.
Rather, Real blessing comes from real weakness.
As we examine some real life situations below, consider what Jesus has to say. Compare it with what the world says. See which one offers real blessing.
For instance, the world thinks, “Blessed are the rich in spirit.”
Like the priest who lives down the road. His stories of religious devotion are astounding. A five year vow of silence. Thousands of hours logged volunteering at the homeless shelter. Rosary beads fashioned with olive wood directly from Jerusalem. Walking into his home is akin to entering a sanctuary. Crucifixes line the walls and religious art takes up the space that awards from his accomplishment don’t fill up.
But, you’d be surprised to discover that he still prays his prayers. He still hails his Marys. He still has this nagging sensation that when God said, “be Holy,” He intended for more to be done than he currently was doing. In fear, he prays for more opportunities to do good. He hopes that someday fear might abandon him and he will have confidence of heaven as his home. Because currently, his own religiosity isn’t offering him any comfort.
Then, there’s that guy who lives down the street. You wouldn’t know it, but he too was a minister for a couple of years. But then, things fell apart. He is constantly haunted by all of his faults: things he should have done differently, words he wished he hadn’t said, sermons he wishes he could have outlined better, and people he wishes he could have stopped from leaving his church. He’s not rich in spirit.
A tear rolls down his cheek and he feels like a failure. He kicks the legs of his desk in frustration. A piece of paper falls onto the floor. It’s faded. He bends over to pick it up. On it is a simple phrase from his seminary days. A reminder of a truth that he was forgetting. “Remember pastor: Christ was crucified for you too.” The man smiles. That’s all that matters isn’t it. His faith is restored.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
The world says “Blessed are those who have happy lives.” Those people whose circumstances are nice enough for them to feel accomplished.
Consider the family man. He lives in a big house. He has lots of money. He’s been married for 25 years. He has four kids: two daughter and two sons. He gets promotion after promotion. He plays golf on the weekends. He is able to afford one home project per month. He hosts block parties. He takes his family away on the weekends to enjoy a vacation.
The world would certainly call him blessed.
As he quietly fishes on a Sunday morning, he considers how blessed he is, but then his thoughts turn to how long it will last. He deals with fears that eventually things will end. He may lose his career, his money, his home. God forbid he may even lose a child. Try as he might to think differently he can’t shake the feeling that his own circumstances might change and then, what would he be left with?
Then, there’s the man who can’t afford a vacation. He spent it all at the bar last night. He stumbles into church during the opening hymn. He smells of cigarettes. His eyes are red from the combination of smoke and sobbing.
But who could blame him? His wife left him a few months ago. He hasn’t felt very happy. His mind has been riddled with all the wrong things he said to her while she was still with him. He misses her. The guilt and loneliness have stopped him from working. None of his three children will talk to him and he knows it’s his own fault. His mood matches the melancholy organ music. He doesn’t even say the confession of sin. His heart is already there.
Then, he hears the gentle words of the pastor: “by the perfect life and innocent death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, God has removed your guilt forever! You are forgiven.” He smiles. That’s right. Jesus loves him and that’s one circumstance that will never change.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
The world says “Blessed are the strong.”
Like the homecoming football quarterback. He’s also the Homecoming king, a member of student council, and the person most likely to be asked by several girls to the dance. He is so well liked. Sometimes he gets a question marked wrong on a test, but he shrewdly argues the teacher into giving him his point back. He got a strong future and he won’t let anyone get into the way of his world.
That’s why he fears graduation. Because what will happen then? Will the world treat him so kindly? Does he have it in him to conquer another place? What if there are people more talented? What if someone is smarter? What if they are better looking?
For some reason, he struggles to find comfort in his own character.
Then, there’s the shy boy who quietly slips into the back of class. He usually is last in line for lunch. Last done with a test. Last to be picked for group work. He isn’t athletic. He’s not that musical. He struggles through school. Some days he wishes he could just skip class altogether!
But he never misses church. Because in church he finds his strength. Because it is there that he hears about the one’s whose character was extremely strong! One who calm waters, drove out demons, and forgave sins. He knows that this Jesus will always be with him and will always be guiding him in high school and beyond – up until he takes him home to a new earth.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
The world say, “Blessed are those who know it all!”
Like the seasoned mother of four children. She has learned so much about parenting that she could probably write her own book. She knows the exact temperature to heat milk to, how to sift through the laundry of a teenage boy, and how to handle your daughter’s first boyfriend. She is a wealth of knowledge so much so that she sometimes impresses herself. It’s why when she sees the invitation to a parenting Bible Class in her email, she simply presses “DELETE.” She doesn’t need that knowledge.
