TLP Inspiration: 10/13/19

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Casting Pearls

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Matthew 7:6

This is an interesting little verse, don’t you think? I’ll let those who are smarter than I am debate whether this verse is part of the discussion in verses 1-5 about judging others, or a separate, stand alone verse; I’m dealing with it alone simply for the sake of clarity.

“Dogs” and “pigs” were two rather uncomplimentary ways of describing Gentiles back in the day, but I really don’t see anything in the verse that limits this teaching to any one person or group, so for the purposes of this discussion, let’s just agree that the person or persons Jesus is referring to is (are) “unclean” in the old Jewish ceremonial sense.

I don’t think that it would be news to anyone if I told you that there are people out there who simply will not listen to anything related to the gospel, just as there are people who will talk about God all day long, and then freak out at the mention of Jesus… unless it is used as an expletive. Some may even react with violence. I suppose there may be many reasons for this, and again, I’ll let others try to make a list, because I doubt that such things were in Jesus’ mind at the time He taught this.

What He is telling us here is that we need to be discerning when we discuss the gospel with others; another word we might use for this is “sensitive”, we must be sensitive to where the other is in their life when we approach them…

But how can we be sensitive or discerning in this way; shouldn’t we just walk up to complete strangers and tell them (in a loud voice) that they are evil worthless sinners and that they are going to fry in hell if they don’t accept Jesus this very minute?

Hardly; did Jesus ever do that?

The answer is to develop relationships with people, to get to know them, to develop mutual trust and respect; that is how we gain a hearing. Notice that in the gospels, Jesus is usually in a conversation with one or more people, and is seldom making a speech to a mass audience. By following this example, we can better discern who is ready to receive the gospel and who isn’t ready yet, and in the process, avoid doing a considerable amount of damage both to our relationships, ourselves and to the gospel. After all, most of us are aware of the fact that there have been times in our own lives when we were not receptive, and barring something unusual, we didn’t receive the message during those times.  I would have to conclude that Jesus is giving some very solid advice here, particularly when you consider that sharing the gospel is not a completion, but rather the beginning of a life-process.

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TLP Living: 10/12/19

Pride, Arrogance and a Fool’s Errand

Several years ago, four to be exact, I had an interesting experience in an interview. There was this church about a thousand miles from where I lived that asked me to apply for a preaching vacancy in their church. They knew about me and my previous experience with a struggling congregation and how I had played a certain role in helping, at least a little bit, to rejuvenate that group, and that is exactly what their group was looking for. They had lost about a hundred members over the previous few years and sought to turn that unfortunate situation around.

I was intervened by a surprisingly large committee made up of the leaders and key members of the congregation and after the preliminaries in which they told me they were looking to turn things around and not only stop people from leaving, but begin a new era of church growth. Then came the very first question:

Suppose we decide to bring you on board; what will your reaction be when you bring us a list of things you want to change and we say ‘no’ to everything?

I well remember my first thought when they asked me that one… ‘At least they are honest’.

My answer was: “That question is entirely irrelevant, because it will never happen.”

“What do you mean ‘it will never happen’?” asked the Chairman of the group.

“You all seem to be bright and intelligent people, and you know me and my work. You would be bringing me in to turn things around: You wouldn’t dare to tell me ‘no’.” Believe it or not, they seemed to be somewhat surprised by my answer.

“Why would you say that?” asked one.

“Because each and every one of you is fully aware of the fact that you cannot continue to do all the same things you’ve always done and have a new result.”

It may surprise you to find this out dear reader, but they selected a different candidate; in fact, last time I heard, they were on their fourth candidate since then, and have lost half of the people they had four years ago. “No, you don’t understand, they told me, we’re doing everything right but the last few preachers messed it up.”

Albert Einstein famously said that repeating the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result was the definition of insanity, and while I haven’t asked a psychiatrist if that is really the correct definition of insanity, few would argue that it is a smart thing to do. I think Harry Truman really nailed it down when he quipped, “The only thing worth learning is what you learn after you already know it all.”

Mr. Truman certainly had a way with words…

I’ve been talking about churches here, but the same applies to any organization be it a private group, a business, governmental body or a school… or just in our own daily lives. If we have problems and always handle our business the same old way, we will still have the same old problems.

Who can argue with that?

Scripture has a word for this phenomenon; it’s “pride”. Sadly, we often have a hard time dealing with pride and so we find someone else to blame things on, and that is called “arrogance”. For any of us to continue down that road as we struggle through the same kinds of problems over and over again is called a fool’s errand and we end up spreading carnage all though our churches, organizations, companies and families.

I wonder what would happen if we replaced pride with humility, if we replaced arrogance with repentance. What would happen if we followed God’s will instead of our own, if we adopted God’s purpose instead of our own; would we still be on a fool’s errand, or would be following in the footsteps of Christ?

It might be interesting to find out.

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Judging Others

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:1-5

I’m tempted to simply post these verses, and wish all a great day without further comment, for they are more than self-explanatory. We are not to pass judgment on other people period.

Experience tells me however, that if I just leave it there, I am going to get comments. Yes sir, I’ll be told that I’m not properly dealing with sin in our midst…

Maybe that’s true… but I doubt it.

It seems to me that Jesus’ point is that we must deal with our own sin before we should be getting after our brother’s. Of course, as a community, we encourage and help each other to deal with problems, including sin; I’m all for that, but let’s be very clear: That is not the same thing as judging others!

