Category Archives: Sermon on the Mount

Consider…

This is for Democrats.  And Republicans.  This is for Fox News and MSNBC.  For Donald and Hillary, Nancy and Mitch, Chuck and Ted.  It’s for Rush Limbaugh and Kathy Griffin.  This is for you.  And me.

It’s something Jesus said in response to the critics of His day.  It was a different issue, but the truth He spoke is just as relevant and important in the context of our current situation.

He said, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.  (Matthew 12:25b)

Most of us feel like divisiveness in this country came like the rising waters of a flood,. We stood by, helpless and dismayed.  We’re not in places of influence and power.  We shake our heads, bewildered at leaders who don’t seem to recognize the damage being done.  But, there is something we each can do.  We can turn away, refusing to participate in the rhetoric and sarcasm, the distortions and misrepresentations.  Instead,  we can choose to work toward greater understanding, reach out, building bridges of peace.  We don’t need to stand by and watch this “kingdom” be ruined.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”  (Matthew 5:9)

Impudent Prayer

How often do you check your cell phone?  A recent study done by a screen locking app discovered an average of 110 times a day.  If you spread that evenly over 16 waking hours, that’s about every 8 minutes or so.  How do I know?  I checked it out on my cell phone.  I got thinking about that when I read this parable of Jesus about being persistent in prayer.  He told this right after teaching His disciples to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.”

5 And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  (Luke 11:5-10)

The word translated, impudence, has an original meaning of shameless persistence.  Apparently Jesus encouraged us to pray as often as we ask our cell phones for things.  Not long, flowery prayers but simple, quick questions.  If you are skeptical, go back and read verse 9.

The Trick with Puzzles

The most obvious solution for a puzzle is wrong and leads you astray.  The one that works is counter-intuitive.  You think you should slide the ring over the post, but in reality, doing so actually makes the puzzle harder to solve.  Life here on earth is like that.  The most obvious solutions to our problems often make the problems worse.  Just ask the Hatfields and the McCoys.  Their feud could have been avoided if they had responded to each other in ways that, at first, would have seemed crazy to them.

That’s the principle behind this well known teaching of Jesus: “… the truth will set you free.”  That phrase is often quoted, but what came before it is less well known or understood.  Here is the whole thing:

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Jesus’ “word” is not simply a collection of Scrabble letters, it is the Greek word, “logos,” from which we get our word, logic.  It means the whole way in which one understands reality and interacts with it.  For example,  You see a gathering of people and don’t think much about them.  But if you understand their logos, realize they all served in the same outfit in WWII, then your understanding and interaction with them is changed by that logos.  Jesus invites us to do more than simply know His logos, He invites us to “abide” in it, to make our permanent residence within His way of understanding and interacting with reality.  It is only when we abide in His logos, that we then know the truth that will set us free.

The Sermon on the Mount is full of counter-intuitive teaching that lines up with Jesus’ logos. Such as, forgiveness solves interpersonal problems when the most obvious solution seems to be revenge.  It is only when we makes our home within Jesus’ way of seeing reality that His teaching,  “… if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well”  (Matthew 5:40), makes sense.  But, as happens with frustrating puzzles, once you try the counter-intuitive solution, it seems easy.  It sets you free.

Ears of Peace

A friend shouted at me because he suspected I had a different political opinion.  You too?  They say it’s going to get worse, no matter who wins the election.  But  it does not need to get worse around you. Not if you apply this simple principle, from Jesus’ little brother, Jimmy.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…”  (James 1:19)
In arguments, most people pretend to listen while mentally lining up devastating rebuttal arguments. Listening is more than no moving your mouth.  Real listening strives to understand.  People raise their voices when they don’t feel understood.  If you quietly listen without criticizing, defending yourself or doing anything except try to understand what the other guy really means, he’ll settle down in a hurry.  Especially if you sincerely ask, in your own words, “Is this what you are trying to say?” Once he knows you understand – really understand, even though you may not agree –  most of the time the shouting will stop.  He may even be willing to listen to you.  