It’s too bad. Because now she’s starting to forget what it takes to get into God’s family. She doesn’t know. Her interested in her own knowledge has left her without that answer.
Then, there’s the single mom, who struggles to keep her new baby from crying. She hasn’t been able to distinguish between a smile of happiness and a smile of constipation. If her baby coughs, she spends hours on WebMD trying to diagnose it. She can’t help but continually to think about how this mom stuff is hard. She knows she can’t do it on her own. She is hungry for some help. Thirsty for some guidance.
That’s why she repeatedly turn to her book. Not “the Baby Book” (although she does read it on occasion), she turns to the Bible. It’s filled with God’s divine wisdom. A wisdom that reminds her of how to live and love. A wisdom that tells her Jesus died to remove all of her single mother sins, errors, mistakes, and what have you.
She reads. She hears of Jesus' love. She is satisfied.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”
The world says, “Blessed are the unmerciful.”
Like the sports star who just keeps pounding his opponent. His basketball team is up by 30 with plenty of time left. But he keeps scoring. He keeps pounding it. He growls at his teammates to keep taking it to them and screams at the referees for blown calls. He’s aggressive. He turns to his opponent and trash talks him till he’s blue in the face. He wins impressively and everyone knows he is a good player! Opponents are afraid to play him. He gets in front of the camera and makes sure that everyone knows he will continue to mercilessly pursue the title of “the best.”
Until he gets old. Then, he will slow down. Then, he won’t be admired.
Then, he will lose his own control.
There’s also his opponent. He’s been called all kinds of awful names by this opponent throughout the game. Now the media want to know what it’s like to play against him. A few thoughts – some awful names flow through his head – but he remains calm. He does what he always does after a game. He gets onto his knees for prayer.
It is because of God’s mercy that he played today. It is because of God’s mercy that he’s ever played. It’s because of God’s mercy that he has been saved!
He quickly turns to the camera and only calls his opponent ‘a good competitor.’ He doesn’t need revenge. He has Jesus.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
The world says, “Blessed (Or maybe…happy) are the immoral. ”
Like the young college student. She doesn’t need to study. She feels like she needs to enjoy the college experience. She is out having fun almost every night. She dresses without leaving much to the imagination. She pops an illegal pill. She flirts to get some boys to buy her a drink. She repays them sexual favors later on. She passes out at 3am. But…it’s all good…right?
Until the next morning. The head and the upset stomach aren’t even enough to mask the guilt that is eating her alive. She decides to plan for the same events tonight. It’s the only way she can think of to make her feelings good again.
Then, there’s her roommate. She the ‘party pooper.’ She enjoys a quiet book and maybe a movie. Her friends think she leads a pathetic life, but she doesn’t care. She used to be out there with them. She’s done plenty that she regrets and even more that bothers he souls.
But about six months ago she learned about Jesus. She heard about what he did to remove her sins. She was baptized into his name. She was washed cleaned and pronounced “pure.” She loves that purity. She loves her Lord. This is a truth that helps her conquer all of the low feelings that she has. (And it comes without any sad side effects.)
Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
The world says, “Blessed are the aggressive.”
Like the business guy who aggressively fights and scratches his way to the top. Everyone knows that you better not wrong him, because he will WRONG you back. He’ll spread gossip around the workplace. He’ll tell the boss about all your flaws. If you are unfortunate enough to work under him, prepare to be belittled and made to feel like a minion. He won’t settle for anything but the best!
In a worldly way, it’s working for him though. He’s assistant to the C.E.O. and he’ll be moving into a larger home real soon. A big home with lots of rooms. Perfect to sit in.
Alone. Without a friend. All that status. Zero love.
Then, there’s the IT guy at the same company. He’s not as impressive and no where near as intimidating. But he is knowledgeable. While he’s working to restore memory on crashing hard drives, he overhears worker after worker complaining about another coworker. He hears them make fun of their bosses dresses, the way he walks, even the way he talks. Then, the IT guy stands up. He quietly reminds them of all the wonderful things this boss has done. He racks his brain for any compliment he can think of. He risks getting made fun of himself.
Why? Because he loves peace! He always has, ever since he learned about the peace that he himself has with God because Jesus spoke on his behalf to a rightfully vengeful Almighty God. It’s a peace that gives him the knowledge that in spite of his sins, his status with God is good. In fact, God calls him his child.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”
The world says, “Happiest are the people who just stay quiet.”