“Judging” is what God will do on the last day; it is condemnation to “eternal perdition” and that is reserved for God alone. Quite honestly, I am delighted that judging others is so far above my pay grade.

Does that mean that we must condone sin? Of course not, it only means that we deal with the problems of others without judging the people involved. To be very clear, we cannot possibly help our brother by condemning him, but we can help him by loving him enough to guide and encourage him onto the right path.

That is love in action, not judging. Love in action requires empathy and grace along with the truth to bring about healing and redemption… and with that, I’ll wish you a blessed day.

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“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Matthew 6:25-27

Jesus tells us right off that He is giving a summation to this section, by beginning with the word “therefore”. As always, “therefore” is used to indicate that the writer or speaker is drawing a conclusion from what has just been written or spoken; in this case it is the discussion of treasures.

Jesus’ words here are very simple and to the point: worrying is pointless.

“Yes, well that’s all well and good but…”

If you are thinking along those lines, please check the verses once again, and let me know where you found “but” in what Jesus said; I can’t find it.

Jesus continues:

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:28-34

Jesus moves on from food to clothing here, making the same point again: Worrying is pointless. Yet here, He does an interesting thing, He expands the section from the context immediately following His remarks on money into the larger context of 6:1, which you will recall is a Kingdom context, in verse 33, and then restates the point: Don’t worry.

Notice also that in this chapter we began with three illustrations each dealing with spiritual practices (6:2-18), after which Jesus moved into money, possessions and wealth management (6:19-27) and finished on the very practical note of placing our trust in God and putting His Kingdom first. Now comes the hard part: In “real life” what do we actually do?

I can’t answer that question for any of you in particular, but my observation of Christians in general over several decades tells me that what most of us really do is everything Jesus is telling us not to do, especially worrying about things.

We worry about what others think of us, about whether we are the most “righteous” or the most “spiritual”. We worry about money, finances, jobs, paying the bills, retirement, essentials of life… and frills and entertainment; these are even the things we pray about most often, along with health concerns. Yet Jesus is telling the people that in His Kingdom, this is not how His Kingdom people should arrange their priorities.

“But Don, it’s just too hard!”

Please remember that I am also living in this world along with you; I get that this can be difficult, but as is true with most aspects of the Christian life, it is usually not as difficult as we make it, for what it really is, is counter-intuitive more than anything else.

I am a work in progress just like everyone else, and I have a long way to go before I am “just like” Jesus was; a very long way indeed. However, I have discovered that for me at least, a recognition that this is all simply counter-intuitive, rather than overly difficult, simplifies the process quite a bit. The result, at least for me, has been that I have come to see Jesus’ teaching in this area as liberating and empowering, rather than hard and severe, and that most of the cares of this world are a waste of time and energy.

Of course, I might just be crazy…

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“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Matthew 6:19-24

In the ancient near-East, possessions such as fine clothes, precious stones and food were considered necessary to lessen anxieties and insecurity about the future. Jesus sees it differently, for from His point of view, these things do not bring about security in any way, for all can be lost, stolen or ruined in this very difficult and unpredictable world.

In the previous several verses, Jesus has been hammering away at a principle found in Matthew 6:1, namely that we should not be pious or religious to impress others with our great righteousness, for this is not the sort of righteousness that God is interested in. Rather, God is interested in a people who will follow Him, worship Him, and have relationship with Him. Jesus has illustrated this principle with three examples; giving to the needy, prayer and fasting, and now in these verses, Jesus addresses the money issue.

The accumulation of possessions does not increase a person’s security or safety; money cannot buy us years of life or a moment’s happiness. Following God in close relationship on the other hand, can ensure an eternity of riches in heaven, that nothing can guarantee on this earth, and while there is nothing inherently wrong or evil about either money or possessions, the love of either can (and will) obstruct our relationship with God, placing our eternal future at risk. Can a moment’s comfort on earth be worth risking eternity in heaven?

Sounds like a bad idea to me, and Jesus would seem to agree.

Here’s an interesting thing to consider: If you go back to the beginning of the chapter and carefully read the three examples Jesus has given, you will notice that in each one, He has given us some clear ideas about how to store up some treasure in heaven…

Take a look for yourself!

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When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:16-18

In Jesus’ day, fasting was a popular, common and much valued spiritual discipline, the Pharisees for instance fasted twice per week, usually on Mondays and Thursdays. It was also a part of certain festivals, such as on the Day of Atonement, and people would often fast individually as a sign of their religious devotion; Jesus would seem to have no problem with this practice. With this in mind, let’s also remember that this is now His third example of the principle He put forth in 6:1…

The difficulty that arose here is that not only was fasting used as a spiritual practice, it was also used to impress others with one’s spirituality. In that vein, I can tell you that I know of two kinds of people who regularly fast: The ones who do it to impress others, and the ones who do it the way Jesus taught. The thing is, I can give names of people in the first group, but I have no idea who belongs to the second… and that is precisely how Jesus wanted it.

I’ve been asked many times if we, as Christians should fast, and all I can really say to that is that if the Lord leads you to fast, then you had best do so, but make sure I never hear of it. I have also been asked to attend sessions where a group gets together for “fasting and prayer” to pray for such and such. I attended one of these once, I left early, and I’ve never done it again. You are free to draw your own conclusions…

So what am I really saying about fasting?

If the Lord leads you to fasting, then obey His leading and fast. If the Lord leads a group to fasting and prayer and you are one of those being led in that direction, then do it. If not, then don’t and don’t concern yourself about what the others think of you, because f you do, then you are the hypocrite.

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