What would happen if everyone who follows Jesus took the lead in applying that principle in our divisive circumstances?  Jesus said,

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  (Matthew 5:9)

Know More

God doesn’t talk out loud to me, probably because I’m so deaf.  But when He has something to tell me, I know what it is.  After retiring from a pastorate, I asked, “What’s next, Lord?”  His answer was abrupt: “It’s time for you to get to know Jesus.”  I’d spent 22 years teaching others about Jesus, but now, God told me to get to know Him.  Humbling, that.  But recently, Randy Alcorn observed that Paul, after serving Christ for 30 years wrote in Philippians 3, he wanted to get “to know Him…” (Bible Study Magazine – September/October 2016).

There’s a big difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Him.   A demon knew all about Jesus called Him, “Jesus, the Son of the Most High God.” But he didn’t know Him (Mark 5:7).  Jesus said not everyone who calls Him “Lord” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Why not?  Jesus said, “… I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.”

So, when God “took me to school”  I was  grateful.  I’ve learned there is always more to knowing Jesus.  As Paul came to that realization, he wrote:

Indeed, I count everything [all his former training and credentials] as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…    (Philippians 3:8)

And,

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  (Philippians 3:12)

For more about how, see the previous two posts, below…

Just Do It

Technical support workers will tell you most problems with computers could be avoided by following the instructions.  When the manual says to do X and our natural instinct is to do Y, we humans have a tendency to follow our own ideas.  Then our stuff breaks and we call tech support.  After 30 or 40 minutes listening to a recording tell us how important our call is, when the support person answers, most of the time they will lead us through the process of following the instructions.

Same thing applies with following Jesus.  For example, you have a terrible conflict with someone at church and go to your prayer place to “call up Tech Support.”

“This is God; how can I help you?”

“____________ is such an unpleasant person and I can’t get along with them.”

“How did you handle it?  Did you go to them by yourself and discuss it?”

“Well, no, I talked it over with my friends at Bible study.”

“You gossiped?”

“Me, gossip?  Oh, no; it was just explaining the situation for a prayer request.”

“Nope, that’s gossip.  It messes everything up.  That’s why it says don’t do it in the instructions.   How about returning a blessing fot their unpleasant behavior, have you tried that?”

“Are You serious?  A blessing?    How’s that going to help?”

“Give it a shot; it’s in the instructions…”

And so forth…

When people read computer instructions and then ignore them, chances are pretty good they are going to be waiting on hold for a half-hour for customer service to pick up.  It’s just as true with the Bible.  That’s why they should post these words over the exits from the church as a reminder to folks on the way out:

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  (James 1:22)

Firm in What?

Wars and rumours of war aren’t indicators of Jesus’ return.  Neither are famines and earthquakes.  Jesus called those things “the beginning of birth pains.”  First labor pains ordinarily indicate the start of an unstoppable progression of events but not the imminent conclusion of them.  So what indicators did Jesus say would tip us off the time was drawing close?   Among other signs, Jesus included this troubling thought:

 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,  (Matthew 24:12)

The more we encounter wickedness, the more  tempted we are to respond in kind.  The recent sniping murder of Dallas policemen is a sad case in point.  Somebody thought, “Enough is enough; I’m going to make someone pay.”  That’s an extreme example.  Maybe you would never go that far.  But Jesus taught us to actually respond in the opposite way:

27 “…Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  (Luke 6:27b-28)

When most people find it too tough to respond to wickedness with love, that is a sign the end times are drawing to a close, that Jesus is coming soon.  What do you think?  Are we there yet?  Has the love of most grown cold?  If you had to make the call, based on your own attitudes, what would you say?  For me, that is a sobering question.

But don’t give up!  No matter what, don’t abandon love.  That first quote above is only the beginning of Jesus’ sentence.  Here’s the whole thing:

12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,  13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:12-13)

Stands firm in love.