Matthew 18:6-9 – Say “No” to Temptation

“If you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.

What sorrow awaits the world because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting. So, if your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand or one foot than to be thrown into eternal fire with both of your hands and feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” (New Living Translation)

It’s probably a good idea not to get on the wrong side of Jesus.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus utilized a variety of teaching methods to communicate his message. In today’s Gospel lesson, Christ used the language of hyperbole to arrest attention and get his point across.

A universal truism of this world is that sin exists. In Holy Scripture, sin is anything people do or say – or fail to do and say – which damages or destroys another’s or one self’s physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual wellbeing.

Greed, envy, gluttony, sloth, anger, lust, and pride abound no matter where one goes on this planet. Sin is downright awful. It causes people to stumble, and, when unchecked, leads to personal and corporate chaos, unrest, and destruction. 

Whenever sin is viewed merely as a character flaw, or simply part of the fabric of organizations and institutions, then hellfire is not far off. Hell exists because of sin. 

We get the flavor that Jesus took sin quite serious. Christ considers sin so terrible and heinous that he deliberately used the height of hyperbole to communicate that radical, drastic, and decisive action must unequivocally be taken to get rid of it. 

The Lord Jesus wanted there to be no mistake in his communication: Sin is not something to dabble in or take a shallow approach; rather, sin must be eradicated, at all costs. The language is severe: If your hand, foot, or eye causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter life crippled or blind rather than be thrown into a suffering hell.

Temptations will inevitably come. Yet, how we handle those temptations and what we do with them is of eternal significance. 

We must get to the root of the sin – which happens through succumbing to temptation – and re-arrange our lives, alter our schedules, and change our lives in a radical way to remove putting ourselves in a position to sin. 

Solid daily spiritual habits of Scripture reading and prayer; time for sleep and rest; attention to Sabbath; and a regular exercise regimen are all ways to help ensure that temptation will not win the day.

And God forbid that we cause another to sin because we are hangry, tired, and out of shape because we’ve neglected ourselves for far too long. Self-care isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. Other people get hurt when we hurt ourselves.

Your self-care is always a valid excuse to say “no.”

If we take the words of Jesus to heart, perhaps we will gain awareness of the ways we need to metaphorically cut off a hand or gouge out an eye. For many people, this means learning to say “no.”

There doesn’t always need to be an explanation for assertively and courteously saying the word “no.” If an explanation is warranted, it should be brief. The word “no” doesn’t mean we are selfish pricks trying to wriggle out of responsibility. “No” simply realizes we are finite creatures with limited time, energy, and resources. Unlike God, we cannot do it all.

Setting personal boundaries is both wise and necessary. Without them, we let others chain us in bondage to their agendas. A lack of personal boundaries also typically means that the boundary-less person continually violates others’ boundaries. Since there are no fences in their own lives, they feel they can hop anybody else’s fence in front of them.

Violating someone’s space through mental or emotional manipulation, spiritual abuse, or bodily harm is sin. Jesus wants radical action to deal with such offense of others.

For the Christian, priority must be given to saying “yes” to Jesus, which then allows a “no” to come when there are competing priorities. A person unclear on their values and priorities will chronically violate others. If you have a specific plan of doing the will of God before being confronted with another person’s request, you’re more likely to stick to your original plan.

Jesus continually said “yes” to the Father. This framed and formed his earthly life so that he crossed social boundaries to speak to a Samaritan woman, a tax collector, and a leper – while maintaining the respect of another’s personal boundary by asking if they want to be helped and healed.

Sin is horrible – which is why Jesus went to the ultimate length to deal with it. He sacrificed himself and suffered an ignominious death so that sin’s power would be crushed, so that you and I could say “no” to temptation.

Holy God, you sent your Son to this earth to deal decisively with the world’s sin.  I choose today to walk in the forgiveness you offer through Jesus, and to avail myself of the Spirit’s power to forsake temptation in all its forms.  Amen.

Matthew 5:13-20 – Live as Salt and Light

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore, anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (New International Version)

There is a world of people in our sphere of influence, who need to see that Christianity is real and that it works.

Jesus used a few metaphors to help his followers understand their role in society and their effect on the world.

Salt

Obviously, in the ancient world, there was no refrigeration. So, salt was used to preserve food, with the added result that it brought some flavor when the food was eaten. Christians are meant to be a preservative in the culture, helping to stave off worldly decay and rot.

Sometimes, believers in Jesus feel a compulsion to complain about eroding cultural mores, the sad state of public affairs, or the declining value of religion. However, Christians can play a positive role, rather than a negative stance, by being salt in the world.

Christianity is meant to be therapeutic and helpful, adding value to culture and society – and not an added burden to an already bad situation.

Jesus said if Christians lose their saltiness, and are no longer impacting society, they are useless to the culture. Nobody would miss them if they were thrown out into the garbage dump of the street to be trampled on and forgotten.

Christians were never meant to simply exist for themselves. They are on this earth to be the continuing presence of Christ in the world by means of God’s Spirit.