Like the Christian with his friends at the coffee shop. The conversation drifs to recent events and discussion turns to the Creation v. Evolution debate that was all over the internet recently. His friends start to make fun. “Christians are IDIOTS! Who can believe such foolishness? They are all morons! There is no God. We are here by chance and the world is billions of years old!”
The Christian cringes, but simply slurps his coffee. Better to just stay quiet. Although the guilty conscience inside of him is not so quiet. Was his own well being worth denying his Lord?
Then, there’s the guy sitting next to that group. He overhears the conversation. He politely offers his two cents. That God is real. That God is incredible. That God made the world just as he said he did in Sciripture. That humans ruined it and God made a plan – Jesus – to save that world. When he’s finished his cup, he heads out of the coffee shop, but he hears the snickers as he leaves. He hears the “that guy must not have gotten out of fairytale land,” comment followed by the “He didn’t get past third grade,” snicker.
But these stinging comments don’t sting. He has a God that’s greater than this. A God who was persecuted for him. A God who promises to take him to a very real, not so mythological kingdom one day.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for there is the kingdom of heaven."
In these eight beautiful sentences, our Lord Jesus twists human logic around. He makes two very clear points.
1) When we consider ourselves good enough for blessing, then we don’t know what real blessing real is. You see that in the case of all those people who found their comfort and strength in themselves. Whether it was their religiosity, circumstance, character, knowledge, control, morality, status, or well being.
2) On the contrary, blessed are those who realize the shallowness of what they have by worldly standards, that they look to the heavens for their strength. Specifically they look to Jesus. The Lord who died for them. The Lord who won heaven for them. The one who wants them as a part of his kingdom. The one who calls them his child.
This is the opposite of worldly thinking and thank God is it so. Dear believer, look to Jesus for your strength, blessing, and comfort! You won't find it in yourself. Look to the Lord to find blessing and find it...
...in heavenly proportions.
This past Sunday we examined Jesus' directive to "Love your enemies
and to pray for those who persecute you." The link to that sermon is here.
Maybe, you already saw it, but two days ago two 'enemies' met to debate their differences. Bill Nye 'the Science" guy and Ken Ham, the founder of AnswersinGenesis.com, met to debate the origins of the universe. Bill argued for evolution. Ken argued for creation as the Bible describes it.
If you missed it, here is the link.
Now these worldviews are completely opposite. And usually (if you have ever read the comments on an internet article of Creation or Evolution) people get upset at those who don't agree with them. Add tot he fact that thousands of eyes were watching, emotions were high, and the pressure was on. One would expect a war of words -- maybe even some vengeful phraseology.
But, to be fair, the debate was very well done. It was fairly respectful. Emotions were held in check. Viewpoints were discussed, examined, and countered. Thanks to both gentlemen for their work in this.
But as a Christian, I was particularly impressed with Ken Ham. He was debating with someone who had ridiculed the very faith that makes Mr. Ham who he is. Mr. Nye had gone on record to call Christianity and its teaching of Creation foolish and harmful to science. In short, he was debating with someone who has set himself up as an enemy of Christianity. (At the very least, Christian teaching.) If Mr. Ham would have been rude, I wouldn't have been surprised.
But Ken kept his cool. He spoke kindly. He spoke respectfully. He spoke lovingly. Even while he did not falter on the truths of Scripture! He warmly and unapologetically admitted, "The Bible is the Word of God. I admit that's where I start from."
I'm reminded of another Bible passage from Ephesians 4:15, "Speak the truth in love."
Take a look at the debate. As you watch, think for yourself: How would you have answered the questions and challenges of Mr. Nye in a loving and truthful way? How would you show love for your enemy and yet love for your Savior?
Then, pray. Pray that God works through this video to bring the love of Christ to all who do not yet know it. Pray that God provides more opportunities for Christians to speak the truth in public forums. Pray that God gives you opportunities (and courage) to speak the truth to the people you know and love. Pray that God gives you peace to speak these truths in love.
I know I need to pray that prayer too.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons 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. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
– Matthew 5:43-48
The Grammys were controversial this year. Singers danced wearing next to nothing. Singers sang songs about how awesome violence, drug use, and sexual immorality are. There was a performance that glamorized cult worship. To top it off, Queen Latifah thought this was a great atmosphere for a wedding. She married 33 couples -- some male & female, while others were of the same sex.
But none of these seemed to get the most controversy. That belonged to Natalie Grant, a young woman up for a Gospel music award, did something unthinkable. What did she do?
“We left the Grammy's early. I've had many thoughts, most of which are probably better left inside my head," Grant tweeted that night. The artist kept her message positive, however, declaring, "I've never been more honored to sing about Jesus and for Jesus. And I've never been more sure of the path I've chosen."