This is not an exhortation from Jesus to be salt, because he says we are salt. It is rather a matter of allowing the world to taste Christianity and find it compelling and flavorful. 

For example, instead of being worried or upset that a low income housing project is being built next to church property, leading to discussions of erecting a fence, a salty Christian response would be to imagine creating a sidewalk so that the neighborhood kids will wander over to the church’s grounds.

Saltiness is a fundamental way of thinking and acting which orients itself around the common good of everyone and the community needs surrounding where Christians live, work, and play.

To drive his point home even deeper, Jesus used a second metaphor to describe what Christianity’s relation to the world is to be like….

Light

In the ancient world, there were no artificial lights. At night, it was pitch black. In the dark, any light, even a small candle, makes a real difference.

An individual person may mistakenly believe their life does not make much of a difference. Yet, it does! One person exhibiting the characteristics of humility, gentleness, grace, and peacemaking is able to have significant penetration into the darkness.

Here are some ways the church has always brought light into the darkest times of history:

  • Taking-in and adopting unwanted children who would otherwise be victims of infanticide.
  • Ministering to the sick and dying during periods of plague and disease, while others fled.
  • Caring for prisoners who had no family to provide them with necessary food and clothing.
  • Giving benevolence and kindness to the poor – especially to immigrants, widows, and orphans.

Christianity is designed to take a proactive approach – and not just a passive policy of waiting for needy people to show up – by searching, identifying, and meeting the needs of people.

The reason religious people wondered about Jesus and his teaching is because Christ offered a different perspective than what they typically heard. 

Jesus was concerned to uphold basic Old Testament ethics by offering a distinct interpretation that the Law is fulfilled in himself. For example, the entire book of Leviticus (which reads something like a B-grade slasher film) is a detailed account of regulations concerning the sacrificial system – with the actual intent of all these laws to expose sinfulness, and the need for a once-for-all sacrifice that would take care of the sin issue altogether. The ceremonial law was not intended to be permanent, but to be fulfilled by the Messiah, Jesus.

Christ made it clear that all of Scripture is important; not the slightest detail is unimportant. True righteousness shows itself when Christians do the right things for the right reasons.

Christians are people of the Word. They are to learn Scripture, know it, and live it. One opportunity of doing this is based on an ancient way of reading the Bible called Lectio Divina (Latin for “spiritual reading”):

  1. Lectio (reading with a listening spirit)
  2. Meditatio (reflecting or meditating on what are hearing from God)
  3. Oratio (praying in response to what I hear from God)
  4. Contemplatio (contemplating what I will do to live out the text)

Through listening, reflecting, praying, and obeying, Christians allow Holy Scripture to spiritually shape and form them into the people of God – thus becoming salt and light in the world.

May you discover the light of God’s grace through being a person of the Word.

May you be salty, flavorful and preserving the world in which you live.

May you know and connect with Jesus.

May Christianity be seen, felt, and known as the contribution to this old world it was always meant to be. Amen.

John 15:16-25 – On Facing Hatred

 The Face of the Savior by Noehani Harsono

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’” (New International Version)

In his earthly ministry, Jesus suffered on this earth. He was hated, persecuted, and killed. Although Christians readily recognize this, somehow we still seem surprised when, following Jesus, there are people who downright dislike us. 

Yet, Jesus clearly and unequivocally stated that we ought to expect persecution. Emotional, psychological, verbal, and even physical abuse can and does occur against God’s people who seek to follow the words and ways of Jesus. 

There was a time in the first few centuries of the church that becoming a martyr for one’s faith was welcomed. It was considered a privilege to imitate Christ in his suffering and death.  Even many modern day Christian martyrs around the globe have estimated martyrdom as an opportunity to experience solidarity with their Savior.

God has generously granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ’s sake. (Philippians 1:29, CEB)

This kind of thinking may sound quite strange to Westerners who tend toward the notion that, if we do everything with excellence and effectiveness, then there will be no reason for persecution and suffering. 

However, the Christian reality is that Jesus promised his devout followers that there will indeed be those who seethe with hatred toward us. We are not above our Master. If he suffered, we will, as well.

So, the question is not whether we can or ought to avoid suffering. Rather, our consideration needs to be how we will respond to the inevitable persecution of verbal violence, physical violence, or both – not to mention the various forms of discrimination, abuse, and oppression we might face.

“They gave our Master a crown of thorns. Why do we hope for a crown of roses?”

Martin Luther

First off, there is no honor for any Christian suffering because of one’s own stupidity or obnoxiousness. If we face persecution because we have initially made others suffer through our bullhorn presentations of the gospel, or metaphorically clubbing groups of people with oversized King James Version Bibles, then whatever consequences come are of our own making and have nothing to do with being united with Christ.

And second, paying no attention to the real human needs of people locked in poverty or dismissing the body as secondary to the soul is a gross misrepresentation of Christ – not to mention the sheer ignoring of multiple books in Holy Scripture which point to caring about such things.

If, however, we endure abuse because of being humble, merciful, gentle, pure in heart, and an unflinching peacemaker amid conflict, then we can enjoy the smile of heaven. If we communicate good news with grace and compassion, seeking love-laced words of truth, along with genuine acts of mercy – and then are repaid with unmerciful oppression from prideful persons – then we understand the type of hate Jesus faced.