What kind of a reaction do you think she got? How do you think people reacted to the woman who quietly walked out on songs glorifying a host of sins? They were upset. She was called a 'bigot', 'stuck up', 'what's wrong with the world today,' and a few other things that don't belong in a sermon.
Now if you're a Christian, perhaps you are upset reading this! This young woman is being attacked by her beliefs. It's unfair. It's not right.
And perhaps you even are thinking of responding like many Christians did in the blogs:
"you people are the scum of the earth"
"You might hate Christains...but know that we hate you."
"I am a Christian and I am tired of this blankety-blank. You are all a bunch of (words that shan't be repeated in a sermon"
While I agree that there was plenty of sin at the Grammys and plenty of sin involved in the words of those who were bad mouthing Ms. Grant, the truth is that many of the words from Christians who were defending her were simply returning hatred for hatred.
Revenge. It's the American way.
But it's got to make you wonder if that's how Jesus would have responded. In today's lesson, Jesus' backwards logic tells us to the exact opposite of revenge. Today Jesus says “love those who hate you.”
I. The World Says: “Hate those who Hate You.”
Of course this is not what the world teaches. Jesus even admits that. He says, “You have heard that it is said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” (Mt. 5:38) In modern language we might say, “A spiteful text message for a spiteful text message” or “an angry blog post for an angry blog post” or “an angry defaming Facebook comment for an angry Facebook comment.”
Whatever form the hatred is, I think it happens for 4 reasons.
1) It's what they deserve.
This is something that we've been taught since we were young. Bad behavior deserves good treatment and good behavior deserves bad treatment. The kindergartner performing well gets a sticker smiley face, the one who struggles to stop squirming and listen to the teacher does not. We do the same thing as adult. Only it's with real smiles instead of sticky smiles.
At work, we think: “This person hasn't been very nice to me, so I see no reason to be very nice to them.” At church, we think: “This person was pretty awful to me once, so I see no reason to say hello and greet them.” At home, a wife thinks: “My husband hasn't gotten me flowers in ages, why would he deserve me cooking his favorite meal?” Conversely the husband thinks: “The wife hasn't cooked me my favorite meal in ages. Why would she deserve some flowers?” Even parents think about doing it: “Kid A has been a lot better than Kid B lately. I'm going to love them each according to what they deserve!”
2) It's How You Survive.
It's almost an animalistic principle. Because for animals in the wild to survive, they sometimes have to be pretty awful to a few other animals. They have to hog the food, the water, and the shelter. (This even happens in dog parks with dog bones -- although perhaps those aren't necessary to survive.)
How is that any different than the way our society works?
“Unless I start spreading rumors about my coworkers, then the rumors they have started will cause me to miss the promotion—or worse: I could lose my job.”
“Unless I start a rumor that my archrival Sally looks like a toad, then Jason will probably ask her to the dance!”
“If I keep being caring and loving to my husband, then he'll take advantage and just keep eating chips on the couch!”
“If I just keep speaking calmly to my wife, then she'll just continue to use me as her shouting pin cushion!”
3) It's what everybody does.
This isn't so much as an excuse as it is a good reason that we so easily fail at showing love to our enemies. Because everywhere in the United States, you find people being awful to people who are in turn awful back to them!
Football players go on TV and badmouth other football players just to gain a psychological advantage.
Celebrities turn to magazines in order to bad mouth other celebrities, that they might increase their fan base AND their pay.
Politicians are so good at it, that they even have a fancy and almost appropriate word for it: “Mudslinging” – as if it's simply part of the game.
4) It's easy.
This may be the biggest reason that we hate those who hate us. It's easy.
Think back to the blog situation. It's way easier to simply spew a few hate-filled words than to take the time and construct a loving paragraph explaining how we know God is real, how God hates sin, and how God sent his son to save us from sin. This appears to be the route that most Christians are taking. It takes way less thinking and much fewer keystrokes.
Or think of a heated conversation. It's way easier to simply yell four letter words back at whomever is attacking you, than it is to breathe, turn around, hold in your anger, count to ten, swallow your pride, return to the conversation, and try to handle it calmly.
As humans we are tempted to take the easier route. And the easier route is to return hatred with hatred.
Always. Always. Always.
II. Jesus Says: “Love Your Enemies.”
But Jesus did not say, "Love or hate your enemies...whatever is easier." He literally turned the world's logic around and presented a backwards proposition: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (v.43)
Now you might be reading that and be in shock!
"Love your enemies! Jesus that's a little strong. Surely you can't be telling me to love all my enemies. Surely you don't want me to love the guy at work who is always spreading lies about me. Or the bully at school who is always calling my kids names. Or the politician that stands for the opposite of what I stand for. Or my ex. Or the girl who caused my ex to be an ex. Or the atheists, unbelievers, and haters that constantly bring negativity into my Facebook feed! Certainly, Jesus, you don't want me to love them too!?!"
Yes, he does.
But Jesus doesn't just give us the what without the why. So hear him out:
1) It's what God does.
Verse 45 says this: 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.
Have you ever seen one of those cartoons where a little black rain cloud follows around one person all day long – all the while shining sun on everybody else in the area?
God doesn't do that. This past week it was snowpacalype in Raleigh. But did you notice that there were people dealing with the snow who were both unbelievers and believers. Now it's sunny. Atheists and devoted church goers are being warmed by it's goodness. There are probably people at McDonald's right now who are enjoying delicious food --- that God has given them -- even while scoffing at those who are taking time to say prayers to God before they dig in!
God is kind to all people -- providing food, drink, clothing, shelter and much more – even for those who despise him! But more than just causing the S-U-N to rise, God caused the S-O-N to rise on all people. God sent Jesus for his enemies!
No where is this more clear than when Jesus is on that cross. His body had been tortured, beaten, bloodied, and bruised. Those torturers stood toe to toe with their supporters and hurled insults at Jesus: “You phony! You fake! You jerk!” They spat on him. They hated him.
Jesus' only words regarding these people? He didn't zap them with lightning bolts. He didn't come off of the cross and force them up there in his place. He didn't even shout curse words at them.
Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:24)
Jesus doesn't return their insults. He doesn't return their hatred. He simply takes on their hatred. He stays on the cross in the ultimate sacrifice of love and gives us his own life for his enemies!
BUT THIS IS IMPORTANT FOR YOU PERSONALLY!
Because the Bible tells us that sin is against God. It tells us that sinners are his enemies. (Romans 8:7) It tells us that all people are sinners (Romans 3:23).
So, do the math: We are people. We have sin. We are God's enemies. We are Jesus' enemies!
Think back on your life and you'll know this to be true. How many times have you badmouthed God for his rules and demands? How many times have you grumbled against God for what he's allowed to happen in your life? How many times have you left God pleasing activities to go consort with the enemy and do things that he absolutely forbids?
How many times have you had real hatred for another one of his created?
Certainly this deserved an 'eye for an eye' an 'divine punishment for divine sin!”
But God didn't do that. Not without sending his Son first. Colossians says this, “When you were dead in your sins, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins!” (2:13)
Again, notice what it says: “When you were dead... God made you alive.” Not when you improved yourself. When you weren't so awful. Not even after you proved yourself not to be so much of an enemy.
When you were God's enemy, God sent Jesus Christ to show you ultimate love!
This is not Law, but Gospel! It is the Gospel of the incredible love of Jesus. It's a love that led to our forgiveness. It's a love that enables our Lord to call all of his followers: "his friends." It's a love that forgives all of your sins!
Now our loving Jesus, urges us as dear friends to show love to our enemies as well!
2) It's what makes us Different.
Look at verses 46-47: “46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”
Anybody can write “Happy Birthday” on a friend's Facebook wall. It takes someone different to write “Happy Birthday" to your enemy.
Anybody will wish nice things on their friends. But it takes one who knows Jesus' love to to pray for their enemies.
Anybody will take their wife out for dinner when they have this feeling like they are running through the flower fields with romantic orchestral music playing in the background. It takes someone who knows Jesus' love to take their wife out for dinner when she hasn't been all that nice during the week.
3) It's real love.
Remember the Biblical definition of love is not the cute puppy, romantic love of a Romantic comedy. God isn't telling you to go sing romantic songs about the guy who was a bully to you in high school. God is telling us to love people with the real definition of love.
Love as an action. A choice. A decision.
A prayer for the bully at school. A smile for the one at work that isn't nice. A hug and a kiss for your wife when she hasn't made you feel all warm and cuddly. A word of encouragement to your grouchy husband at the end of a long day. A hug and an “I forgive you” to a person at church who has wronged you!
You might be wondering how it is even possible to do this. As you start writing a nice letter to your boss who seems to have it out for you, it might be easy to focus on all the awful things he has done in the past. Then, you might find yourself pressing so hard on the pen that it tears right through the stationery.
Instead, focus on your Lord. Focus on the one though we were his enemies, he died for you. He loves you so and his love will motivate you to love others...
...even those who hate you.