We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope. (Romans 5:3-4, CEV)

The genuine article withstands the test of adversity. It doesn’t fall apart in the vigorous agitation of the first washing. People who oppose Christians with persecuting words and actions need to discover an authentic believer who is ready and willing to absorb the hatred, repackage it as love, and along with the gospel of grace, gift it back to the persecutors as an offering to God.

Experiencing the hatred of others is not the worst thing which could ever happen. Knowing Jesus better is of utmost value – even if, at times, comes through the worst of circumstances.

God, who shows you his kindness and who has called you through Christ Jesus to his eternal glory, will restore you, strengthen you, make you strong, and support you as you suffer for a little while. (1 Peter 5:10, GW)

Almighty God, thank you for sending your Son, the Lord Jesus, on my behalf.  Just as he suffered for me, I willingly suffer for him, since his infinite grace has delivered me from sin, death, and hell.  I only ask to be found faithful at the end of the age when he returns to judge the living and the dead.  Amen.

Psalm 101 – The Ethics of King David

I will sing to you, Lord!
    I will celebrate your kindness
    and your justice.
Please help me learn
    to do the right thing,
    and I will be honest and fair
    in my own kingdom.

I refuse to be corrupt
or to take part
    in anything crooked,
    and I won’t be dishonest
    or deceitful.

Anyone who spreads gossip
    will be silenced,
    and no one who is conceited
    will be my friend.

I will find trustworthy people
    to serve as my advisors,
    and only an honest person
    will serve as an official.

No one who cheats or lies
    will have a position
    in my royal court.
Each morning I will silence
    any lawbreakers I find
    in the countryside
    or in the city of the Lord. (Contemporary English Version)

King David was one serious dude when it came to dealing with wickedness and injustice. He had a zero tolerance policy toward people who were deceitful and proud. David was determined to deal with slanderous and arrogant people. He sought to establish a rule and reign based in his own personal integrity and practice of being a king who seeks after what is right and just.

And so, David refused to take a second look at corrupt people and things which degraded and debased others. He gathered around himself officials who genuinely care about kindness and justice.

David was not about to put up with anyone in his court who had personal agendas of power and privilege at the expense of the powerless.

For David, a diligent and conscientious application of God’s just and right law was absolutely necessary to a benevolent reign in which everyone felt secure and were able to enjoy the Promised Land. Corrupt officials had no place in the kingdom and would be summarily dealt with.

Unfortunately, there are far too many leaders in our world today who create cultures of fear, insecurity, and walking on eggshells. They are crafty and deceitful, actually using organizational codes of morality and ethics to hide their damaging and destructive effect on people.

We may not be kings like David, yet we can share his stance of not avoiding the evil in front of us and dealing with corruption, dishonesty, and disingenuous behavior from others, especially those in positions of power and authority. Toxic authority figures actively isolate us, making us feel stupid and incompetent and afraid to share our struggles with others, so that they can maintain all of the power. 

How, pray tell, might us lowly persons take on those with leverage and power over us, whether they be job bosses, church pastors, local politicians, or family members?

  • Do everything from a place of integrity. Seek the Lord in doing the right thing. Ultimate power belongs to God, not some puny person who is master of a small world.

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out. (Proverbs 10:9, NIV)

  • Refuse to play their game. Don’t resort to gossip, backbiting, or displays of your own supposed power. Be just, kind, wise, and, most of all, humble. Virtue will serve you well. Vice will not.

Gossip is spread by wicked people; they stir up trouble and break up friendships. (Proverbs 16:28, GNT)

  • Keep in mind that niceness is often used by corrupt leaders to keep others under their thumb. Dishonest and deceitful people are not necessarily bullying. They’ll use whatever means they can to get their way.

Flattery is nothing less than setting a trap. (Proverbs 29:5, CEV)

  • It is always our place to love, not judge. King Jesus is the Judge, not me, not you. Loving an unlovable person can only happen if we have a love for God which is able to see God’s image in every person we encounter, including that difficult leader. In the end, they will be held accountable – whether in this life, or in the one to come. Jesus said:

“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you.” (Matthew 5:43-44, CEB)

  • Watch your back. Yes, we are to trust in the Lord. That doesn’t mean we implicitly trust everyone and/or every organization. Jesus said:

“Listen! I am sending you, and you will be like sheep among wolves. So be smart like snakes. But also, be like doves and don’t hurt anyone. Be careful!” (Matthew 10:16-17a, ERV)

We all, like King David of old, need an unequivocal commitment to a zero tolerance policy toward evil. It is simply unacceptable to flirt with it. Whatever we must do to remind ourselves of righteousness, and whatever boundaries we need to set, is most necessary, because no one who practices deceit will dwell in the Lord’s house.

Holy God of justice, I will make a covenant with my eyes to set before them no vile thing. Help me to be strong in your mighty power so that my daily walk of faith in Jesus is righteous, free of guilt, and enjoyable.  Amen.